As companies continue to reevaluate upcoming recognition programs in light of public perception issues, we hear frequent media reports about canceled incentive conferences. But while companies are closely evaluating every aspect of their meetings spend, not all are canceling, according to a recent survey conducted by LIMRA International, a research and marketing association of life insurance and financial services companies with roughly 800 members worldwide.

The survey, sent by e-mail in mid-December to a mix of publicly held and mutual companies in the United States and Canada, drew responses from 57 financial services and insurance companies that had one or more producer recognition conferences planned for 2009. (For purposes of the survey, recognition conferences were described as company-sponsored events that are usually held annually at a resort or hotel, and for which producers or managers need to meet performance requirements to qualify.)

Fully 66 percent of the respondents with 2009 conferences reported that they had not canceled or made significant changes. Of those that did make changes to their '09 programs, only 11 percent canceled, with no single type of conference or level of qualification being canceled more than any other. Of the 21 percent that made significant changes, 10 companies reduced the number of home-office attendees, six reduced the number of guests, six eliminated a planned activity, four changed the location, and four canceled a paid speaker. Bucking the trend, one company actually added a top producer conference for 2009.

Projections for 2010 were cautiously optimistic. Although 46 percent of the 59 respondents who had recognition conferences planned for 2010 say that they have discussed changing or canceling their programs, only five had actually canceled, with most considering various ways to “stretch every dollar we can,” according to one respondent.

Write-in comments about “other outcomes” for 2010 suggest that companies are closely looking at various cost-cutting strategies while still rewarding producers. These include combining producer levels at one big conference and giving the top tier extra days (rather than a separate conference). Another company plans to reduce the length of the conference but provide various upgrades for the qualifiers.

“It is not surprising that most of [the comments made about 2010 meetings] relate to budget constraints and being very watchful with every dollar being spent on conferences,” said the LIMRA report. “However, most companies will be holding a conference as they balance the need to reward the field for superior results in a very difficult sales environment against company demands to reduce or control operating expenses.”

Drill Down