Hip-hop stars and financial luminaries: Ritholtz Wealth Management redesigns the investment conference

Trader Talk

Beach goers take to the water to cool off amid high temperatures Wednesday, June 10, 2020 in Huntington Beach, CA.
Allen J. Schaben | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

Huntington Beach, California

Over 2,500 investors and financial advisors have descended on Huntington Beach, California — a.k.a. Surf City USA —for a financial conference. 

A financial conference on a beach? In Huntington Beach, home to nine miles of shoreline and the world center of beach volleyball

Yep.  And I mean, it is on the beach

And who are attendees coming to see? They’re coming to see big stars. 

They’re coming to see Method Man & Redman

Wait, who? They’re coming to see hip-hop legends Method Man (Wu-Tang Clan) & Redman (Def Squad), who will perform Tuesday night. 

They’re not the only stars. There will be financial luminaries as well. Jeremy Siegel from Wharton/WisdomTree. Jeff Kleintop from Charles Schwab. Emily Roland from John Hancock. Cliff Asness from AQR. Jeff Gundlach from DoubleLine. ETF and commodity maven Jan van Eck. 

But this is one of those conferences where the social interaction is as important as the content. 

Reinventing the financial conference 

Welcome to FutureProof, billed as “the largest gathering of top-tier wealth management professionals, CEOs, CTOs, COOs, and fast-growing financial advisors.” 

It’s the brainchild of Barry Ritholtz, co-founder, chairman, and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, and CEO Josh Brown. 

“Coming out of the pandemic, it was obvious to us that the traditional financial conference was past its sell-by date,” Ritholtz told me. ”Everybody was bored with lectures and tedious panels forecasting the future in giant windowless conference centers. Instead, we imagined what it would be like if events were more social and interactive and useful and (dare I say) fun! That was how FutureProof came about.” 

Yoga?  It’s so 2008 except… 

Those of you accustomed to going to conferences with a Yoga class at 5:45 a.m. on the agenda (who goes to those things?), prepare for the New Hipness. 

Straight Yoga? It’s so 2008. Oh sure, there’s a yoga class, but you’ll have a special instructor. You’ll have: 

Seaside Yoga: The Path to Mindfulness with a Goldman Sachs Instructor. Seriously? Goldman Sachs will teach me how to do yoga? What’s next? Acupuncture with Morgan Stanley? Chiropractic with Wells Fargo? Massage therapy with JP Morgan? 

Keep dancing, you fools 

Forget yoga. There’s a concerted effort to keep everyone dancing and swimming, starting with the FutureProof Kickoff Party (“relax, unwind and connect”) and continuing with: 

Health is Wealth: Surfing.  “We invite you to join us and embrace the thrill of learning to surf!” 

Dance Culture: An Interactive Session.  “Immerse yourself in the rhythm, movements, and rich history of Salsa dancing!” 

OK that’s an improvement, but I think I’d rather go to: 

Battle of the Buds: Wine vs. Craft Beer.  “Engage in a lively and interactive debate as you explore the unique characteristics, flavor profiles and food pairings of both wine and craft beer.” 

Now I’m starting to get interested. I’ll have to squeeze that in between: 

Mastering Pizza Dough: Techniques for any Home Pizza Maker.  ”Learn the secrets to achieving the ideal texture, flavor, and elasticity as you explore different kneading, proofing and shaping techniques.” 

Let’s Roll: The Art of Sushi Making. ”This interactive session offers a unique opportunity to unleash your creativity and refine your knife skills.”  Refine your knife skills?  OK…might be safer to just go to Mastering the Grill:  Barbecue Techniques. 

Oh yeah. The financial content

Last year’s conference attracted 2,000 attendees, about half mostly young RIAs (Registered Investment Advisors), several hundred active trader types, ETF sponsors and a smattering of vendors. 

Not surprisingly, much of the content is geared toward RIAs, with topics like, “The Personal Brand Blueprint: 5 Easy Steps to Attract High-Value Clients in 2023.” 

For investors, there is the ubiquitous tech bull Dan Ives from Wedbush, with “Five Tech Predictions for 2024.” 

DoubleLine’s Jeff Gundlach will return again this year, and will speak with my CNBC colleague Scott Wapner on Halftime Report on Tuesday. 

I will moderate a panel on “Global Macro Predictions” with Professor Siegel, Jeff Kleintop and Emily Roland. 

Morningstar will also be out in force, with stalwarts Christine Benz, Jeffrey Ptak, Ben Johnson and PitchBook’s Nizar Tarhuni talking about everything from retirement to 401(k) planning to the difficulty of market timing to private equity investing. 

Ritholtz Wealth Management’s bloggers and podcasters Michael Batnick and Ben Carlson will also dispense advice. 

But even amidst this ocean of content over four days, the emphasis is still on personal interaction. There’s numerous “networking dinners” which, if they are anything like last year’s, are giant parties for young RIAs and investors to get together and socialize. 

And that is where much of the real action happens. Last year I met a 35-year old RIA at one of these parties on the beach on a Monday night. He had flown in with his team the day before. 

“I brought all seven members of my team,” he told me. ”It’s a team-building thing. I’m going to see a bunch of the speakers, but mostly I’m here to meet other people who do what I do.” 

And that seems to be the theme:  “Meeting other people who do what I do.” RIAs. Young investors. Financial stars. Bloggers. ETF sponsors. Hip-hop stars. 

It’s a strange brew, but exhilarating.  

Who knows what could happen? Maybe Method Man will announce Wu-Tang Clan is going on tour and is launching an ETF.  

Hey, a typical conference it’s not.