Tech Revolution Fuels Morningstar Conference Agenda


By Raymond Fazzi, Financial Advisor

The annual Morningstar conference bills itself as offering the latest developments in the financial advice industry, so it may be of no surprise that technology-related issues are at the forefront of the agenda this year.

Festooned with work session titles such as “Taming Your Technologies,” “The Rise of the Machines” and “Crypto, Blockchain, and Lamborghinis, Oh My!,” the agenda for this year’s conference clearly reflects the impact technology is having on on the investment world, including back-office operations, investment opportunities and the way financial advice is delivered to clients.

The Morningstar Investment Conference, which will be held June 11-13 in Chicago, will also have a number of high-profile speakers; some of them, including famed investor Jeremy Grantham, will talk about how the financial world is adapting to changing technologies, but others will give their thoughts on more traditional topics.

One notable example is an address by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economic sciences in 2002 for his work in behavioral economics. Morningstar says Kahneman’s opening keynote address on June 12 will mark the end of a 10-year absence from the lecture circuit by the scholar.

Morningstar CEO Kunal Kapoor and Charles Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger will deliver the first keynote addresses on June 11, followed by Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine. Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and a commentator on CBS News, will deliver the keynote on June 12.

The conference will also include a variety of breakout sessions, many of them incorporating Morningstar research on some of the latest products and trends in the industry. “The Bond-Pickers’ Guide to Fixed-Income Strategies,” for example, is a June 12 session in which bond fund managers will talk about how they “identify winning credits, manage risk, and deliver compelling returns in ever-changing markets.”

Later that day, in “Manager Selection From a Practitioner’s Perspective,” advisors will discuss “how they distinguish manager skill from luck and how their priorities may be changing amid more scrutiny on performance and price.”

In a general session entitled “Global Equity Investing in a World of Blurring Borders” on the last day of the conference, David Herro, a portfolio manager of global equity funds at Oakmark, and Diana Strandberg, senior vice president and director of international equity at Dodge & Cox—described by Morningstar as two of the world’s most successful global stock managers—will talk about how they’ve “evolved their management philosophies as the landscape has changed and … their perspectives about how they think about the future of global equity investing.”

But amidst the traditional topics, the focus on technology stands out — reflecting the deep ways in which new innovations are changing the financial industry and the global economy.

On June 12, for example, Grantham, co-founder and chief investment strategist at Grantham, Mayo & van Otterloo, will deliver a closing keynote address entitled, “The Race of Our Lives: Accelerating Climate Damage Meets Accelerating Technological Progress.” Grantham will talk about rising technologies that are on track to rid the world of carbon-based fuels and provide an abundant pipeline of cheap energy. In a summary of his upcoming remarks, Grantham predicts it will be the biggest event since the industrial revolution. “But can this transition occur fast enough to prevent the global temperature from rising over 2 1/2 degrees centigrade?” states Morningstar’s preview of the address. “This would move the task of feeding 10 to 12 billion people from difficult—even without climate damage—to near impossible.”

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, which have come to shake the entire investment world just over the past year, are also well-represented topics on the Morningstar agenda this year.
On June 12, a session will focus on whether cryptocurrencies deserve to be considered an investment at all, and what advisors should do when clients want to invest in bitcoin. “In a world where newly-minted crypto millionaires are buying Lamborghinis like hotcakes, how can you engage in a sober conversation with clients about crypto?” states the session summary.

On June 13, in a general session entitled “Blockchain: Evolution or Revolution?,” a panel of Morningstar analysts will explore the technology that underlies cryptocurrencies, including the venture-capital-backed companies that “hope to leverage the technology to disrupt companies and business models.”

In “Rise of the Machines,” a breakout session on June 12, a panel of industry officials will discuss how asset managers are competing with one another to produce the best artificial intelligence, and whether or not the end results are providing managers with a sustainable edge.

In the conference’s last session, “From Fintech to Healthtech: Investing in New Technologies & Business Models,” a panel will discuss the opportunities and risks involved in emerging technologies, including the financial technologies that are changing the investment world.