by Leo Jakobson | March 03, 2017
There are a number of issues that meeting planners working for or with financial and insurance companies deal with that are the same as for any planner, like flat budgets. But for the financial and insurance industries, two issues loom particularly large right now: security and government regulation.

"Those are the two gorillas in the room," says Steve Bova, CAE, the executive director of Financial & Insurance Conference Planners (FICP).

Of the two, government regulation -- and the uncertainty surrounding it -- is the biggest, most immediate, and most specific concern, thanks to a new rule originally set to go into effect in April that would hold the advice retirement investment advisors give clients to a much higher legal standard, one that could have a huge impact on how incentive programs are run. Of course, the Trump Administration's decision to delay -- and likely revoke -- the rule for which companies have spent nearly a year and a half preparing, has created a great deal of confusion.

As for the security issue, in one sense it is not specific to the financial and insurance industries. "Security is definitely on everybody's mind," Bova says. "Anytime I go to a broad meetings industry event, it's the subject that comes up -- and it's not 'if,' it's 'when': When is something going to happen in our industry at a convention, in a ballroom, at an event, and are we prepared to respond?"

At the same time, these are two industries for which security is the stock-in-trade. "These companies are in the risk-mitigation, risk-reduction business," says Tom Wilson, division vice president, financial services sector leader of Maritz Travel. "There is a high level of sensitivity around risk. We are working more than we ever have with our clients' security departments directly. Oftentimes we are doing site inspections with their security team."

One fact worth noting is that security, particularly in the financial and insurance markets, has two components. One is physical security, taking into account things like terrorism and destinations prone to civil unrest. But almost as important -- and a lot easier to at least attempt to plan for -- is information security.

Security in the Age of Terrorism
While people in the meeting planning industry are talking about the possibility of a terrorist attack of some sort on a meeting or convention facility, it can be argued that one already happened: the Dec. 2, 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA.

That took place in a conference room in the Inland Regional Center, a social services facility, during what The New York Times described as "a combination training session and holiday lunch held by the county health department." Fourteen people were killed and 21 wounded by the husband-and-wife attackers, who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State.

While saying that "we've already had an incident where one of our meetings was attacked might be something of a reach," says MaryAnne Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, president of association and meetings management firm Bobrow Associates, Inc., she knows of at least two industry initiatives that are working with the Department of Homeland Security on venue security standards.

Despite that, "I'm concerned about what we are not doing at this point," says Bobrow, who speaks frequently on security and cybersecurity issues. "I've walked the halls of meetings and just shaken my head at the lack of security. There are guards stationed every so often, but all they're doing is looking for a badge. They're not armed."

Some planners agree that security is lax, among them Brian Melton, CMP, vice president of global accounts for ConferenceDirect, who agrees that the main reason one of his financial clients hires security guards for its conference is to protect its registration fees.

Across all of his clients, regardless of industry, Melton adds, "I have not seen anybody beefing up security, in terms of having metal detectors or anything like that implemented. You would think that we would have seen more of this by now, just witnessing how there have been threats where large groups of people congregated."

But planning is going on, particularly in the financial and insurance industries. "The threat of disaster, terrorism, or medical incidents has been on our radar for the last 15 years easily," says Dan Dolan, an account executive who deals with finance and insurance clients at Creative Group. "I don't think we're unique in having a robust crisis-management plan for each customer that tends to be customized and integrated with its own crisis-management team and plan."

Christine Erickson, vice president of U.S. Event Solutions for BCD Meetings & Events, adds, "Security has always been a major factor in the planning of events for my financial services and insurance clients. Internal security departments are engaged and involved in the planning and execution of every single event."

Maritz's Wilson agrees, noting that his company is now working more frequently than it ever has with financial and insurance clients' security departments.