I've rarely encountered as savvy and experienced a group of insurance and financial services conference planners as those who attended the KSL Insurance Advisory Board, held at the Doral in Miami in late October. So when they talked, I listened.

What I heard was distressing. Not because major insurance companies aren't moving forward with meetings and incentive programs — they are. But the change that has characterized the financial services industry over the past few years is intensifying, and it is affecting industry planners on many levels.

One planner said that her $44 billion company, fresh from a merger, has put the meeting planning department under heavy scrutiny and decided to outsource some critical meeting planning functions — despite the proven value of the in-house department.

Another pointed out that even though her company was doing great and raking in huge profits, several planners in her department had been laid off because meetings aren't considered part of the company's core business.

Yet another had to leave the meeting early because his company was in the midst of a major divestiture and corporate reorganization that he feared would cost him his job.

The changes in the financial services marketplace vary according to the sector, of course. Life insurers, for example, are suffering from the plummeting value and appeal of their variable products (which are tied to the stock market), even as investors are buying fixed annuities in record numbers. The property-casualty industry enjoyed a big boost in net income in the first half of 2002, but it was tempered by capital losses on investments, also due to the battered stock market. And so it goes … you get the picture.

What do these changes mean to your daily work life? Listening to the planners at KSL, it struck me that much depends on your ability to constantly prove the value of your meetings to senior management, as well as your own value in communicating the company culture and the insurance/financial services industry to vendors and third parties.

Our mission at Insurance Conference Planner magazine is to help you do that by providing information, ideas, and case studies to enhance your survival strategies. Be sure to check out our cover story on the beleaguered airline industry (page 36) to find out what your colleagues are doing to deal with the new budget-busting fees and restrictions that airlines are imposing at a dizzying rate.

All the best for a healthy and safe holiday season.