LPL’s Focus conference draws nearly 5,000 people to Boston

Chris Morris for The Boston Globe

Dan Arnold.

By Globe Staff  

LPL Financial’s CEO is no longer based in Boston. But he still knows how to throw a party here.

The Boston financial services firm held its Focus 2017 conference at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center last week, drawing nearly 5,000 clients, employees, sponsors, and other guests.


Among the speakers on the agenda: “Shark Tank” star Lori Greiner; WBZ-TV anchor Lisa Hughes; marketing guru Seth Godin; and Life is Good cofounder Bert Jacobs. Singer Kelly Clarkson provided the musical entertainment.

It was the first Focus conference for Dan Arnold as the firm’s chief executive. Arnold, formerly the chief financial officer, took over as CEO when Mark Casady retired in January. Casady had been based at LPL’s Boston office, but Arnold works out of San Diego.

In his opening remarks, Arnold urged attendees to think about the rise of digital technologies as an opportunity, not a threat. He said LPL launched a research and development lab this year to figure out ways to help independent advisers in LPL’s network reduce overhead costs.

“We’re very committed to this independent model,” Arnold said in a subsequent interview. “We think it has tremendous upside. . . . We wanted to make sure they know we’re building it to last.”

Technically, LPL remains based in Boston, but its San Diego workforce is much larger. And the company recently opened an office in Fort Mill, S.C., which will have about 2,000 employees by year’s end.


Arnold, who says he visits Boston roughly once a quarter, left the door open to changing the HQ location. But for now, Boston will remain the corporate home.

“We’ve got [employees] here who play a very important role in our overall value proposition,” Arnold said.

“They are people with great history, great commitment to LPL, lots of internal knowledge, lots of industry knowledge.”


Another Yotel hotel likely

Yotel chief executive Hubert Viriot just opened his first hotel in Boston, and he’s already thinking about his next one.

The 326-room “micro hotel” in the Seaport offers smaller than typical rooms — many are less than 200 square feet — with below-market prices. Some available for the end of August are going for under $200.


Viriot, who is based in London, came to Boston to celebrate with employees and guests, who dined on FoMu ice cream and food from Row 34, Shake Shack, and Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar. Before the party started, he spoke with the Globe about why he picked the Seaport Square location – and where he might be looking to open next.

“The Seaport is ideal for our brand,” Viriot says. “In a city, we like to be part of the future districts, rather than the already established parts of town.”

Still, his next potential location would definitely qualify as “already established.” He says he’s looking at opportunities in Cambridge, to be closer to Harvard and MIT and its professors, students, and parents visiting those campuses. “We think it’s also a potentially attractive market for us,” he says.


Students, loans, banks

Call it the Citizens Bank influence.

The Consumer Bankers Association, a Washington D.C., trade group that represents some of the country’s largest banks, will take a more active role in advocating on student lending issues. That’s due in part to Brad Conner’s influence.

Conner, vice chairman for consumer banking at Providence-based Citizens, takes over as chairman of the CBA in September.

The association counts institutions such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo among its members, along with smaller lenders such as Eastern Bank and Rockland Trust.

Its focus has traditionally been on advocating for less regulation of banks. In recent years, the CBA has been particularly critical of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created after the last financial crisis.

Student lending hasn’t been as much of a priority, because many banks pulled out of the business during the Great Recession, fearing defaults and low margins.

But Citizens is among a small group of banks that are heavily invested in student loans. For the second quarter, the bank reported $7.7 billion in student loans. It has been particularly aggressive in capturing the refinancing market for student loans.

Other lenders, including Wells Fargo and Discover, have also remained active in student lending, while new players, such as the San Francisco startup Social FinanceInc., or SoFi, are doing student loan refinancing.

The CBA will continue its traditional advocacy for banks but will “tweak” its agenda to include student loans, Conner said.

Citizens and other private lenders are particularly concerned that the federal government plays too large a role in the student loan business and makes it too easy for families to get loans, even when it’s unclear they will be able to repay them, Conner said.

He believes banks could provide more loans to students and families.


Battling over clean energy

The “clean energy” bidding battle underway in Massachusetts was supposed to be about pulling in more hydroelectric power from Canada.

Apparently, Deepwater Wind’s chief executive, Jeff Grybowski, didn’t get the memo.

Sure, a number of power-line developers showed up to compete for these long-term contracts, with a goal of connecting with Hydro-Quebec or another generator in Canada. The bidding list includes Eversource, which hopes to use the process to build its controversial Northern Pass project through New Hampshire. Solar and wind farm developers with plans in northern New England are also competing.

Grybowski, however, sees an important resource south of Massachusetts: offshore wind.

His Providence company, controlled by the investment firm D.E. Shaw, has lease rights to install wind turbines in federal waters. His firm previously announced plans to bid for separate offshore wind contracts that will become available later this year. But nothing in the state’s 2016 energy law prevents him from bidding for a piece of the “clean energy” contracts, as well.

Grybowski calls the project Revolution Wind. Its size could vary, depending on how much energy is needed. He wants to use a Tesla energy-storage system to make his project a more consistent producer of power.

Meanwhile, Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon told the State House News Service that he’s still plowing ahead with plans for his wind farm in Nantucket Sound, even though the 2016 energy law was written to prevent his firm from entering the bidding for the state-controlled offshore contracts.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has apparently rebuffed requests from project opponents to rescind Gordon’s federal lease rights. So there won’t be much relaxing on the beach this summer for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound — Cape Wind’s biggest foe — after all.


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