by Leo Jakobson | March 03, 2017

Reform Without Regulation
For nearly a year and a half, financial and insurance firms have been gearing up for the Department of Labor's new "fiduciary rule," which had been set to go into effect in April. The rule would have required financial advisors and brokers working on retirement accounts to act in the best interests of their clients. That means that the advice they give would be considered "fiduciary" advice -- a much higher standard than the previous "suitability," and one that would leave these companies much more open to legal and regulatory action, as well as class action and individual lawsuits.

"This is the largest trend that I have seen in this space over the last 16 months," says Wilson. "All of our clients spent a significant amount of time and internal investment to really ensure that they understood the rule, and were compliant with it. It did have -- or had -- the potential to have an impact on incentive and recognition travel, without question."

First and foremost, the practical effect would have been to require firms to change their incentive rule structures, Wilson notes. "Speaking generally, what they got away from was focusing specifically on commissions. 'If you hit this number on this product you get to attend' was eliminated," he says. "They are looking at a lot of different things like investor satisfaction metrics, total production across all products regardless of the profitability of one product versus the other, and how much is this advisor contributing to our overall sales."

That rule, which congressional Republicans tried to eliminate last year, was one of the first that the Trump Administration ordered delayed for review. And reports now say it will be revoked before coming into effect. But for all that, it's not certain that financial and insurance companies won't keep many of the changes they've made -- at least as far as how sellers are incentivized -- in place anyway.

"There's been a constant drumbeat in these industries around sales practices and conduct, around risk and fiduciary responsibility," Dolan says. "It remains to be seen what the result is going to be. What we're seeing today is that there's very little change to the meetings and events that we are doing in the finance and insurance segment."

Wilson agrees. "I think the new rules will be adopted by companies," regardless of what the government does, he says. "It's better in that they eliminate conflict of interest. That's what the fiduciary rule is designed to do: eliminate conflict of interest. I think the new design of programs will continue from a travel perspective."

Destination Choice
Both of these two trends -- regulation and security -- are impacting financial and insurance companies' destination choices. While the question of perception issues does still arise in the financial and insurance industries, it's largely infrequent and case-by-case.

"Certainly our industry is one that needs to be careful of the optics, or the perception," Bova says. "Some will say no to resorts or not go to certain areas while others will. To cluster that into a trend, I don't know."

Melton notes that while the U.S. division of one of his clients -- a very large international financial industry firm -- does avoid five-star resorts and casinos, its Asia-Pacific counterpart "has no problems with five-star properties." Nor do other financial and insurance clients.

In this industry, "the criteria for properties remain the same as it's always been: high-quality rooms, ample and flexible meeting space, and excellent service," Erickson says. "For true incentives or any hybrid meeting, what drives destination selection is finding someplace where we can give attendees an experience they couldn't do on their own. You have very wealthy people at many of these meetings, so that can be extremely challenging."

Security is another matter. One form of risk aversion that financial and insurance companies take very seriously is destination choice, particularly international destinations, Dolan says. "They do not want to take any kind of extraordinary risk with a meeting or a larger event," he says. "That may occur on an individual travel basis, if there's a necessity, but in meetings, the location can change very easily if there is the threat of some sort of problem in those countries."   

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This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.