Last month, I was invited to the annual Royal Alliance National Education Conference, hosted by the independent broker/dealer at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It's a heady time for independent advisors. Indies are pumped up to take on the wirehouse brokers who are trying to play on their financial-planning turf (see story p. 27). I planned to dutifully attend the sessions and bone up on what new products and strategies independent brokers are using, but I also wanted to see the weekend through the eyes of an actual rep. So I arranged to tag along with an indie from Philadelphia. We'll call him Albert.
The following is a truncated journal of his goings-on in Sin City.
After drinking through the entire four-hour flight from Philly — “Hey, with the time change, it's like only drinking for an hour,” Albert told me — he meets me in the lobby of the Grand, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and an eager gleam in his eye. He collects his key and heads directly to the blackjack table. In tune with his professional experience for the last couple of years, he watches his initial “investment” of $200 turn into $15 in half an hour. Albert then bids me goodnight and heads for the cab stand, on his way to a “classy night club” he learned about from a flier someone handed him at the airport. “See you tomorrow!”
Royal Alliance CEO Mark Goldberg is addressing his troops in the opening session in the grand ballroom, but Albert is nowhere to be found. Halfway through Goldberg's address, I find Albert outside at a Wheel of Fortune slot machine, where he is smoking a cigar, plugging in quarters and screaming, “Come on, Vanna, I need a winner!” He appears not to have slept. I inform him that his boss is giving his annual pep rally speech, and that he might want to attend. Chastened, Albert gathers cups of coins and shambles to the auditorium before turning around almost immediately. “Whoa, it's way too loud in there,” he winces.
Back outside, tables are surrounded by fund wholesalers, armed with literature, pens, candy, squishy handballs and other trinkets. Albert, with a bagel jutting out of his mouth, drops a business card in a bowl to get in on a golf club raffle. “OK, my work is done here,” he explains as he heads back toward the casino.
I am waiting for Albert outside Premier Conference Room 312, where a Prudential marketing rep named Connie is speaking on “Annuity Contract Structure & Taxation.” My cellphone rings. It's Albert. “Hey, Will, sorry I'm not there, but tomorrow's the big golf scramble, and I thought I'd get some practice in. Be a pal, take notes for me?” I tell him Connie's making some great points about protecting clients from hidden taxes. “Listen, gotta go,” he says. “This driving range charges by the hour. I'll catch you tomorrow.”
While filing my story about the first day of the conference, Albert calls again, asking me what I'm writing about, in case anybody back at the office wants to know about the sessions. I tell him about Goldberg's speech, and the various workshops, and how independents truly believe the wirehouse scandals have made this their time to shine. I offer to read him my story, but I hear, “Hey, buddy, you can't use your cellphone in the sports book,” and the line goes dead.
Albert shows up at the first morning workshop, “Simplify, Diversify, Use Asset Allocation.” He actually looks well-rested and clean-shaven, and I tell him I'm glad he finally decided to get with the program. We sit through the session, during which he takes copious notes. I glance at his notebook. It says: “Dealer hits Soft 17. Double down on 11 with dealer showing six. Never split face cards.” After the session, he goes up to a rep and asks him his handicap. “Good,” he says. “You're my partner at the scramble this afternoon.”
After attending a two-hour workshop on “Wealth Transfer Strategies,” I head to the lobby to check out. I run into Albert, who has a blonde on each arm and is still somehow holding two drinks. I tell him I'm sorry I didn't get to pick his brain about advisor strategies, but that I hope to talk to him more in the future about life at Royal Alliance. He pauses. “Royal Alliance? Oh, yeah, I hit that place last night. It's right in between the Bellagio and Caesar's, right? The slots there are BRUTAL, man!”
Editor's note. This Albert is not real, nor are the actual events. But there are Alberts we have all known and seen and marveled at.
Writer's BIO: Will Leitch is staff editor of Registered Rep. and would only go to Las Vegas for business. Really.