The Bold Return to In-Person Conferences

Last week witnessed a bold adventure in in-person conferencing… and lessons in how to manage clients (and their portfolios) in an unprecedented market environment. But the memorable moment at the ENGAGE conference was David Kelly’s statement that bitcoin is a cult and not a currency.

The advisory profession is finally back to in-person conferences!

I just returned from the AICPA ENGAGE Conference at the Aria hotel in Las Vegas – a meeting that was originally scheduled for the second week in June, then moved to the last week in July due to COVID concerns. That put it right in the heart of the rise of the Delta variant and made it the first in-person national meeting since the pandemic.

It foreshadows the fall conference season.

The streets, casinos and outdoor pools of Las Vegas were booming with maskless tourists, while indoors, I was one of very few of the 1,500 conference attendees who masked up during the sessions. I had the impression that virtually all of us have long since been vaccinated. Clearly few people were giving much thought to the possibility of contagion as they helped themselves at the buffet tables in the exhibit hall each evening. That may be a good sign for conference organizers this fall, when the Delta variant should have abated a bit.

ENGAGE has always been a strange stop on the conference circuit, ever since the AICPA decided to group together, in one hotel, what had formerly been separate conferences for different constituents under its tent: the personal financial planning (PFP) section members, the estate planning and tax planning specialists, accountants who formerly had their own corporate finance, tech consulting and auditing annual meetings. Naturally, this polyglot attendance adds confusion; I remember once following a herd of attendees upstairs to what I thought would be the next breakout session on tax planning, and found myself in a room where the projected slide promised a deep dive into Sarbanes-Oxley compliance issues.