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The NAPFA Large Firm Forum in NAPFA’s History

By Susan Weiner

This article is one in a series of articles on initiatives that have helped engage members more deeply in NAPFA. This month, we look at NAPFA’s Large Firm Forum (LFF), an annual event currently aimed at firms with at least $1 billion in AUM. The NAPFA Advisor interviewed two past NAPFA chairs, Michael Chasnoff and Michael Joyce, via email. Learn more by visiting the 2024 LFF webpage.

When was the Large Firm Forum first held, and how did it get started?

Chasnoff: NAPFA’s Large Firm Forum grew out of efforts that began in 2008 when I and my Truepoint team held an invitation-only event called “Beyond Practice Management” at the University of Chicago’s Business School. The mission of the conference was to provide best-practice management education and leadership programming exclusively to large wealth management advisory firms and multifamily offices. Attendees had the opportunity to learn from nationally recognized leadership and management experts and network with the CEOs and principals from 50 large advisory firms. 

As the CEO of a large and growing wealth management firm, I found our needs differed from those of smaller/emerging practices. Our firm was seeking to gain insights into management and leadership best practices. At that time, most conferences focused on continuing education content, and a majority of the attendees were from smaller firms. There seemed to be a need for a different type of meeting, one that would attract leaders from larger firms. I discussed the idea with several large firm leaders and with NAPFA. At this first event, NAPFA was a preferred sponsor, and later we gained the organization’s support to plan and host future events. 

In full transparency, the Large Firm Forum concept struggled as some members and leaders within NAPFA didn’t support a segmented event. Then, in 2018, NAPFA’s leadership decided it would reintroduce the Large Firm Forum (LFF). I agreed again to chair the event. In February 2019, NAPFA held the event at the Hotel Del Coronado.

Joyce: I was not involved in the initial founding of the Large Firm Forum, but I have given a lot of feedback for improvements.

The Large Firm Forum started in 2008, but there was an “Advanced Planners” conference that preceded the LFF. I attended my first Advance Planners conference in 1994. That was held in Tampa and organized by the venerable Dave Drucker.

I have long felt that NAPFA needed to be the organization of “excellence” and not an organization that didn’t offer a place to firms when they became too successful. The LFF filled that void for many successful firms. The LFF allowed NAPFA members from larger (and generally more successful) firms to come together in a forum where they could learn about best practices and plan for the future growth of their organizations.

What’s the group’s accomplishment that you’re proudest of?

Chasnoff: Looking back, I’m proud that we were able to help many large firm founders and principals gain a critical understanding of how to successfully lead their firms. The creation of management teams and accountable processes have greatly enhanced the operations of our firm. I’ve heard from other leaders how the program has enhanced their firms’ ability to attract, retain, and develop their talent. 

Joyce: I have gotten a lot of actionable items that I can take back to my firm from the LFF. In particular, the meetings at the University of Chicago and at Coronado—both chaired by Michael Chasnoff—were particularly insightful. The LFF is something I look forward to attending each year.

How has NAPFA supported your group?

Chasnoff: NAPFA is an ever-evolving organization. It has made a difference in the development of a countless number of emerging Fee-Only practices. After struggling with the concept of supporting larger firms, its leadership became committed to this niche and has continued to allocate time and resources to this space. 

Joyce: I give NAPFA a lot of credit for having something like the LFF. But I think that support from the NAPFA Board of Directors has ebbed and flowed over the years. I think more forward-thinking board members have recognized the value of the LFF and the importance of the constituency it serves.

As NAPFA celebrates its 40th anniversary, what would you like to see NAPFA accomplish next? 

Chasnoff: Today, the conference meeting space is crowded and somewhat commoditized. Those who know me understand that I see, and many times speak out, differently. In my opinion, NAPFA may potentially need to partner with others to deliver the very best educational and networking opportunities. Some of these opportunities may need to be segmented to ensure the attendee experience is valuable from a programming and networking perspective.

Joyce: If you look back over the last 40 years, some of the top financial advisors have been a part of NAPFA. NAPFA is not going to be the association with the largest number of members, but it can be the organization of excellence. NAPFA should work on raising the abilities of all of its members and support the more successful members with events like the LFF and other programs to assist in their continued growth. As President John F. Kennedy said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Susan Weiner, CFA, is the editor of the NAPFA AdvisorSend her your ideas for articles and authors for the magazine.