The Priorities for Insurance Meeting Planners

When it comes to risk assessment, insurance companies are the experts

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Before Wayne Robinson visits a hotel that he is considering as the site of a meeting for insurance firm FM Global, there is an item high on his checklist that many planners don't even ask about: the size and quality of the sprinkler system. That's not to say that aspects like the amount of available meeting space and the size of the room block are not vital, but onsite sprinklers are on the list of non-negotiable items a venue has to have on its emergency plan to be considered as a site for the firm's meetings, says Robinson, CMP, CMM, and assistant vice president of FM Global, as well as chair-elect of the Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP) board.

"I'll look at all the things like, is it a five-star, five-diamond property? Do I have enough meeting space? Is it going to generate the 'wow' factor? But then on top of that, I've got to make sure every sleeping room and meeting space has sprinklers, and an egress," he explains. "I've got to make sure that the destination itself is not in a flood zone, that there is not exposure to Mother Nature based on the time of year the meeting's being held. Those are other things I would put in my toolbox as well. Especially for a commercial property insurance company such as ours. Probably a third of the company, I would say, are engineers. Their job is to assess risk. I am absolutely going to be asked these questions by the attendees. It's the line of business we are in, it's just a whole different approach."

Which isn't to say that the vast majority of planners don't ask about fire safety plans. It's just that for companies like insurers and financial institutions, risk assessment is more than just an issue of potential concern -- it is their stock-in-trade. And they have access to in-house experts that few other planners have.


Practicing What They Preach
At Crump Life Insurance Services, risk assessment is called "business continuity planning," says Sherri Lindenberg, senior vice president, marketing communications, and a member of the board of FICP.

Sherri Lindenberg
of Crump Life Insurance Services
Sherri Lindenberg of Crump Life Insurance Services

"We actually go through mandatory companywide training on an annual basis and each year we have a mock drill in which employees have to work through some scenarios together," she says. These can be weather-related, or something medical like a pandemic. Departments and teams will get together with workbooks and webinars to go through it and how they would respond, she adds.

"We're an insurance brokerage company that's owned by a bank," Lindenberg points out. "It's very much a part of the bank's culture, and it was our culture before becoming part of the bank. It is a big part of what we do. We're supposed to be minimizing the risk in other people's lives, and we need to make sure that we're taking all those precautions ourselves."

Certifiably Safe
Of course, the third-party planning firms that work with every type of company have been taking security in all its forms very seriously for a long time, says Tom Wilson, vice president of sales for St. Louis-based Maritz Travel. And even though clients started taking notice after 2001, "we are definitely seeing more companies paying attention," Wilson says.

"We just rolled out a complete online certification for all of our on-site staff around emergency preparedness and response training," he adds. "In the past, we used to deliver that in class. We've really invested in the online curriculum to talk about the various levels of threat. It's a very, very robust and comprehensive plan. We've broken down various types of risk, various types of threats that exist, and we have different reaction protocols depending upon the disruption on the event. Whether that's pre-, whether that's post-, whether that's during an event." This year, every single on-site employee was certified, he adds.


Weather Tops the List
Like most planners, weather is the risk Lindenberg says she worries about most. That doesn't just mean being prepared to cancel, move, or reschedule a meeting if a hurricane is coming. "One of the things that I've been doing for our bigger events is staggering the arrival of our event staff so that we don't all get stuck in the same weather event" -- a lesson learned the hard way.

More broadly, cancellation and force majeure clauses are the main protection for weather-related risks, among others. "We really do push to have those causes apply when the hotel might not think it really does apply," says Kathy Nugent, vice president, client solutions, of Minneapolis-based third-party planning firm One10 (formerly Aimia). "There was a situation recently where a hurricane was threatening, and the current course would have had it hit the location. Our attendees were still stateside, and we invoked force majeure. But then the hurricane didn't end up materializing. So, the hotel would have liked to have the cancellation policy applied. But we really felt it would not have been a prudent move for our client to send their people in the path of the storm, based on what was in the news at the time."

One of Nugent's colleagues, Account Director Alan Melichar, had an insurance client that went a step further when traveling to Florida in hurricane season. "Before they would sign a contract," he recalls, "We had to do a lot of research on the hurricane patterns from the last 10 years. Then we had the hotel write some language into the contract that spoke to that. So that gave them the peace of mind that they could sign the contract. They just wanted to take it a step further to have that extra assurance."  


Questions or comments? Email [email protected]
 

This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.
BRING BACK THE BINDER
According to Sherri Lindenberg, senior vice president, marketing communications, of Crump Life Insurance Services, "Whether it's terrorism, massive power outages or a storm, preplanning is critical." She points out how years ago, "in this industry, everybody came to their event with a meeting plan in these massive binders full of all the information for our program. And if you didn't have your binder, you know, the world would come to an end."

But with tablets and smartphones, surely the binder has gone the way of the dinosaurs? Not so, says Lindenberg. While neither she nor her staff still lug one around with them, she insists on having a master binder on-site at every program. "I look at it as a security blanket," she says. "Because if the power goes out -- and it could be as simple as a transformer or as horrible as a terrorism incident -- our devices are only going to last us so long. And at least we'll have this one hard copy. [My staff] looks at me like I'm ancient because they're thinking, 'but I have it on my phone.' My response is, "Yeah, but when you can't charge your phone anymore what's going to happen?"

Certifiably Safe
Of course, the third-party planning firms that work with every type of company have been taking security in all its forms very seriously for a long time, says Tom Wilson, vice president of sales for St. Louis-based Maritz Travel. And even though clients started taking notice after 2001, "we are definitely seeing more companies paying attention," Wilson says.

"We just rolled out a complete online certification for all of our on-site staff around emergency preparedness and response training," he adds. "In the past, we used to deliver that in class. We've really invested in the online curriculum to talk about the various levels of threat. It's a very, very robust and comprehensive plan. We've broken down various types of risk, various types of threats that exist, and we have different reaction protocols depending upon the disruption on the event. Whether that's pre-, whether that's post-, whether that's during an event." This year, every single on-site employee was certified, he adds.


Weather Tops the List
Like most planners, weather is the risk Lindenberg says she worries about most. That doesn't just mean being prepared to cancel, move, or reschedule a meeting if a hurricane is coming. "One of the things that I've been doing for our bigger events is staggering the arrival of our event staff so that we don't all get stuck in the same weather event" -- a lesson learned the hard way.

More broadly, cancellation and force majeure clauses are the main protection for weather-related risks, among others. "We really do push to have those causes apply when the hotel might not think it really does apply," says Kathy Nugent, vice president, client solutions, of Minneapolis-based third-party planning firm One10 (formerly Aimia). "There was a situation recently where a hurricane was threatening, and the current course would have had it hit the location. Our attendees were still stateside, and we invoked force majeure. But then the hurricane didn't end up materializing. So, the hotel would have liked to have the cancellation policy applied. But we really felt it would not have been a prudent move for our client to send their people in the path of the storm, based on what was in the news at the time."

One of Nugent's colleagues, Account Director Alan Melichar, had an insurance client that went a step further when traveling to Florida in hurricane season. "Before they would sign a contract," he recalls, "We had to do a lot of research on the hurricane patterns from the last 10 years. Then we had the hotel write some language into the contract that spoke to that. So that gave them the peace of mind that they could sign the contract. They just wanted to take it a step further to have that extra assurance."  


Questions or comments? Email [email protected]
 

This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.