by Lisa A. Grimaldi | October 01, 2015
Incentive programs can play a critical role in boosting the bottom lines of financial and insurance companies. Many rely on the lure of incentive travel to spur agents -- who often sell product lines for several companies -- to focus their efforts on the firm offering top sellers an enticing prize. "Incentives are part of these businesses' DNA," says Steve Bova, executive director of Financial & Insurance Conference Planners.

Because so many FICP members are responsible for organizing such events, the Chicago-based association launched its first-ever study on incentive programs this June. The survey asked 91 planners about their programs for 2015 and beyond. Following, industry professionals share their insights on key findings, as well as other trends and patterns shaping financial and insurance incentive programs today.

1. Programs are steady or growing. For the majority of respondents (74 percent) to the FICP survey, the number of programs their companies organize has remained the same in recent years, while 17 percent said the number of programs planned for 2015 and beyond is on the rise.

Another positive sign: Two-thirds of the planners surveyed said their firms are not combining incentive programs with other events, as many did in order to trim costs during the recent recession. "Incentive programs are now standing on their own," says FICP's Steve Bova. "If they are combined with other events, it's because they share synergies, and not for financial reasons."

2. Success is a challenge.
 The number of agents qualifying for incentive programs (typically based on total commission/revenue generated) is flat or increasing, according to 85 percent of respondents. Nearly two thirds of planners (62 percent) say their companies are reconsidering qualification processes to counteract the rising number of winners (for example, setting higher goals).

Sheila R. Cleary, second vice president, recognition and conferences, at the Montpelier, Vt.-based National Life Group, finds the increase in qualifiers creates a new imperative: "As our programs become more successful, finding destinations that are a draw, are of high quality and can accommodate growing numbers is critical," she says.

The slowdown in hotel development in recent years has made that challenge even more difficult. "Supply and demand are cyclical, and we are in a long period of little new-build in places where we typically meet," notes Cleary.

Simply finding destinations than can accommodate her largest group -- some 600 qualifiers strong -- is not easy. But Cleary, who serves as chair of FICP's board and was instrumental in launching the survey, says she doesn't automatically shy away from places that appear too small on paper. "I give partners the opportunity to be creative; I let them come up with ways to utilize the destination and find alternative spaces, such as art venues, for bigger groups."

Isabel Mahon, director of sales, incentive/insurance, for Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, has several clients who are struggling to fit their larger pool of program qualifiers. "They're getting limited in the types of hotels and locations they can use, so some are turning the programs into waves [back-to-back programs of smaller groups], rather than trying to get everyone together at one time," she notes.