Remember a few years ago when the thought of working with your procurement department brought on anxiety attacks? Meeting planners, particularly those in the insurance and financial services industries, resisted like crazy — to no avail. Today, not only do most corporate planners work with procurement — 64 percent of respondents to Meeting Professionals International's 2007 FutureWatch survey said their purchasing departments were involved in hotel sourcing in 2006, with 27 percent expecting that involvement to increase in 2007 — but many have embraced the relationship as helpful rather than harmful.

Now there's a new sheriff in town: your compliance officer. And as with procurement, resistance is futile.

In fact, smart meeting managers like Allstate Financial's Laurie Fitzgerald, CMP, make it their business to take a strategic approach and show how they can be valued partners with compliance. When Fitzgerald joined Allstate Financial in Northbrook, Ill., about five years ago, Chief Compliance Officer Maribel Gerstner had just been transferred to her position. Rather than avoid Gerstner's involvement in meeting planning, Fitzgerald welcomed it. Today they are joined at the hip when it comes to ensuring that the 65 meetings, trade shows, and events Fitzgerald manages are compliant with NASD guidelines.

Unfortunately, a close relationship with your compliance officer won't negate the detailed bookkeeping that most planners hate. “My desk is one big spreadsheet,” notes Fitzgerald, who estimates that for a typical meeting she spends roughly 40 percent of her time issuing invitations and tracking approval lists of the reps who are invited to attend. But paying such diligent attention to details and partnering closely with Gerstner enables Fitzgerald to help keep her company off the front pages of the Wall Street Journal — and into the front pages of Financial & Insurance Meetings as a best-practices example of planner-compliance collaboration. Check out our cover story by senior writer Michael Bassett, on page 24, to get the scoop on how Fitzgerald and Gerstner ensure that every aspect of their meetings adheres to NASD guidelines.

A New Name for NASD

Keeping up with industry rules and regs is a complex job for compliance pros. Not only are many of the guidelines that apply to meetings open to interpretation, but the financial services industry is overseen by a variety of regulators that includes — but is not limited to — NASD, the SEC, various banking entities, and 50 state insurance and securities regulators. Some of these overlapping jurisdictions will be streamlined by the imminent merger of the New York Stock Exchange and NASD, which jointly regulate about 200 of the largest securities companies in the U.S.

The date of the merger had not yet been announced when this issue went to press in late June. But on June 20, NASD Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mary Shapiro announced that the name of the merged organization will be the Securities Industry Regulatory Authority. “We're working around the clock to see that the consolidation is finalized soon,” said Shapiro. “Once that happens, SIRA will be largest self-regulatory organization for securities brokers and dealers in the world.”

What will SIRA mean for you and your meetings? Knock on the door of your compliance department and ask your new best friend.