Like the main character in the 1957 sci-fi film The Incredible Shrinking Man, SIFMA has been shrinking due to a combination of elements and everyone (except for the show's organizers) is powerless to help it.
The SIFMA technology expo, officially known this year as 'The Financial Services Technology Leaders Forum and Expo 2011' (It seems to change its name every year to an ever more convoluted moniker), brought to the Hilton Hotel in midtown New York yet another posse of vendors, journalists, stress balls, and this being 2011, iPad giveaways.
Times are definitely changing. There was no bag filled with press releases and goodies for journalists, and most shockingly for die-hard hacks, no meal or drink vouchers. Hey, there wasn't even a phone in the press room to conduct interviews.
On a positive note, SIFMA did have a smartphone app this year which included a map -- although it was all so hush hush I only found out about it by overhearing another journalist talking to the people at the registration desk.
Some deep-rooted SIFMA traditions have suddenly passed away without so much as an epitaph. There was no Sungard party this year. And no Davidsohn Group booth.
For the second consecutive (post-financial crisis) year, the show was located on just two floors. Three short years ago, it was on three floors. Five years ago, it was on four floors.
While the show floor was gently ebbing and flowing with people, one exhibitor complained that people were approaching booths to pick up pens and stress balls, but were avoiding any contact whatsoever with vendors, for fear of getting caught up in a sales pitch.
"People just don't want to catch your eye as they don't want to speak to you," the back office technology provider admitted.
Perhaps this was due to the fact that with the exception of the second floor which seemed to be dominated by large horizontal computer companies like IBM, HP and Cisco, the show floor was mainly filled with small vendors.
"It's the small guys who are there," one attendee said. "It's hard to know the difference between one and the other or to know who's been around for a while," he added. [Ed's note: especially if you don't speak to them. L]
One analyst in attendance reminisced about the good old days when there was a colorful mix of badges to be seen on the show floor: white ones for the financial executives, pink for the press and yellow for the exhibitors.
"There were a lot more white badges in the past," he said wistfully. And they were top CIO level-type executives, which was great for meetings and networking, he recalled. "Now, you mostly get mid-level marketing people."
Some attendees noted that right now, the show mainly attracts people who are looking for a job.
SIFMA organizers are, unsurprisingly, at pains to note good attendance. The show had 192 exhibitors this year, they said, compared to 190 in 2010. They admitted that conference registrants were down to 650 compared to 700 last year although there is no final number yet on how many of them actually turned up.
Says SIFMA PR Katrina Cavalli: "I think it's important to look at the numbers in context. They are some of the best in the past ten years -- SIFMA has changed the model and increased the value proposition for conference attendees by adding relevant timely topics and "Thought Leading" speakers."
Not everyone would agree. While this year's emphasis on panels is a step in the right direction, it could be too little, too late.
"There are just too many shows to go to and to choose from, so if you feel you've heard it all before and it's the same speakers as you had previous years, you have a hard time justifying why you should go," one attendee said.
Let's hope that next year the show manages to draw a host of exciting, A-list speakers ready to discuss buzz-worthy topics du jour and provide a must-attend vibe.
Ultimately, a major revamp is in order, or the shrinking show could soon end up shriveling to one floor and eventually vanishing altogether from the industry's radar.
Still, if organizers fail to re-think the event, as Advanced Trading editor Phil Albinus [PhilAlbinus] notes, it's always "nice to know something's shrinking faster than the U.S. dollar."