During the FICP 2017 Annual Conference, which took place in San Diego on November 12-15, we asked Executive Director Steve Bova, CAE, to weigh in on a variety of important issues of interest to financial and insurance industry meeting professionals, from regulatory and other challenges to trends for the coming year.
Q. FICP members recently voted to change the name of the organization. Why was this change so important?
A. When FICP announced its new mission and vision a year ago, the intention was to raise the bar for the association so that it could position its meeting professional members as thought leaders to the entire meetings and events industry. FICP also wanted to position members as professionals within their companies. It only made sense that, if we are to play a role in elevating the stature of the profession, the association positions itself as a community of professionals. While the change may appear to be subtle, it is important and has been very well received by the membership as well as the industry we serve.
Q. How are financial services and insurance industry meetings and sales incentives affected by regulatory challenges, such as the Fiduciary Rule?
A. There has been a wide spectrum of responses based on each company’s perspective about the rule. Some have made no changes, some have made a few changes, and some have made significant changes. Action seems to be dependent upon a company’s business model and appetite for risk.
The Department of Labor has officially delayed by 18 months the January 1, 2018 implementation date of the Conflict of Interest Rule. This means that the Best Interest Contract, and the other disclosure obligations, will not be effective until July 1, 2019. This latest development does not change the impartial conduct standard that took effect June 9, 2017. Stay tuned as we continue to navigate the uncertainty around the rule.
Q. What other major challenges are financial and insurance meeting professionals facing today?
A. The most important challenges we are hearing from members are that increasing travel costs are making it more challenging to continue to deliver exceptional events. The issue of safety and security is now on everyone’s radar, and the related costs further the challenges borne by the increased travel costs. Technology is not always inexpensive. At the same time, investments need to be made in order to stay on the cutting edge, be easy to do business with and remain relevant. Together, these additional expenses put pressure on meeting professionals to deliver extraordinary experiences within a limited budget.
What’s more, factor in the importance of diversity and inclusiveness as well as addressing multigenerational challenges in meetings and events. Both meeting professionals as well as the end customers (brokers and dealers) are impacted in various ways by the evolving nature of the world. It’s no wonder that continued professional development is so necessary and that the importance of the meeting professional getting a seat at the table is more important than ever!
Q. Are the number and length of meetings increasing or decreasing? Do you see any swing away from the seller’s market? What about lead times?
A. One of the key takeaways of the first FICP Pulse Survey (Q2) earlier this year was that many meeting professionals were being tasked with more work in less time — meetings were getting bigger and the number of meetings was increasing, while the lead time was also getting shorter. Fortunately, the results of FICP’s just-released Q3 Pulse Survey show that these conditions are improving for many of those same professionals, and that meeting professionals at nearly all of their companies influence executive decision-making.
For hospitality partners, their business outlook remains strong and signs continue for the seller’s market — at least for the near future. Demand continues to surpass supply, and new builds are not focusing on the big boxes that have the meeting space that planners are seeking. Of course, markets operate in cycles and nothing lasts forever.
Q. What encouraging signs do you see ahead for the U.S. and global meetings industry?
A. We reside within a powerful, relevant and dynamic industry. Meetings matter more than ever. Humans have an innate need to meet face-to-face that is not bound exclusively by economic, geographic, safety or security factors. While these and other issues may impact our ability to meet from time to time, the big picture is that our industry meets a basic human need. It’s pretty encouraging to know that what we do as an industry bonds people in many ways, fosters communication, builds knowledge and confidence, and enables us to recognize, reward and retain our most productive and valued people.
Nicholas P. Sargen, chief economist and investment strategist for Fort Washington Investment Advisors, is bullish about the overall global economy. During the FICP Annual Conference in November, he made the case for continued optimism in the financial and insurance niche. Specifically, within the United States, there is high consumer and business confidence, solid job growth, synchronized global expansion, rebounding corporate profits, and low inflation and interest rates. At the same time, growth of the labor force has slowed, immigration is being curtailed, labor productivity has slowed, and the budget deficit is set to widen significantly.
Sargen concluded his remarks by sharing the good: tax and regulatory reform; the bad: outsized deficits and rising interest rates; and the ugly: a trade war or spread of populism globally.
Q. What in your opinion are the biggest trends and areas of change financial and insurance industry meetings will face in the coming year?
A. I would like to say that 2018 will be a breakthrough year for meeting professionals representing all industries and especially those in the financial and insurance sector. What does ultimate success look like?
More corporate executives would fully recognize and appreciate meeting professionals as integral strategic resources within their companies, rather than someone to administrate an expense line or function. Meeting professionals would earn the trust and admiration of these executives by demonstrating their strategic value to the company in addition to being creative event organizers, reliable taskmasters and valued generalists. The game is changing and the importance of the meeting professional has never been greater.
The reality is that unfortunate and unexpected events will continue to happen anytime and anywhere. This presents an opportunity for meeting professionals to demonstrate their expertise and bring value to the table. What will resonate most with corporate executives? There is an increasing need for corporate events to be as safe and secure as possible. Meeting professionals play a critical role in preparing for crises and mitigating situations when they arise. When valued organizational assets gather in one place, the potential for danger is omnipresent. There is no more important role for a meeting professional than to provide confidence that the company has taken every possible measure to ensure the safety and wellness of its people. That’s why meeting professionals need to be at the table, in the loop and contributing to the important conversations that are taking place within their companies. I&FMM