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Balancing in-person and digital interactions is a topic that many financial organisations are grappling with today, especially given the critical nature of high-value transactions in the sector. Recent research from AmEx has found that 70% expect attendee numbers to return to 2019 levels in 2024, while more than three-quarters of their meetings and events will be either entirely in-person (59%) or hybrid (20%). This growth and positivity, backed up by recent reports from large global brands, is great news for the industry, but with more happening F2F there is not enough tech investment to bridge this gap and firms are at risk of getting left behind, according to leading audience engagement platform Reef powered by Totem.

Center Parcs Conferences & Events is experiencing its best-ever year for corporate bookings at its dedicated events venue in Woburn Forest. The company has already posted £2m more in confirmed revenue for The Venue than for its previous best year in 2019-20. Red Bull Technology has seen huge growth in its corporate events business as it continues to evolve its offering, while Dubai won a record 349 bids to host international conferences, congresses, meetings, and incentive travel programmes in 2023. Corporate hospitality is on the up globally – with one firm in the financial services sector reported to have spent over £100 million in a single 12-month period. The sector also spends over £18 billion a year on office space – clearly showing how organisations understand the importance of investing to communicate prestige and esteem in the physical world.

However, that level of brand quality is rarely demonstrated in the digital environment, with many firms taking to platforms like Zoom and Teams as their preferred tools for meetings or events. But they are delivering interactions that fall well short of the high standards expected in client-investor relationships. Matt Ryan, Chief Transformation Officer at Reef, commented: “If you have an investor meeting in a generic platform, that’s akin to renting a cheap meeting room and pinning your logo to the wall as personalisation.”

Ryan noted that while in-person interaction is irreplaceable, digital platforms must strive to offer personalised, professional experiences that align with a brand’s identity. He also noted the importance of fostering trust with an audience: “Trust, in any sector, is built on communication, openness and transparency. We may never be able to truly recreate in-person experiences online, but there are an ever-growing range of digital products that can help organisations to build better relations with clients digitally.”

Mobile banking apps provide a key example of a digital tool that has improved customer experience and therefore trust. This experience-centric philosophy can be replicated by building digital destinations for prospects, clients and investors to engage with a brand and its content. By creating compelling, relevant content, firms can establish a sense of belonging, and loyalty to their brand, and deliver higher quality leads and increased client retention based on the digital interaction.

“Every digital interaction with a firm’s audience is an opportunity to gain experience about an individual, what topics interest them, what content they engage with, when and for how long,” said Ryan. “By working with the right technology partner, organisations can collect this valuable first party data, taking a single customer view across every engagement with their brand.”

While trust and engagement are paramount, there is no doubting the positive environmental impact of holding meetings and events digitally. While face to face is important for building relationships and sometimes for closing out deals, Ryan argues that a more pragmatic view to meetings is needed. “If you’re going to meet a client in Edinburgh or in Berlin that’s probably two days out of your schedule. You could have had eight good meetings in that period of time,” said Ryan. “This clearly improves time efficiencies, while also helping towards an individual’s carbon footprint, and in turn contributing towards a firm’s ESG target.”

Sustainability is a surging trend in business. Many employees are urging their leaders to take climate action and data shows that more could be done by business leads to engage their full workforce on the issue. In fact, the UK Climate for Change studies suggest if all meetings here were held online, we’d avoid dumping 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, and there has been authoritative research into quantifying the climate benefits of virtual versus an in-person format for an international conference.

Overall, the financial sector is at a critical junction, where blending in-person and digital interactions can lead to more sustainable, efficient, and inclusive practices. As technology continues to evolve, Ryan expresses how important it is for firms to set a clear strategy to ensure they maintain brand values, build trust, and stay relevant in a rapidly changing world: “It’s not about replacing the in-person interactions, more about complimenting them and providing the tools to help develop relationships in the new world we live in.”

For more information about the Reef platform, please visit: https://wearetotem.io/platform/