If you think the preeminence of insurance sales representatives has been threatened only recently, with the encroachment of the Internet, banks, and other distribution channels, then you didn't hear Richard Wecker, CLU, LLIF, give his presidential address at the LIMRA International Annual Meeting in October in Orlando.
Wecker, the Life InsuranceResearch Association's president and CEO, offered attendees a history lesson: Producers have seen threats to their livelihood since the turn of the last century. First, group insurance offered at the workplace was predicted to wipe them out; then, it was the life insurance provided to those who served in World War I; the creation of social security; life insurance provided to men and women in service in World War II; and, in the early 1960s, the new availability of products such as certificates of deposit and money-market accounts to individuals.
"The future of producer-driven sales has been debated for the past century and will be debated well into the next century," Wecker said. "At a minimum, it will be a significant distribution channel for the next decade. At a maximum, it will be the predominant distribution channel for the whole millennium." Instead of debating the future of the personal producing distribution system, however, Wecker suggested that insurers focus on improving it. The most critical problem to be solved, he said, is low agent retention.
Where Teach Me, Challenge Me, Relax Me The more things change, the more qualifiers want to go to the beach.
As in our last survey, "beach resort" was the number-one choice of agents for incentive programs, and their top-three domestic destination choices were California, Hawaii, and Florida. Even internationally, sun and surf reigned, with the Caribbean/Bahamas pushing Australia out of the top spot this year.
Still, 85 percent of agent respondents said an upscale adventure travel program would appeal to them. Perhaps it's time to start alternating your seaside getaways with rain-forest treks or desert safaris.
Mass Customization Hits Incentives Here's the result you really need to pay attention to: The last time we surveyed agents, they put "group travel" at the top of their list of preferred incentive rewards--over individual travel, cash, and merchandise. This year, however, group travel was edged out by both cash and individual travel. The message: Let me do my own thing with my reward.
Recent survey results from American ExpressServices have struck a similar note: The majority of respondents who chose travel as their preferred incentive said that they would prefer an individual trip over a group trip.
What The Spa Phenomenon Can you imagine a resort without a spa these days? Whether the supply has answered the demand or created it is a chicken-and-egg question. In any case, "spa treatments" rose to number five on the activities list this year, up from number nine in our last agent survey, two years ago. Male respondents were mainly responsible for the jump, putting spa treatments at number six this year, up from number 13 in the previous survey. The activity also came in higher on female respondents' rankings this time around, moving up to first place from second.
Adventure Travel: Does it work as an incentive? The renewed emphasis on personal well-being (and pampering) may go hand in hand with another change in this year's survey: In previous years respondents chose "quality of guest room" from a list of factors as the one that most affected their enjoyment of an incentive trip. This year, "quality of meals" edged out guest rooms to take the top spot. Guest rooms did follow close behind, tied with airline service. And close behind them were hotel service and recreational facilities, followed by flight time to destination and theme events. Lagging the list: room gifts and recognition/awards events.\
Favorite Incentive Trip Leisure Activities Golf remains the preferred incentive leisure activity overall and also came in first among male respondents. Significantly, golf moved up from 12th to seventh among female respondents' list of favorite leisure activities.
Education and Inspiration Nearly three-quarters of respondents said that a quality business/ educational program was a highly important or a somewhat important element of an incentive trip.
Quality Business/Educational Program: How important? Respondents also included "marketing techniques" and "sales techniques" among their top-four preferred speaker topics. However, respondents put "inspiration/motivation" at the top of the speaker topic list, and "humor" came in at number three. Clearly, qualifiers look to incentive programs as a way to recharge themselves emotionally as well as a time to get practical tools to help them do their jobs.
Why Time Off with Friends As in previous surveys, our respondents are very well-traveled. Some 43 percent have attended 10 or more incentive trips. This year we probed a little deeper into what exactly drives producers to work hard enough to qualify for incentive trips.
Top Three Motivators Why do you attend incentive conferences? Four out of five respondents checked off "paid vacation" as one of the three main reasons they attend incentive trips. And despite a finding elsewhere in the survey that agents prefer individual travel to group travel, nearly two-thirds of respondents listed camaraderie with fellow attendees as one of the three reasons they attend incentive trips. Building their relationships with home-office executives was the third-most-popular reason they cited. Your trips may also help high achievers bring some balance into their lives. One agent wrote in "forced time off" as the main reason he works to qualify for trips.
What Makes a Trip Stand Out? If you qualify for more than one trip, what one factor leads you to choose one over another? Other factors selected by significant numbers of respondents were "visibility within the company" (42 percent), "educational opportunities" (31 percent) and "visibility within the industry" (16 percent).
Pick the Right Spot Another new question this year was directed at independent brokers (57 percent of respondents) or any respondent who qualifies for more than one incentive program.
We asked for the one factor that most heavily influences their choice of one conference over another. Perhaps not surprisingly, the meeting destination far outshone all other options as the deciding factor, chosen by about two-thirds of survey respondents.
Top Four Speaker Topics Still, other factors may come into play as well. Significant numbers of respondents said a trip's timing or the reputation of the company's incentive conferences is the most important factor they consider.
Wired Online-Almost While ICP has published several case studies of insurance conference planners who have put their meeting registration online, it is still an emerging technology among insurers.
Web surfing, however, is not. Fully 92 percent of producers in our survey said they have Internet access. And even though only 10 percent of respondents said they had ever registered online for an incentive meeting, 30 percent said they would prefer online registration.
(You can find a directory and selected reviews of meeting management software packages, some with registration capabilities, in the November/December 1999 issue of ICP or at our Web site, www.meetingsnet.com.)
Who How This Survey Was Conducted
This survey, designed by the staff of Insurance Conference Planner, was mailed to 1,200 top producers. We compiled the mailing list with the help of five insurance companies, each of whom contributed the names and addresses of producers who regularly qualify for their incentive travel programs.
Incentive Trips in Your Career The ICP Reader Survey returns next year. Look for a complete analysis of the results in the January/February 2001 issue.
In order to arrive at an accurate picture of overall preference, we weighted the responses to questions that asked agents to rank their responses. For example, we asked agents to name their first, second, and third choices for the state in which they would most like to attend an incentive program. An agent's first choice was worth three points; second choice, two points; and third choice, one point. The state with the highest overall weighted score earned the top spot, which we made equal to 1.00 on an index chart. The other weighted scores are reported as a percentage of the leader