Operations & Management

How to Plan In-Person Events to Build Community and Loyalty

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We talked with Alan about:

  • The stories behind XYPN and AdvicePay
  •  Distinctive features of XYPN LIVE that make it successful
  •  How XYPN is building community (and tips for building your own!)

About Alan Moore:

With an active entrepreneurial spirit, Alan Moore is determined to help financial advisors branch out and delve into new niches. He is the co-founder of AdvicePay and XY Planning Network. Alan strives to create more spaces for Gen X and Gen Y advisors who serve clients outside the traditional mold. 

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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:04):
Thanks for joining us, Alan. It's good to have you here.

Alan (00:07):
Thank you. Excited to be here.

Lauren (00:08):
Yeah, I was just sharing with you before, I feel like I've seen you everywhere with XYPN and things that are going on, and you guys have just been absolutely crushing it. So appreciate you taking time today to share with us a little bit, not only about your background but the things that you guys are doing. I feel like you have really cut through the clutter in so many ways. And before we get into all the things you guys got going on, I want to just hand over the mic. Tell us a little bit about your background; why financial planning, this whole world; and how you got to where you are today. So I’ll let you take it away.

Alan (00:43):
Absolutely. Yeah. I was really fortunate to have discovered financial planning in college. I took an intro to personal finance class. I thought I was going to learn how to budget for myself and stuff, and I was actually taking the intro to CFP® coursework, which was way harder than I was expecting but I absolutely fell in love with it. It was a brand new program at the University of Georgia and I fell in love with the work we get to do as financial planners historically, and probably when I told my parents, hey, I've decided to get a degree in family financial planning, they immediately think, oh, it's just number crunching. My mom was like, you weren't very good at math in high school, and she was right. But I think the financial planning industry has evolved where it is so much more people oriented than just numbers; it's a cool blend of emotions and numbers and we get to run projections but then also we have clients crying in our office and not implementing the plan and trying to figure out why. That to me was just really fascinating. And so again, I just fell in love with financial planning and the work we get to do here as advisors. And so I came out of school, worked at a couple of different RIAs before getting fired from my last job and decided entrepreneurship was the path for me, and started my own RIA back in 2012.

Lauren (02:10):
High fives to that. Yeah. Yeah.

Alan (02:14):
And I just felt like this. I wanted to serve a different client base than most of the RIAs I was looking at were serving. We typically worked with millionaire baby boomers, which is awesome. That's great. Valuable work. But I really wanted to work with clients who were in their 20s and 30s, getting married, getting divorced, new jobs, student loan debt, having kids.

Lauren (02:37):
Those kinds of issues. All those kinds of things. 

Alan (02:39):
Yeah, those very real issues. And so ultimately I decided to launch my own firm to work with those clients.

Lauren (02:48):
So let's hear a little bit more. I want to shift with that too, a little bit more about AdvicePay and XYPN and just for folks who maybe aren't familiar with either. Can you give the high level of those and then we'll get a little further.

Alan (03:03):
Yeah. When I started my own firm, I had to figure everything out on my own. And what I found was over the really first 18 months of running my own business, speaking at a few conferences, doing a guest blog post on kitces.com, which got some attention, and I just started getting all these questions but they were the same questions from tons of advisors. I had over a hundred phone calls with advisors over the course of 18 months. They were all asking the same things: How do you do compliance? How do you do marketing? How did you select technology? They weren't asking me how to do financial planning. They taught us that in CFP® school. What they were asking was, how do I run a business? They did not teach us that in CFP® school. And so XY Planning Network was founded by myself and Michael Kitces back in 2014, so almost 10 years ago now, with the mission of providing a platform that allows advisors to build independent businesses and build their own RIA.

And so we very much consider ourselves sort of an entrepreneurial platform. We specialize in financial services in the RIA world, all Michael and I know. But today we have right around 1,800 advisors who are part of our network—we've helped launch their RIAs. And our focus is on advisors. Sort of our unique part of the marketplace is working with clients on a fee for service basis who maybe don't have the assets to support an AUM fee. And so as XYPN started to grow, one thing is if you want to work with clients and they don't necessarily have assets, then we like to say, instead of 1% of AUM, it's 1% of income. You've got to charge them out of cash flow. They have the money to pay for financial planning but no one wants to get checks every month. No one's going to write a $100, $200 check every month.

