Steve Bova, CAE, Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP) executive director, recently addressed the state of the financial and insurance meetings industry — offering insights into the status of the industry and trends of what meeting professionals should be aware, both now and in the future. FICP is a community of financial service and insurance industry meetings and events professionals dedicated to developing members and advocating the positive impact of their work.
While attending the 2019 FICP Annual Conference in Austin, Texas in November, we gained input from Bova on a number of areas — from current conditions, to industry foresight, to what’s new and exciting within the association for 2020.
A: There are a lot of regulations that impact the industry, but we are unaware of any that are directly impacting meetings. However, last June, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to adopt a package of rule-makings and interpretations designed to enhance the quality and transparency of retail investors’ relationships with investment advisers and broker-dealers. While the regulations were proposed to take effect in 2020, most companies already have measures in place that would put them in compliance with the proposed changes.
A: There is a constant challenge from corporate executives for meetings professionals to continue to make each event better than the previous one, but to use fewer resources. This supports the importance for meetings professionals to educate their executives about changes and trends impacting their meetings, and especially with respect to the budget. These are opportunities for conversations — an open door to be at the table, especially when there is fresh data to share that the industry makes available.
Equally as important is communicating to attendees in an environment where attention spans are diminishing. You can expect that most attendees don’t read. According to a study by Microsoft, the average human being now has an attention span of eight seconds. This is a sharp decrease from the average attention span of 12 seconds in 2000. Another study showed that people are able to focus for about 17 minutes before losing interest. Hence, the reason for TED Talks. This shows there is a need in our meeting design for shorter presentations, more networking time, ‘wow’ or unique experiences, and creating emotional, long-lasting connections.
A: Several sources indicate budgets are increasing or leveling out, but not decreasing. Budgets generally increased slightly in 2019 over 2018; however, we are seeing signs of caution as 2020 budgets are created. Some are indicating concerns of an economic slowdown — not a recession but slower growth — which is prompting some companies to create scenarios during their budgeting process to anticipate upside and downside outcomes. Still, nearly 40% of meetings professionals are not adjusting their events in light of discussions around a possible economic slowdown.
A: This is one budget line that is not under intense scrutiny, and if so, it’s to ensure there are enough resources dedicated to this area. It’s not a hard sell, considering the environment in which we live. For example, “Our company has always had high security protocols,” says one FICP board member, who continued, “there may be more topics we cover — e.g., active shooter, etc. — but the attention to detail and making it a priority has always existed.”
A: The most encouraging message to share is that there is no evidence that suggests anything will ever replace face-to-face interaction as the most effective means of human connection. We are bullish that the value of and demand for in-person conferences will remain high for the foreseeable future.
According to the FICP Fall 2019 Pulse Survey, slightly more respondents are reporting increases in the size of business meetings being planned as compared to the spring 2019 survey; however, that growth has not yet returned to 2018 levels. With incentives and the number of business meetings, the majority of meetings professionals are continuing to experience conditions that remain the same. More of those at insurance-only firms reported increases than their counterparts at financial services and combination financial services and insurance companies.
A: First, 2019 was a record-breaker! Every conference presents opportunities that accentuate the uniqueness of the venue. For the first time, FICP partnered with the host convention & visitors bureau, Visit Austin, to offer a pre-event city tour attended by 30 meetings professionals. Visit Austin hosted an evening event that played up the city’s live music reputation. FICP attendees stepped right onto the dance floor during the evening networking opportunities.
A: While there was an unlimited number of takeaways for attendees in the breakout sessions offered throughout the event, three messages resonated from the main stage:
A: FICP created Meeting Spots in an effort to customize and maximize interaction between meetings professionals and hospitality partners. Using the conference app, Meeting Spots, allowed attendees to meet with their peers and hospitality partners throughout the event at the time and place that works best for them. Continuing as popular offerings were the Meetings Professional Exchange, Speaker Showcase and an interactive CSR activity.
