Free Dinner Seminar & Complimentary Dinner Presentation
It appears that it’s that time of the quarter again. If you haven’t received it in the mail yet, there’s a good chance you will soon. It’s an almost too-good-to-be-true offer: FREE GOURMET DINNER!
You read that right – free dinner. Not just any dinner. A gourmet dinner. You may have received these invitations in the past. Believe it or not, I (Larry) usually get one or two a quarter. (Granted they usually state on the invite that financial planners and investment planners are not allowed to attend.)
You might have wondered what these dinners consist of, so I’m going to lay it out there for you – it’s a sales presentation. I know, I know. It says on the postcard that it is not a sales presentation. That’s true and it isn’t. What do I mean?
Let’s start off with the basics, then I’ll help you decipher what a postcard is saying and finally, I’ll break down the numbers so that you can better understand why these are so popular with advisors and why it actually is a sales presentation.
Seminar Marketing (ie a Free Dinner Seminar or Complimentary Dinner Presentation) have been around for ages. In recent years, they have become a much more fertile way for individuals in the financial services arena (insurance salespeople, investment salespeople, etc) to find new clients to work with. While these presentations took a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, I would be highly surprised if you didn’t see these come back with a vengeance once things are fully reopened and for the next year or two after. (They may even focus more on the “postcard lingo” that I’ll get into below.
The Free Dinner Seminar (Complimentary Dinner Presentation) is usually announced via a postcard or a fancy-looking invitation. The individuals selected to receive a postcard are not random. In fact, most have met some criteria listed by the host of the seminar. Those criteria could be: Net Worth, Home Value, Investment Value, Annual Income, etc. (If you’ve received an invitation, congratulations! You’re likely doing something right!)
You’ll also notice that the seminar is not held at a “cheap” restaurant. They are almost universally held at higher-end or gourmet restaurants. The hope is that the nice setting and higher-priced dinner will entice you to come to hear what they’re selling. I mean, saying.
There are many examples of some lingo that the postcards utilize. Some of the most used are:
- Guarantee Your Principal, Reduce Taxes and Increase Retirement Income
- Participate In the Stock Market without Risk
- How You May Protect Against Market Losses and Still Participate in Growth
If your invitation includes the above phrases (or something similar to these), the host is likely to speak with you about a product called Fixed Index Annuities (or Equity Index Annuities depending on the lingo that’s utilized). During the presentation, they likely won’t use these names, but they’ll describe the product that they want you to become interested in. In most cases, the host will utilize some pain points from the 2008-09 (or similar period) market correction. It is generally an emotional presentation designed to make you want to protect your assets.
(Please note: Fixed/Equity Index Annuities are very complex and vary in features, caps, participation rate, spreads and riders depending on the issuer. If you have been to presentation where you were encouraged to purchase one and would like to review it with another advisor, please give me a call at (517) 887-9905 x.101 or click on “Request a Meeting” to schedule a virtual or in-person review.)
While each Fixed Index Annuity differs in the details, the basic crux is that you are able to participate in a portion of the upside of an index (like the S&P 500), but if the index loses money during the period selected, the account value does not go down. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, they are never that simple. There are generally long surrender periods and high surrender charges (fees that you pay if you decide it’s not the best place for your money).
Are Fixed Index Annuities the worst thing in the world? I don’t think so. Like many other investments out there, it may make sense to utilize one as a portion of your portfolio. Like any other investment, it’s important to understand exactly how they work, any fees/expenses, the surrender period and any other positive or negative of the annuity.
- Nothing is Sold. There is No Cost or Obligation
This is designed to help you let your guard down. If you’re not being sold something and there’s no obligation to speak with someone afterwards, you are more likely to go to the seminar and have an open mind to hear about what they want you to purchase from them.
I apologize in advance, but this is where we get in the weeds with some numbers. I’ve purposely tried to keep this as simple as possible so that your eyes don’t glaze over, but there is no sugar coating the numbers. It’s an area that is rarely talked about. (Maybe it could be that the numbers can make some in our industry look bad.) I’m going to talk about it though because I think it’s important to understand if one is going to a Dinner Seminar.
Dinner Seminars are usually planned for two nights. So there are two sets of guests that need to be scheduled. If the seminar can hold 35 people each night, and the sponsor is planning on holding it two nights, that means they need to have 70 people to “sell out” both nights.
To get to that 70 person count, most mailing companies will recommend that 10,000 postcards get sent out. Let that sink in. 10,000 postcards. Sending those postcards does not come cheap. An example from one of the most popular dinner invitation company has each postcard starting out at $0.43 per each for the basic postcard and peaking at $0.645 each for the deluxe postcards. So, just for postcards, the host will spend between $4,300 and $6,500.
Those numbers are just for the postcards. The host still has to feed each attendee. You’re eating a “Gourmet Meal”. If we assume a cost of $20 per attendee, using the above numbers, the host will spend another $1,400. At $25, the cost swells to $1,750.
That brings the total cost of the seminar to somewhere between $5,700 and $8,250. Taking the average of the high end and the low end, we’re at $6,975 per seminar. Quite the outlay to provide free education, don’t you think? Wait, there’s more. The host doesn’t do this to break even. Ideally, they want to make at least 2x their investment. So, for this quarterly seminar, the host hopes to generate $11,400 and $16,500 ($13,950 on average) of commissions (or fees) from this seminar.
What does that mean to the attendee? It comes down to one of my favorite answers – It depends.
Diving deeper in the weeds, many advisors acting as a fiduciary will have a fee of 1% for their services. (Not unreasonable, in my opinion.) If the host is acting as a fiduciary and charging the 1% annual fee, they will need to bring in nearly $1.4 million of new assets to reach their goal for the seminar.
However, if the host is utilizing annuities, that number drops quickly. Some fixed (equity) index annuities can pay upwards of 10% commission! Other annuities pay closer to 4%. Obviously the commission paid is highly variable depending on the product offered. If we assume a range of commissions from 4% to 10%, the new assets needed plummets to reach their goals is between $139,500 and $348,750.
Quite the drop in needed new clients/assets! Much more attainable!
As you can see from the information above, while the idea of the Free Dinner Seminar or a Complimentary Dinner Presentation is to be an educational event, the economics of them dictate that, to continue to do them, they must find new assets/clients each and every seminar. Unfortunately, those same economics can also lend themselves for the host to utilize higher-commissioned products which might not be in the best interest of the client.
If you’ve received a postcard similar to what I’ve described here, it’s important to know what to expect. Hopefully, this post has been educational and you’re a bit more informed on what to expect if you do go to a Free Dinner Seminar or a Complimentary Dinner Presentation. If you have gone to one and even participated in meeting with the host individually after, I encourage you to seek a second opinion with us or another independent advisor.