When Money Media Nerds Meet: FinCon'17 Trip Report

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It might not be as star-studded as Comic-Con or as fur-covered as CatCon.  But FinCon'17, a conference targeted at a self-described "energetic community of money media nerds," did not disappoint. It was a mind-blowing lesson in what’s possible when a diverse group of smart people, cutting edge technology, and a culture of sharing coexist. 

Launched in 2011 by the unstoppable Phil Taylor of PT Money, this year’s FinCon attracted 1700 financial bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, writers, software developers, advisors, coaches... You name it! We all descended on Dallas in late October for 4+ jam-packed days of knowledge sharing, networking, and revelry. The swag wasn’t bad either.

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Now I'm sure you're thrilled that I scored unlimited sparkly purple chocolate-covered Oreos.  (Shout out to sponsor Ally!)  But what's in it for you non-money media nerds??

With the conference a month in the rear view mirror, here's the news I think you can use.  It’s a compilation of trends spotted, observations made, and nifty tools that surprised me by already existing.

THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF FINANCIAL SAVVY

In my prior life as a financial planner, there was a lot of talk about the industry's focus on the wealthy.  There never seemed to be a good answer for how to get much-needed help to anyone with an income under 6 figures or assets south of a $1/2 mil. Now there is.

To paraphrase early Bruce Springsteen champion Jon Landau, I have seen the future of personal finance and its name is FinCon. 

In parallel with the growth of this community, there is an explosion of resources - many of them free - that absolutely can help previously-underserved Americans get their financial houses in order. Score another one for that Great Equalizer, the Internet.  (Thanks again, Al Gore!)

Make no mistake. Like the rest of the financial services industry, it's a minefield out there and not everyone dispensing personal finance pearls of wisdom is worth listening to.  But if you remember to proceed with caution and consider the source, the reliable answers, inspiration, and support networks you need to reach your next financial milestone might be just a Google search away.

Here’s a sampling of resources across the spectrum:

  • Dispirited millennial weighed down by debt? Look to financial rapper Dee-1 to get your groove back. His I Paid Sallie Mae Back had us howling and dancing in the aisles.
  • Trying to reign in spending? I like Club Thrifty and Living on the Cheap.
  • Stuck in a financial holding pattern? Try a financial coach: Yulin Lee, Amber Berry, Linda Matthew.
  • Short on time? Listen to a financial podcast while you commute, do the dishes, or walk the dog.  Find countless episodes on everything from credit to early retirement to real estate on the Rockstar Finance directory.
  • DIY numbers nerd? You might like Tiller’s spreadsheet converter which lets you dump financial data into a Google Sheet and analyze it six ways to Sunday.
  • CFP® or wannabe? Vanguard’s white papers for advisors explore and explain a wide range of sophisticated financial planning strategies.

FINCON IS FI/RE'D UP

The FI/RE movement is on fire. For the uninitiated, FI/RE is Financial Independence/Retire Early, the central theme of this blog. And it’s becoming quite a hot topic at FinCon, as the community grows up and out, i.e. reaches new financial milestones and expands in scope.

FI/RE’s mock spiritual leader is early FinConner Mr. Money Mustache (motto “Early Retirement through Badassity”.) He inadvertently launched a “cult” by blogging about the counterculture strategies that enabled him to retire at age 30 by saving 70%+ of his income.

As Mr Money Mustache’s impressive oeuvre illustrates, achieving FI/RE doesn’t necessarily mean never working again.  It simply means you have amassed sufficient financial resources to work as much as you want at what you want how, when, and where you want. 

Sounds like a fantasy, eh?  But before you dismiss it as an impossible dream, I’d encourage you to check his math and his methods. Even if you lean more toward intentional spending than frugality, or consider 60 early retirement, you can learn a lot from a mustachioed money maven and his merry band of Mustachians. (I swear I am not making this up.)

TECH: THE NEXT WAVE

Post-FinCon’17, I'm convinced that, whatever the need, there's an app, a combination of apps, or a Web site to fill it.  If not, there will be by next year.  I also came away awed, with a powerful sense we've barely scratched the surface in terms of the value that can be delivered.  Here’s where that struck me the most…

Collaboration is king

In an uncanny illustration of what this Harvard Business Review article foretold 5 years ago, the sharing economy brought new levels of productivity to FinCon’17.  OK, so we were all on our phones 24/7, but prevailing opinion be damned, that actually brought people together.  We used Facebook, Slack, Google Drive, and a customized FinCon app to enable a mind-boggling level of interaction between organizers, presenters, attendees, and the community.

Attendees could create their own groups and meetups for any interest. This made it ridiculously easy to find and connect with your tribe(s). I breakfasted with Bostonians, shared beer and burgers with financial independents, and logged several thousand steps with my new walking buddies.  Others arranged podcasts and YouTube videos which were recorded on site and, in some cases, broadcast to the world real-time.  

Yes, collaboration creates community begets opportunity. But it also saves cold hard cash.  OK, I’m embarrassingly late to the party on this one, but I got my first Lyft ride at FinCon.  And thanks to a fellow attendee who found me via the FinCon ride sharing directory (read: complete stranger), I only footed half the bill, minus the $5 off promo she turned me on to.

In data veritas

Efforts to tap the combined potential of data aggregration and automation continue at an impressive pace. This showed up in financial planning solutions like Personal Capital (reviewed here), as well as up-and-comers like Grove and New Retirement. 

It also popped up in the travel hacking realm, with new app Birch emerging the victor in FinCon’s FinTech competition.  Birch helps you use your travel rewards cards to optimize rewards given your particular spending habits. Those who’ve read about my newbie travel hacking attempts won’t be surprised to hear that this caught my attention. 

Something with potentially greater implications is also in the works: FinTech companies are setting their sites (pun intended) on health care, a corner of society desperately in need of some sunlight, a.k.a. the best disinfectant.

Until now, the real costs and benefits of health insurance and care have been obscured by a system that reinforces concealment. Now some brave software developers are gaining access to the data and converting it into something consumers can use to make informed choices.

Amino lets you compare the cost of various medical procedures in your area, while Take Command Health lets you compare insurance plans. These tools are still in their infancy, but they are a step in the right direction.

THE TAKE-HOME

So that was FinCon'17. The only thing missing was GPS support for the hotel map to help us find our way around the maze that was the Sheraton Dallas! That, and maybe a heated parka to combat the Arctic climate that characterized the meeting rooms.  But I quibble.

This was hands-down the best conference I've ever been to, and I signed up for FinCon'18 even before it was over.  If you can't attend, I'd urge you to start following this crowd. Energetic money media nerd or not, I guarantee you will end up more healthy, wealthy, and wise.

If you do decide to go, be sure and track me down.  Never mind that it’s in Orlando in September.  I'll be the one in the ski jacket eating fancy Oreos while using the new in-hotel GPS app to locate the booth of the exhibitor who's fixed healthcare.