THINGS ARE FINALLY looking up for financial services training, according to a panel at the March annual meeting of the International Association of Conference Centers in Dallas. Not only are companies spending more on series training — 10 or 20 back-to-back training sessions booked in advance — but they're also adding recognition elements to their meetings.
“It feels like 1998, just a little more disciplined,” said Everett Berger director, learning solutions group, Merrill Lynch, Plainsboro, N.J. “There's a lot of pent-up demand for training and development. Companies need to do something to retain employees who haven't had any development in three or four years.” Berger says his company is using more resorts, which they haven't done as much in the past couple of years, and holding more meetings in warmer climates like Florida.
On the other hand, Kathy Berardi, meeting services, KPMG, Montvale, N.J., was told not to use resorts for training meetings because it might catch the attention of upper management. She is using conference centers more than ever, and has seen a 53 percent increase in requests for meetings since October, the start of her company's fiscal year. Required training for KPMG's CPAs makes up 60 percent of her bookings.
IACC conference centers are purpose-built facilities designed for training, and facilities have to meet stringent criteria to belong to the association. But according to the panel, there's still confusion among some planners between IACC members and hotels that label themselves conference centers. Not with Berger, however, who's a dedicated conference center user for training meetings. “I have relationships with some conference centers that are so familiar with my business that I don't even have to have a Merrill representative there.”
Yet Diane Pearson, assistant vice president/event manager for US Bancorp Asset Management, based in Minneapolis, reported that she had trouble convincing her superiors to use a conference center because they had the perception that it was too dorm-like. After they were invited there and actually saw the facility, they booked the business.