By Liz Hoffman

March 4, 2020 7:05 am ET

The world’s biggest money managers and dozens of corporate chief executives will gather in Boston next week. No bankers allowed.

It is the first in a series of planned conferences where big shareholders can mingle directly with corporate management, cutting banks out of their lucrative role as Wall Street’s matchmakers. Investors with $9 trillion of assets will meet with CEOs of two dozen of America’s biggest companies, including Walmart Inc. and Coca-Cola Co., according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The organizers are a loose coalition of rival money managers: Fidelity Investments, Capital Group, T. Rowe Price Group, Wellington Management and Norway’s government fund. A second gathering for health-care companies and their investors is set for November.

The insurgency threatens a status quo on Wall Street, where banks earn millions of dollars in fees brokering meetings between their investor clients and their corporate clients. They arrange what are known as road shows ahead of stock offerings and take shareholders on field trips through factory floors, often charging thousands of dollars a head.

That business, known as corporate access, has been a key moneymaker for banks. Investing clients reward them with trading commissions, and corporate clients reward them with underwriting and merger-advisory mandates.

Changes in regulation and market conditions now threaten that cash cow.

Top-tier asset managers, bigger and more powerful than ever, can get through to corporate managers without an introduction from a Wall Street broker.

They are also under pressure to cut costs as fees shrink, and new regulations in Europe require funds to account for every penny spent on research and corporate access.

The effort is just the latest assault on banks’ role as Wall Street’s middlemen. Companies are increasingly borrowing straight from loan funds instead of hiring a bank to place the debt. Online platforms allow investors to trade directly with each other without a bank to connect them.

More than 20 consumer-staples companies are expected to send their top brass to next week’s conference in Boston, including well-known names such as Clorox Co. and newcomers like food-delivery provider DoorDash Inc., which is getting ready to go public. (The conference could yet be postponed or scaled down because of the spread of coronavirus.)

The attendee list, reviewed by the Journal, has a combined market value of nearly $2 trillion and includes five of the 10 biggest components of the S&P 500 consumer-staples index. The health-care conference set for November in Baltimore, T. Rowe Price’s hometown, is expected to draw executives from Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., among a dozen others, said people involved in its planning.

“We continue to find value in the access to corporate leaders that Wall Street has facilitated over many years, although we are supplementing these engagements with our own direct corporate-access program,” said a spokesman for T. Rowe, which manages $1.2 trillion.

Word of the conferences has caused consternation among banks. Next week’s event coincides with a Bank of America Corp. consumer-goods conference, where Macy’s Inc. and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. are set to pitch to investors.

It has also sparked worry among smaller asset managers not invited into the club. While CEOs aren’t allowed to share corporate secrets at closed meetings, investors focus on their tone and body language in the hopes of picking up useful information. It appears to work: A 2011 academic study found that fund managers who attended corporate meetings made more money than those who didn’t.

The planned conferences won’t include public presentations by CEOs, but rather a series of 75-minute one-on-one meetings, attendees said. That means companies won’t have to disclose the meetings or release webcasts or transcripts of what is discussed.

Some companies are wary of riling big banks, whose money they borrow. A spokesman for Walmart said that “most of the conferences we’re going to this year are broker-sponsored.”

Write to Liz Hoffman at