.K., close you eyes. Imagine this -- Arthur Levitt
, grey haired former head of the SEC
... onstage... bouncing a rubber ball that lights up when it hits the ground. If you were at Schwab Impact
in Seattle last week you did not have to imagine it. Yes, fund company tschotchkes even caught the attention of the keynote speakers this year. And he was not alone.
So what was the best of the offerings of the fund firms for advisors who braved the trip to Seattle? This reporter appreciated the expresso bars sponsored by AIM Funds
, but others may have a better find. As always, Schwab pulled the conference off with nary a glitch, despite the shortening of the conference agenda from five days to three, a revamped lineup of speakers and the start of the bombing in Afghanistan the less than 48 hours prior to the first speaker taking the dais. In the end, only one speaker failed to show (he stayed home with a seven-month pregnant wife when the bombing started).
The Gabelli Funds
sponsored gala featured a quirky, Circe de Soleil evoking troupe of actors specially put together for the event held in the atrium of Seattle's Benaroya Hall. Those guys and gals mingling in the crowd wearing "FDNY" hats in honor of the heroism of New York City firefighters were from the Schwab New York office. They did not share the hats with other Schwab offices, but at least one advisor was seen to have a new souvenir on his head. Advisors and exhibitors then donned scarves and flashing plastic diamond rings to welcome Super Diamond. His rendition of "Coming to America" as a finale fit the moment.
Despite the fun, the even the gala had been revamped after September 11. The original sponsor for the event was ABN Amro
, and Diana Ross
was to have provided the entertainment. A representative of the firm confirmed that it was the original sponsor and that the decision to withdraw the sponsorship was made for business reasons after the September 11 attack on the world trade center, but declined to elaborate.
Short a sponsor for the gala, Schwab called on Gabelli to see if it would step up, an employee of the New York-based fund firm told MFWire.com. Not wanting to let down a key partner like Schwab, the firm did exactly that, said the rep. On to the awards.
Best Stuffed Animal
Perhaps it is the new cuddly atmosphere in country, but there seemed to be even more stuffed animals than even in prior years. Artisan Funds
offered the ever popular, reversible bull-bear puppets (they passed on offering balsa wood airplanes out of sensitivity to Seattle's ties with the departing Boeing). PBGH Funds
also offered a stuffed bull. Buffalo Funds offered, of course, a stuffed buffalo and PaydenFunds
had a cute Sharpe, you know, the wrinkly dog. Janus
offered a lizard (we still don't get the connection, is it a chameleon?). All seemed to agree that the top animal was a polar bear offered by Julius Bear. Oh yes, Richard Sincere
of Sincere & Co.
deserves special praise for ensuring that this report got one.
More than one booth was offering umbrella's (it was Seattle after all). The best could be found at Davis Funds
(AIM was all out when this reporter stopped by on day one after taking two steps outside only to run into Seattle's famous drizzle). Also winning points with this reporter was FirstHand Funds
. No, the Silicon Valley firm did not have their pens, but they did have a retractable phone cord. Without that cord filing last weeks stories would have been a lot more difficult since this absent-minded reporter failed to pack one of his own. Thanks FirstHand!
Biggest Draw that Failed to Happen
arranged for Richard "Goose" Gossage
, the famed ex-Yankee and Athletic (and Pirate and Padre and Cub and White Sock) fireman to sign baseballs for advisors. Schwab nixed the idea, though, telling Hancock reps that to have the baseball legend signing in the exhibit hall would be an unfair distraction from the other booths. Come on Schwab! This reporter asked other exhibitors if they would have been bothered by such an event. The universal response was "No! We would have welcomed the excitement." The exhibit hall needed the energy at this year's smaller conference. Goose would have been welcomed. He did put in a brief visit to the Hancock booth before retreating to a hotel lobby to sign balls. Word was the turnout was not as good as it could have been due the less-than-optimal location.
Schwab gets credit for being consistent in enforcing the no excitement policy, though. Another fund firm had arranged for a star portfolio manager and frequent CNBC guest to take pictures with advisors (we promised not to rat out the specific fund firm, so you can guess the identity). Schwab did not allow the appearance at the booth, though offered a spot for the manager in the official picture room where advisors were able to pose with Chuck Schwab
and Dave Pottruck
. The fund firm passed on the opportunity.
weighed into the tchotscke wars with a very nice clock. A big surprise coming from the historically frugal firm.
Both American Funds
and Citizens Funds
tapped into the zeitgeist and offered American Flag pins (Citizens offered old glory ribbons also). Other exhibitors awarded these firm's points for the ability to put together a special and appropriate offering in a short time while under stress.
was giving away one share to any of their funds. How can you say no? It is free money.
Most eye-catching raffle item
One firm (forgot which so if you are out there write in) offered two tickets to the Seattle Mariners versus Cleveland Indians baseball playoff.
See you next year in Washington DC!
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