And so we started on the search for how our advisors could actually get paid while still adhering to all the custody requirements, compliance requirements we have in our industry. Talked to a lot of different payment platforms and no one was interested in our industry. They just didn't feel like it was big enough. They didn't understand it, they didn't understand the restrictions and all of that. And so in 2015, we launched AdvicePay. Neither Michael nor I had ever built tech before but we launched AdvicePay and have been building that ever since to provide a payment processing solution for advisors so they can get paid for financial planning. So they are separate companies but very much linked in terms of their missions.

Lauren (05:36):
So I want to get into conferences. You guys have got so much going on. Before we do that, I just want to hear a little bit about how in the world have you built XYPN to be such a massive network. I know these tools go together that you've mentioned but I'd love just to hear a little bit about that journey to growing it out. Did it just grow naturally because people needed this help? Or was it through Michael's network? What was it that felt like, what was the magnet?

Alan (06:06):
It's a great question. When we first started, we dreamed of what if in 20 years we had 200 advisors, what if in 10 years we could have 200 advisors? Any projection we drew, we absolutely blew out of the water. And I think a couple of things happened. I mean, one, I think we miscalculated the overall demand for advisors who were frustrated in their current situations. There were a lot of us who were failed succession planners that were promised equity. We were told, hey, you get to buy the firm in five years and in five years in it's seven more years. And it was just never happening. And there was also this pent up hunger among advisors who wanted to work with clients like them, whether that be age, race, gender, certain profession, certain challenges, people who like to travel, whatever the thing is.

And so there was this desire for autonomy around wanting to work with certain clients who historically have not been served by financial advisors, wanting to be able to charge potentially in a way that you feel is the right way, whether that be out of income, cash flow, maybe that's being advice only or flat fee. And then also being able to do financial planning the way you believe it should be done. Because there are many different ways, obviously, to do planning. And so that's really where we've seen the advisors who are interested in what we're doing. We're very big on when you start a firm, have a niche, and we've carved out a very small niche in the marketplace that has given us the ability to sort of plant our flag and say, this is our corner of the marketplace, and if you want to do another piece of the marketplace, fantastic. That's not what we do. And that I would say is what has led to our growth.

Lauren (07:50):
Yeah, when you were talking, I was thinking, okay, you not only know your target, you are the target in a lot of ways, right? Which is, I mean, super key. Okay, so it's really hard to build a community, and you guys have not only built that community, you understand the pain point and you've also identified the pain point. But let's talk a little bit, shifting on the XYPN side. You guys are doing conferences and more conferences. The whole conference world has gotten crazy with COVID and this sort of thing. Why that? What's the value add? I'd love to hear about the main value add you all see? What are you guys doing that's different, that's keeping people there and interested and maybe kind of unpack that, right? What are the big challenges?

Alan (08:38):
Yeah, I'll say if you look at the numbers and just what we see in terms of attendance at conferences, the generalist conferences are getting crushed and the niche conferences are growing really well or at least holding strong in terms of attendance. And so the reason is because historically when I was an advisor, I would go to an association conference. There may be 40, 50 sessions out there, but only two or three of them really applied to me. And I'm surrounded by advisors, especially then I was 25 when I started my firm. I sat at the kids' table. There was one table of us under 40, and there weren't really advisors who were dealing with what I was dealing with at the time. And so what you generally see from the really big conferences or the historically more generalist conferences is they just struggle to curate the content and the experience to be ideal for their target market because their target market is so wide.

And so by having a really narrow focus here at XYPN, it helps us to curate the conference in a way that makes it a conference people actually want to come to. And so a few of our tenets are, we don't do any pay to play speaking. And so everyone has to earn their spot on stage by providing great content. All of the content—we will do three or four concurrent sessions and all of them are relevant to you and your business. And we try to identify if you're early stage or a little bit later stage, different pain points. But in the end, generally you're choosing between two or three you'd really like to go to. So the content is really curated because again, we're not trying to serve all advisors from all different walks. We're just serving sort of this narrow market.

