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Optimism shines bright at BISA

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- If there was a common thread running through the BISA conference last week, it was a sense of optimism.

At a time when it’s easy to paint a pessimistic picture of the bank channel, the presenters at the conference did the opposite.

Mike Sha and Wayne Cutler each presented sunny scenarios, in separate sessions, of technology improving life in the industry. Scott Stathis was characteristically upbeat on the prospects of the growth in the channel. And Peter Bielan, along with Arthur Osman, presented new research on sales territory size that they said would change the industry for the better.

As upbeat as they all were, however, none could hold a candle to Jim Bowen, CEO of First Trust.

Bowen delivered a keynote session called “Truth for the Taking” that can only be described as a ready-for-prime-time pep rally for America. With an air of seeing the truth through the fog of modern politics, he offered a reminder of how good life is in our country. He made some fine points, and his can-do attitude offered one great takeaway for advisors.

The key points mostly revolved around how strong the U.S. economy is, and how we largely take it for granted. To refute the idea that the U.S. has slipped from its post-World War II economic perch, he notes that with roughly 4.3% of the world population, we generate 24% of the world GDP. And this population needs advisors, he added.

More impressive was a look at the individual GDPs of the world. After the U.S., China was the second biggest with 15% of world GDP. Then it falls quickly with Japan (6.5%), Germany (4.6%) and the U.K. (3.5%) rounding out the top five. All of which is even more impressive when presented in a pie chart with smaller and smaller slices dedicated for major global powers. (The exact numbers used here are from the World Bank’s website.)

And to quote his refrain: Nobody celebrates this.

The energy sector was another example he cites. The U.S. used to be the largest importer of energy, he says, and now we’re three years away from being largest exporter. “We’re energy independent for the first time in history and we don’t think it’s a big deal.”

He showed a picture of the first tanker leaving the port of Corpus Christi full of crude oil in December 2015. (He didn’t mention that the U.S. had just lifted a 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil days earlier.)

Still, his main point is spot-on. The fact is, the country lifted a ban on crude exports because we have more than we need (unlike the mid-1970s when that ban went into place.) And except for his anecdote of a celebratory cigar and tears of joy in his backyard, there was little to commemorate the moment.

On topic after topic he showed that life in the U.S. has greatly improved in just the past 30 years – including a significant decline in cancer deaths, he cited in a somber moment.

And yet, as he continually asked, where are the parades and the cheers?

The bad news and conflicts make the splashy headlines, of course. But Bowen reminded the audience: “This is what’s really going on in your country.”

So what’s an advisor to take away from that? First, the caveat. Bowen is a CEO, so he gets enthused over things like workplace efficiency that many of your clients probably don’t focus on with their portfolios. But that said, his optimism was infectious. People smiled as they left and talked about the presentation later that day. It wasn’t the sunny outlook that advisors could learn from as much as the sheer can-do attitude: not the glass-is-half-full, but rather we-can-always-get-more-water-for-our-glass-if-we-need-to.

If advisors can channel that same attitude, they’ll go a long way toward instilling confidence in their clients despite whatever the doomsayers (or the press) are saying.

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