By Cyril Tuohy
The virtual conference world is beginning to turn up as an option for financial advisors serving the specialty segments of the life insurance industry. This is courtesy of faster Internet connections and higher bandwidth streaming into homes.
But will virtual conferences appeal to advisors in the same way that flesh-and-blood conferences have for the past 100 years?
“Does it have some appeal? I would say yes,” Steve Johnson, manager and advisor at Long-Term Care Advisors in Olathe, Kan., said in an interview with InsuranceNewsNet. Long-Term Care Advisors is part of the Long-Term Care Producers Group, a managing general agency.
There are limitations to virtual conferences, of course. Even streamed live, they don’t provide the same interactions that real conferences do, and that’s a key point of differentiation for producers and advisors who place a premium on meeting clients and colleagues face to face.
Nothing replaces the animated, impromptu discussion outside the conference room, the eye contact with a prospect or the body language cues intimated over lunch. There’s no substitute for a good round of golf with three other conference attendees.
The real thing doesn’t come cheap. Travel, lodging, entertainment and the time it takes to fly back and forth runs into the hundreds – occasionally thousands -- of dollars.
In November, CEG Worldwide, an educational consultancy to advisors, held its first “Elite Advisor Virtual Conference.” Billed as a “powerful one-day online event,” the conference featured keynote speakers and 20 breakout sessions -- all “without leaving the comfort of your own office.”
Clicking on the virtual conference website allowed registrants to listen to speaker presentations and even gaze into the main conference hall replete with computer-generated images of people with briefcases milling around under vendor signs.
Johnson said the thought of being able to attend a conference virtually would make him “stop and think” twice about going to the same conference in person, particularly if it meant saving hundreds of dollars.
“I’d ask myself, why would I be going? How important would it be to make contacts in the hallways and face to face?” he said.
One of Johnson’s most important networking opportunities, the Long-Term Care Solutions Sales Summit hosted by the American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance (AALTCI), will be held May 18-20 in Kansas City. Johnson said he will attend because it is only a 30-minute drive from Olathe.
It is the first time the show will be streamed live, said Jesse Slome, AALTCI executive director. Registration for the live stream is free, he said, and the virtual conference even has a parallel name: the 2014 Long-Term Care Solutions Sales Summit Virtual Conference & Expo.
Slome said he hopes that as many as 5,000 people sign in and watch all or part of the Solutions Sales Summit, even if live streaming will come only from the main stage, and not from every breakout session.
Recordings of all sessions by vendor Ustream are available for $29, he added.
“Nothing will replace face to face but this is the next best thing,” Slome said. The new technology eventually may allow organizers to shorten the conference to one day from three days, he added.
On May 19, five chief executive officers from the nation’s largest long-term care carriers will explore industry trends during a roundtable discussion, Slome said. The session is likely to attract the largest on-site audience and the most interest from online-only attendees.
Research shows that managers and C-level executives prefer live video to on-demand content, according to Ustream.
Are flesh-and-bones conferences on their way out? That’s unlikely.
Johnson likens them to the automatic pay-at-the-pump features that gas stations installed more than 10 years ago. When the first pay-at-the-pump stations appeared, he thought they sounded the death knell for the convenience store where drivers could pay for gas.
“If you can pay at the pump, why go in? That’s what I was thinking,” he said.
What happened? Many convenience stores expanded to offer more products than before. “From what I can see, there’s as much traffic in that convenience store as there’s ever been,” he said.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].