The effects of COVID-19 are far-reaching but one of the more immediate ones was the rapid cancellation of conferences across the industry. This wasn’t only a headache for organisers, and devastating for the event industry, but it also had knock-on effects for anyone who uses events to keep up to date with their continuing professional development (CPD).
An extension for unusual circumstances
On top of this, financial planners had increased CPD requirements this year from the new standards body – the Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority (FASEA).
“A lot of members had prepared for that by booking into professional development days and conferences and part of the issue with COVID-19 was they all got cancelled,” Ben Marshan, FPA’s head of policy strategy and innovation, says.
FASEA gave advisers an extra three months to complete the requirements and organisations, like the FPA, rapidly moved their conferences online.
The FPA conference is now a series of weekly sessions offered virtually which has both positives and negatives, according to Marshan.
“In a face to face environment there is some reticence by some participants,” he says.
“I think via video people have found a lot more comfort in [asking questions].”
There are also no back seats to hide in and while participants can turn their cameras off, Marshan says some speakers have targeted participants that do that.
An unexpected benefit was the ability to source interesting content and speakers from overseas. There has also been a 75 per cent reduced cost for participants.
But for the organisers it means a weekly deadline, as opposed to the one big deadline of the physical conference.
A new kind of conference
On the institutional side of the industry, the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds (CMSF) was due to begin in Adelaide the week of the lockdown in March.
Maryann Mannix-White, chief membership officer with the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST), and her events team spent the following months working on bringing the CMSF program to delegates virtually.
She is currently overseeing the virtual delivery of AIST’s super investment conference – ASI.
In addition to presentations from speakers, she is making sure there will be plenty of opportunities for attendees to ASI to ask questions.
“We’re holding two live discussion groups each day with asset owners and managers, who’ll be talking about anything and everything including liquidity, the APRA heat map, the ratings agencies, the sustainable development goals and so much else,” she says.
The AIST reports that virtual conferences are a really effective way for members to gain valuable CPD points.
“It enables you to watch on demand and slot sessions into times when you aren’t otherwise busy.”
The feedback from members has also been very encouraging.
“People are using their commute time to watch sessions. Our online audience nearly doubled in the six weeks from early June to the end of July,” Mannix-White says.