by Lisa A. Grimaldi | May 01, 2011

Just over a year ago, when M&C last looked at the state of financial and insurance meetings ("Poised for Growth," February 2010), this market was barely beginning to come back from the one-two punch of the "AIG effect" and strictures imposed by federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program. Today, what was nascent stability has turned into clear signs of recovery.  

According to industry experts, most events that were canceled or postponed during the recession have been reinstated. Firms looking to take groups outside the United States and/or to luxury properties and destinations -- off-limits to many companies even a year ago -- say they are seeing healthy interest again.

To gauge the current state of this segment in the meetings world, M&C analyzed the latest membership data compiled by Chicago-based Financial & Insurance Conference Planners, the largest association in its niche, and spoke with a number of industry experts. Following is a look at where financial and insurance events are headed for the remainder of this year and beyond.

Meetings are on the rebound "Of the financial/insurance business we saw canceled over the past few years, at least 80 percent of it is back on the books or will be within the next 12 months," says Tom Wilson, vice president of sales for Fenton, Mo.-based Maritz Travel.

Steve Bova, executive director of Financial & Insurance Conference Planners, agrees that things are turning around. "The past two years were such a time of uncertainty, but that all seems to be over," he says.

Duluth, Ga.-based Primerica is one such financial services/insurance firm putting its large convention, a biennial affair canceled in 2009, back on the agenda. An inside source says the company had canceled "due to sensitivity about meetings" but now is eager to host some 55,000 agents for four days in Atlanta in mid-June to "bring the whole family together for the first time in four years."

While events are being reinstated, many don't look the same as they did prior to 2008. Among changes noted by industry experts:

• More educational content. According to FICP statistics, 80 percent of the events its members organize are incentive programs; in the past, these were viewed primarily as a chance for firms to get top performers together to talk about new products amid lots of free time. But sources say 50 percent of these gatherings now have added or increased "hard" meeting time. Tom Wilson notes that one financial firm now invites economic advisers from top universities to address program participants on topics such as the transfer of wealth management within families.

Kelly Wood• Involvement of senior management. Since 2008, meetings have been higher up on the radar of senior executives at financial and insurance firms. "It's a fundamental shift that executives at this level are involved," says Kelly Wood, vice president, global sales organization, North America, for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. "Higher levels of approval are now required for meetings."

• Less worry over negative perceptions.
In M&C's 2010 look at financial/insurance meetings, firms were still being very circumspect about attracting unwanted attention. At the time, hoteliers told M&C they were being asked to sign confidentiality agreements in record numbers, so as not to disclose the name of client firms or details of their meetings, while others banned signage and branding during their events.

But today, these concerns are fading. At the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., for example, Liz Franzese, director of sales and marketing, says most clients no longer seem concerned about confidentiality or the brandishing of logos while on-site.

"We, too, are seeing less sensitivity on using program logos and company logos on materials and signage," notes Jill Anonson, event management practice lead at West Des Moines, Iowa-based ITAGroup, a meeting and incentive firm.