We do a lot of work at the conference from a community perspective and helping people find their tribe. XYPN itself is a tribe. And then we have sort of these mini communities that have popped up throughout. Sometimes those are niche focused, like the—I'm going to get the name of this wrong—but the association or the Financial Planners Association for working with veterans and service members has 40 or 50 members who are XYPN, and that grew out of our conference. Things like that are just amazing to see. And then finally, the exhibit hall in the end, the exhibit hall is what pays for a conference. We were doing the math recently and we were charging $300 or $350 for a ticket to the conference. And every attendee costs us about $1,200 just in hard cost of food and drinks and speakers and all that sort of thing.

So the exhibit hall is ultimately what drives the conference but if you go to most conferences, the exhibit hall is kind of a miserable place. It's miserable for vendors because you stay there for three days, you work for an hour, you're off for two. No one's really coming in, and it can be really hard to get engagement and to be willing then to write the big checks for what sponsorships can cost. And so one of the things we did seven, eight years ago now, and we keep waiting for another conference to copy us, which is totally fine. We didn't come up with the idea but we were the first to do it in our space. But we do a one-day exhibit hall experience. And so a couple of things lead to this. One is we limit the number of product companies that can be in the exhibit hall.

Candidly, most people don't. Most advisors don't actually want to talk to vendors who are using the advisor to sell something to their clients when you're a fund company or product company or offering lending, that sort of thing, that can be valuable for the advisor but ultimately you're using the advisor to distribute your product or service to the client. So instead of sort of the B2B to C model, we really focus on B2B vendors who are there to support the advisor's business. Makes sense. And so that also makes it really cool, it's really efficient. We focus it just on one day. Vendors can come and go and only spend one or two nights away from their families but you get this really focused time where advisors get to really talk to vendors who are providing solutions to help them better run their business. And we find we get really, really high engagement in that exhibit hall day because of that.

Lauren (12:50):
I want to hear a little about the Coaches Corner piece of it too, which I know I'm shifting a little bit more but I think that's a really unique piece. I'd love to hear you talk a little bit more about that as well.

Alan (12:58):
Yeah, I mean, as our team has grown here at XYPN, we've got about 80-something team members now and another 30 over at AdvicePay. We have experts on our team in various areas. Some of those coaches are member-facing and some of them are just experts on our team, such as our own marketing team. They're experts in things like SEO and Google Ads and that sort of thing. And so we pulled together many of the team members here at XYPN and make it so advisors can sign up for, depending on the coach, let's say a 20-minute, 30-minute session to talk about something really specific. So they can meet with a bookkeeper to say, hey, because we have our XYP and books team that does bookkeeping for advisors, they can meet with them to say, hey, my chart of accounts is a mess. What do you think? How can I improve here? They may meet with our head of marketing operations and talk to him about their HubSpot strategy or their SEO strategy. And so it's really just about connecting experts and making those experts available who aren't always necessarily available to our members just because they have day jobs but at the conference it gives them the opportunity to really provide value to those advisors.

Lauren (14:11):
To get into their specific problem, to be able to unpack it from an expert standpoint, if you will.

Alan (14:17):
Yeah, I mean, ultimately when you leave a conference, you need one takeaway. You just need one win, basically one introduction, one thing you've learned. And many times that one thing can come from Coach's Corner because you get to go talk about one specific pain point you're experiencing and get that solved. So that can really provide a lot of value even if it's just 20 minutes.

Lauren (14:39):
That makes sense. So can you talk a little bit more about if there are any pre- and post-conference things that are happening to get people, I don't know, just excited about the speakers or help planning or any homework and what post?

Alan (14:52):
That's a great question. We don't do a ton on the pre side, just obviously we do the announcements around who the keynotes will be and release speaker names and that sort of thing. After the event, there is an opportunity. We record every session so attendees can go back and watch the sessions they missed or be able to download the files or the slides from any of those sessions. But really it sort of funnels into our overall community we're curating and working on throughout the year, which is doing local meetups in various cities where we have a bunch of advisors in one place. There's online communities and study groups, and we have webinar content throughout the year. So we're really engaging in what if all we did was a conference, we would probably be adding on a lot of the community stuff that we do to drive engagement. We just started with a community, then added the conference.