Wayne Robinson, CMP, CMM, FICP 2019 chairman and assistant vice president, FM Global, shared the organization’s strategic pillars: growth, value and influence. He said that growth not only relates to the number of companies represented through individual membership, but also includes personal growth and development and growth in stature and industry influence. Value in FICP speaks from the context of continuous professional growth and development, and the ability to tap into the association as a year-long experience in addition to attending up to six face-to-face events. Influence refers to meetings professionals as thought leaders and the association as a key player in the meetings and events industry.
“Growth allows FICP to increase the offerings we make available to both our community and the meetings and events industry as a whole, and ultimately increases the value that members derive,” Robinson says. He was specifically referring to a new recorded webcast series available through FICP Anytime, a podcast series focused on FICP’s Pulse Surveys, quick-hit videos from popular presenters, called FICP Shorts, and blogs written by experts across our community.
Robinson also announced the launch of another new resource: Shared Interest Groups (SIGs). FICP meetings professional members can now join moderated communities to share insights with each other on topics such as event disruption, meeting trends and current challenges. The SIGs will host virtual exchanges, limited to 25 participants per session, where members can discuss these topics in greater detail.
Finally, Robinson announced the launch of a simplified member referral program to help recognize member and hospitality partner efforts to bring new people into the FICP community.
Beginning January 1, 2020, Robinson will become immediate past chair and lead the 2020 Annual Conference Event Team, and Michael Burke, CMP, will become FICP’s chairman. Burke serves as director, Conference & Travel Services with The Hanover Insurance Group. “I am both extremely grateful for and humbled by the opportunity to lead the organization for a second time as your chair. FICP has been the single biggest influence in my professional career, and I am excited to bring my passion for the industry and this organization to my leadership role next year,” Burke told the FICP audience.
He illustrated the growth FICP has experienced since he was last the association’s chief elected officer 2005:
A: Another trend from the most recent Pulse Survey is that planners generally prefer to do their own negotiating. In fact, 79% of planners say they are sourcing, which directly speaks to FICP’s power of partnerships and relationships.
While anecdotally, it is assumed that meetings professionals use negotiation to demonstrate value, 78% of Pulse Survey respondents indicated they prefer to receive the best rate up front, while 61% of hospitality partners indicated they prefer to provide the best rate up front.
At the recent IMEX America SMART Monday session, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), and FICP, along with research partner Oxford Economics, released the second joint study of the global incentive travel industry. The 2019 Incentive Travel Industry Index is the largest-ever survey undertaken into the incentive travel industry, providing not just a historical snapshot of from where the industry has come, but also a predictive hypothesis of where it’s going.
In a panel session at the 2019 FICP Annual Conference, FICP members discussed the findings and how both meetings professionals and hospitality partners could leverage the data in executive-level discussions and for future incentive planning purposes. Key findings from the study included:
•An average spend per person on incentive programs of $4,508 in North America.
•An anticipated budget growth by 2022 of 5.9%, primarily due to increases in hotel-related spends. While overall budgets remain relatively flat according to other industry data, incentive travel budgets are growing.
•An increased emphasis on ‘soft power,’ even with senior management, four of the six top-rated benefits to companies of incentive travel were tied to areas such as improved engagement, improved retention, better employee relationship building and better relationship building between employees and management.
•Continued increased importance of wellness and CSR vs. golf, and flexible activities vs. mandated events in incentive travel importance.
A: Technology becomes more savvy over the years. It’s important for meeting professionals to follow these trends and make sure they are applying them to their programs. There is a lot to monitor, including mobile apps, facial recognition, traffic patterns and other innovative opportunities.
Finally, FICP announced that its 2022 Annual Conference will take place November 13-16 at the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport in Boston. The hotel, set to open in early 2021, is the largest hotel development in Boston in more than 10 years.
While the Annual Conference is the one time we can get together during the year, the key to meeting professional’s growth is to be engaged throughout the year in their industry and the association — to stay on top of trends and innovations, productivity-boosting tips and other skill-building information and to build a pipeline of future leaders. I&FMM