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October 2021 |

National expos: are they still valuable?

Shaun Almond is managing director of HL Partnership

Many of us have fond memories of when the industry would come together in London for a national expo, usually timed over two days to coincide with the beginning of the autumn business push.

The traditional venue was Olympia and then, as it grew larger, it moved to Earls Court. Of course, the credit crunch of 2008 ended its position as the one ‘big’ event of the year but what was interesting in hindsight was that in 2008 there were estimated to be in excess of 30,000 advisers working in the intermediary mortgage market. Today that number is approximately 13,000.

Fast forward to today, with a third of the number of advisers, the number of events which advisers can attend virtually or face to face, either regionally and nationally, probably number in the dozens every month.

I remember one adviser telling me that if he took up all the invitations to seminars he received from lenders, product providers, networks, mortgage clubs and packager/distributors he could be out of the office at least one to two days per week, every week of the year.

So, is the concept of an all-encompassing national expo still important? With the target audience of advisers spoilt for choice, is a trip to London or any of the large conurbations, to visit a show which, it could be argued, is just a seminar exhibition with a larger footprint, going to remain popular?

There are a number of factors at work.

Sophistication – Our market has learned a lot since 2008. The financial upheaval heralded a challenging time for the sector but also ushered in a regulatory infrastructure which created a core of adviser firms, better trained, better informed and infinitely more customer focussed.

Communication – One of the by-products of a more professional market has been the huge improvement in the dissemination of information from lenders and other service providers to the adviser community. Slicker marketing via email and the power of social media has given every adviser in the country full access to changes in criteria, product launches, marketing ideas and understanding of the latest advances in technology, governance and compliance.

Time – In a market as busy as ours has been, particularly this year, it means that time is at a premium. Despite the advances in technology can advisers afford to take time away from their desks to travel to a national event?

Local versus national – In the past, a national expo was a ‘must attend’ event because of its exclusivity. Now it has to compete with smaller more intimate events, which do not take so much time out of the working day.

Taking all these factors into account, it would seem that national expos could become extinct, because of the sheer volume of smaller alternatives and the need for advisers to concentrate on their businesses.

Yet there is a counter argument which tells us that there is still life in the format. It seems that expos that concentrate in specific areas and serve a particular niche are actually improving footfall and adviser engagement every year.

Without wishing to influence where advisers go, I would say that the NACFB Expo held at the NEC near Birmingham every year is an example of an expo whose popularity is based on its particular specialism.

For many years ‘networking’ has been the main driver of attendance at expos. Having so much expertise in one place drives collaboration, and a better informed adviser delivers better customer outcomes. 

The hybrid solution over the past few years has been to recognise the importance of regionalising a nationally branded show. I think we will continue to see more regionally based scenarios, but one of the factors that has tended to be forgotten is that for a show which wants to attract advisers from across the UK to one venue, it needs a ‘wow’ factor.

One of the aspects of the original one venue national expos was their ability to attract the biggest names to exhibit. That is something which has been missing for some time. If a national show represents aspects from the whole lending industry it also needs to attract the heavyweights regularly if it wants to pull in the adviser community from across the country.