Lauren (15:48):
How have you guys gotten people out of their house, especially with COVID and getting them to the conference? Do you think it's all this pre-work on the side where people are like, I made that connection. I want to meet that person and this is further driving that, or how are you making that happen? Are people just frankly sick of the webinars? Right? Tell me a little bit about that.

Alan (16:09):
I would say our target market, the majority of XYPN advisors, are solo advisors. Many times they are the parent who became the stay-at-home parent or the on-call parent during COVID. And so they became the teacher and the daycare and all the things all at once. And what we find is that many times, especially I guess 2021, 2022, this was the first time they had been around other adults, and it was just kind of an excuse to get out of the house and just not be dad or mom, just go be a financial planner, go be an advisor again. And so the energy levels in, I guess it was 2022, we were in Denver, just the energy levels of the conference were so high. It was so fun because the advisors really appreciated that community. They missed that in-person community. And so we generally find advisors want to go to one to two conferences a year. And so we're shooting to be one of those conferences.

Lauren (17:13):
Yeah, that makes sense. Okay. So with this, you've got your pulse on what's going on. You're feeling that pain point. You've got this whole community you've built. Are there any trends you're seeing, like topical trends, challenges this audience needs? What are you hearing?

Alan (17:34):
Yeah, I mean there are a few different trends we're seeing. I mean, one is that the makeup, demographic of clients is changing. The demographic of the clients who are looking for financial advice. They are younger, they are less male, they are less white than they used to be historically, that's just who we've served. And yet there's a much more diverse audience that's looking for financial planning and needs financial planning, and they're willing to pay for advice. They understand there are sales or there are compensation models that are not as aligned potentially with their best interests, and they're looking for fiduciary advisors, whether they're fee only or not. I'm less concerned about your fee structure. I'm much more concerned about being a fiduciary. So if you're a fiduciary advisor, clients are looking for you. The technology landscape continues to evolve rapidly. It probably gets, sometimes I feel like too much attention, sometimes not enough depending on the day.

But the landscape is changing quickly, and we are starting to see this rise of more niche planning tools that really allow us to do less rearward looking plan generation and more sort of real-time, financial planning and value add. And so we're seeing the fastest growing technology companies in our space seem to be the ones that are supporting the delivery of advice. They're supporting us showing value to our clients throughout the year. And then finally, we continue to see the rise in the success of advisors who are willing to go all in on a niche. And we continue to see these firms growing, and we do an annual benchmarking survey to our members. And those who are focused on a niche, they are growing faster, they have much higher close rate with prospective clients. They are spending less time per client because they're experts in that area. They're earning higher fees per client. All the metrics you want to see are you're seeing when you have a niche. And so that's been another trend we've championed, and we're starting to see the fruits of that. The folks who are willing to say I work with this particular target market are definitely seeing the benefits of it.

Lauren (19:43):
So fascinating. Okay. One more question for you. So looking ahead, anything you want to call out for the future of what XYPN looks like, AdvicePay, anything that's kind of on the horizon that would be good to give a shoutout to?

Alan (19:57):
Yeah, I mean, we announced it at our conference, depending on when this episode goes live, it may have been announced or not, or maybe I'm letting the cat out of the bag but we are moving forward with a pilot project to offer a corporate RIA to our members. Historically, each of our members are their own RIA. So we have 1,450 RIAs affiliated with XYPN, and we are starting to see more advisors who are looking for the ability to still have their own brand and their own website and that sort of thing but to still be able to centralize a lot of the back office operations, compliance, investment management tasks. And so that's really what we're going to be working on in 2024, is piloting that program and really gaining an understanding of what are the needs of our members and how can we support them. But it's something I'm pretty excited about because there's a huge need in the industry for corporate RIA services or those centralized services that are really planning centric. Historically, they've been very investment centric. And so that's going to be our focus for the next year and we’re really excited for what that's going to bring.

Lauren (21:02):
Oh, so great. Well, thank you so much for sharing just a little bit about your background, XYPN, AdvicePay. We'll make sure to include links below as well. And I feel like you've done a tremendous job too, of just outlining who this is a fit for. So it's fun to see what's on the horizon and totally amazing to see. I think this platform will just grow and also, like you said, you really know your target. But yeah, super appreciate your time. This is really fun and looking forward to continue to watch it just totally take off.

Alan (21:32):
Well, thank you for the time today. I appreciate it all.

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