New Money

Successful Meetings, February 2006: In the security-conscious banking and finance sector, the word is out: The market for meetings is on the rise. Following several years of mergers and acquisitions—cresting with the Fleet Boston-Bank of America merger that, when completed in early 2005, created the world's second largest banking company (after Citigroup)—meetings are on the increase, notes Mike Mason, senior vice president of sales for Nashville-based Gaylord Hotels & Resorts. "As these businesses merge, there's more and more need to meet for strategy sessions and partner meetings."

Gregory Gartland, managing director of the SNL Center for Financial Education in Charlottesville, VA, says, "The larger commercial banks and investment banks have benefited from strong earnings over the past 24 months, and thus have seen budgets for outsourced training and industry conferences and events loosen up." Gartland says the current slowdown in M&A activity within the banking sector over the past two years has not had a significantly negative impact on conferences and training within the industry, but adds, "We are seeing some shift from M&A themes to more organic growth and operational considerations."

But even with M&A activity past its peak, the regulations and policies governing every aspect of the banking and finance industry seem to grow simultaneously more comprehensive and incomprehensible every day. For this reason, educational and training seminars are vital for career financial professionals.

Money Talks

"A growing trend that the Disney Institute has benefited from," says George Aguel, senior vice president, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, "is increased focus on training and educational opportunities." Gartland agrees: "We continue to see strong demand for the type of sector- specific M&A and post-merger integration training that we offer, given that a majority of banks will be active on one side of the M&A table or the other, if not in the short term then certainly over the medium- to long-term horizon. Given that any merger or acquisition can have such a meaningful strategic impact on their businesses, bank executives and financial managers continue to want to be at the top of their game going into any deal."

Carolyn Box, coordinator of schools and events for the Austin-based Texas Bankers Association (TBA), plans one-day seminars, which are generally held at hotel properties; "schools," in which seminars that have been contracted by a specific bank are held in the bank's meeting space; and conferences, ranging from a group of 100 to TBA's Annual Convention & Exposition, which, when it was held in 2005 at the Marriott Plaza San Antonio, drew more than 1,000 attendees. Box says that the content of these meetings involves "changing laws that have an effect on banking compliance: lending issues, sales, and mergers and acquisitions."

Can You Hear Me Now?

There is some concern that attendance, in the words of one planner, "has been steadily dropping over the last three to five years in our live, instructor-led training meetings." While Box notes that attendances have been slightly decreasing over the past couple of years, she adds, "If there is a 'hot topic,' there will be a rise in attendance. The Patriot Act and the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), for example, have both been huge." Another planner, who asked not to be named, noted that seminars employing technology are on the rise: "Our online training enrollment has steadily increased over the last few years. I believe bankers and financial professionals are finding alternative methods of training such as online classes with or without a live instructor and webinars that are a better fit for their busy professional and personal lives."

Banking and financial audiences tend to be on the techie side, says Gaylord's Mason: "This is one emerging segment that is really wrapping its arms around technology. They're not only using it to communicate with the home office while at the meeting, but also insisting on wireless technology, cybercafes on site, and more." At the Gaylord Palm in Kissimmee, FL, there is "an in-room computer system we invented," says Mason, "called iConnect. It's increasingly important from a corporate standpoint to be in touch with the office back at home, and that while people are at meetings, they have full access to any information that they're delivering at the meeting, or information regarding their customers." The system is generally popular with banking and corporate meetings, because, he says, "They can create Intranets on site and connect with the home office. Where technology really plays a role is in the speed with which they have access to information."

Money Changes Everything

Those interviewed agree that the actual templates of banking and financial meetings differ little from seminars, conferences, conventions, and trade shows in other sectors; however, the fact that they are about money—frequently, vast amounts of it—creates a somewhat charged atmosphere. "Because of the nature of their business," says Aguel, "financial-related groups maintain a strong focus on value and consistency. A lot of their sensitivity comes from knowing that their spending can sometimes be subject to a high level of scrutiny."

One reason is that financial institutions continue to evolve. "What has occurred," observes Mason, "is that two very different industries—finance and investment—have merged."

Meeting planning reflects this changing industry: This year, the Insurance Conference Planners Association (ICPA), which comprises planners for high-profile insurance firms, became Financial and Insurance Conference Planners (FICP). "Our new name, "says FICP President Michael Burke, CMP, "will open doors to financial services meeting professionals who were hesitant to join because we did not include them in our branding."

Lastly, like any other corporate entity, financial
meetings are subject to Sarbanes-Oxley scrutiny. Says Mason, "SOX has impacted corporate life in general, but in the meetings business, SOX plays an important role in the front end of the process—in the way meetings are bid out through RFPs—as well as in the back end, in regard to billings."