by By Lisa Grimaldi | June 01, 2009

Cindy WheatonWhen it comes to incentives, Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Financial Network, a division of Nationwide, is "back on track" for 2010, according to Cindy Wheaton, CMP, manager for group meetings and incentives, following a period of ups and downs for the programs. Planned are the company's annual workshop in Columbus, Ohio, and a program in San Antonio, which Wheaton says will be "cost-conscious" and include two half-day business sessions and an awards banquet.

Last December, when M&C first spoke with Wheaton, who also serves as president of Financial & Insurance Conference Planners, she vowed that "We are not cutting back on our incentives. If you don't motivate your employees, things will only get worse, because sales will go down and the company won't have money to spend."

But though Wheaton and her boss "fought like bandits" to keep the trips in place, in late January, word came down from the top brass that most meetings, including the two main incentive programs her division ran, had to be canceled. Though Nationwide was not among the financial/insurance firms that accepted Troubled Asset Relief Program dollars from the government, management decided that holding incentive trips when the economy was down was not appropriate.

The company notified its agent advisory board members. "They were disappointed about the decision, but they understood," Wheaton says.

Canceled were a 50-person trip to Costa Rica, which was cut three weeks before it was to take place, and a 250-person program scheduled for April in Naples, Fla. To compensate the top performers who had won those trips, the company gave cash rewards, but, as Wheaton says, the motivation for salespeople (including independents who sell Nationwide products) "is all about being recognized, and that is why events are so key."

The company did keep its 2009 workshop in place. Set for August at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, this event, for which agents need to qualify to attend, is a three-day/two-night business meeting where they can earn continuing-education credits. At press time, the agenda was still being hammered out.