ING Life Distribution has canceled next year’s incentive trips for its sales agents.

According to published reports, Daniel Mulheran, president of ING Life Distribution, recently sent a letter to ING sales agents announcing the decision to cancel the programs. Mulheran referred to the onset of the recession, as well as increasing numbers of home foreclosures and job losses, as reasons behind the decision. Mulheran reportedly also said recent negative press coverage of industry gatherings could result in harm to ING’s public image if the company went ahead with its 2009 incentive programs.

Mulheran likely was referring to the press coverage of several AIG events, which were held after AIG accepted a multibillion-dollar government loan. The negative publicity later forced AIG to cancel more than 160 scheduled meetings and conferences. Read the AIG story.

In ING’s case, the company plans to offer cash rewards to the ING Life Distribution qualifiers in 2009—and appears to be carefully examining other upcoming meetings. “We thought the scaling back and/or canceling of our meetings and conventions were prudent steps, given the current economic environment,” says company spokesperson Phil Margolis.

Margolis also says that there was a lot of positive feedback from the sales agents about the decision to go with cash rewards instead of travel next year. “Given that these were difficult decisions to make, we were pleased by the numerous comments we received from our insurance producers saying that they supported this decision and believed it was the right thing to do during these times.”

While the industry is being roiled by bad economic news and more reports of companies canceling or postponing 2009 meetings due to perception concerns, not all companies in the insurance and financial sector are canceling incentive programs. Few are willing to go on record and risk having their incentives characterized as boondoggles, but in off-the-record conversations at the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners annual conference in November, many planners said their incentive programs are moving forward. In an on-site interactive survey, 76 percent of the 138 planners who participated reported they have not canceled any incentive programs, either booked or unbooked, because of the recession, and 70 percent said they were not considering canceling any future incentive programs. Here are more details on the FICP survey.