Toronto

There are few if any spectacles more thrilling than the traditional flag ceremony that opens the annual meeting of the Million Dollar Round Table. This year’s was no exception–starting with tiny Belize and ending with the Stars and Stripes.

Yet, while MDRT maintains these time-honored traditions, its top officers say it is also making changes to keep pace with its increasingly diverse and international membership.

Three years ago, for instance, MDRT expanded the products for which membership credit is given and eliminated the lives/cases requirement it had had for many years.

At this year’s meeting, MDRT President Tony Gordon announced that from now on MDRT would implement a premium-based production system as an alternative to the current commission-based system.

Effective with the 2002 Round Table, applicants must choose to qualify for membership either based on premium credit or commission credit, but not both, he said.

“We want to embrace top producers, whether they are paid by commission, performance-related salary or fees,” Gordon said. “Membership should be for those who reach sales excellence in our business, however we choose to be paid.”

Membership in the 2002 Round Table, based on production in 2001, is $63,000 U.S. of eligible commissions paid, or $126,000 U.S. paid premium to the writing producer’s account.

Summing up the rationale behind this change, Gordon said, “We will keep MDRT relevant to today’s marketplace.”

In an interview, Gordon described his tenure as MDRT president (which started last September) as both “exhausting” and “exhilarating.”

The exhausting part was traveling 185,000 miles to visit 25 countries and giving 70 speeches to 42,000 people, he said.

As for the exhilaration, he said, “If you have enjoyed and benefited from membership in something like the MDRT, when the call comes it is the greatest compliment in the world, and I enjoyed it immensely.”

Asked what stood out in particular during his time as president, Gordon said “the single most striking factor is the size and scope of opportunity for life insurance in Asia.”

As an example of a promising market, he named India, with its one billion people, “a large percentage of whom are highly educated,” and whose life insurance market is suddenly opening. Then he named China, with its 200,000 full-time agents, and also Vietnam, where, for example, Prudential U.K. has signed on 8,000 agents in 18 months.

Central Europe is another growth area, Gordon said, and “in a way is even more remarkable than Asia.” Here, in countries like Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, he said, “you have a sophisticated population with a high standard of education, which has never had any place to put its money.”

He compared the situation in these countries to bringing “an insurance company into a vacuum–people are sucking the product out of the company.”

This ferment in life insurance around the world is reflected in the growing diversity of MDRT’s membership and the organization’s response to it, Gordon said. “This annual meeting is now translated into more languages than the United Nations,” he told attendees.

And among the 7,194 attendees at this year’s meeting–the largest ever–Gordon welcomed members for the first time “from countries where just a few years ago, life insurance couldn’t be purchased–Brazil, Hungary, Vietnam and Pakistan.”

In his speech at the meeting, Gordon spoke about the progress of some of MDRT’s current initiatives.

Regarding MDRT’s campaign to promote its brand, Gordon said “our challenge is to make consumers and other professionals aware of what we stand for.” Essentially, he said, this boils down to getting people to recognize that “if they are doing business with one of us, they are doing business with the best.”

He admitted that while “the goal may be simple, the realization is a little tougher.” Nonetheless, he rattled off statistics on MDRT’s media blitz in the last year–with its message appearing in 296 publications with 43 million readers; on 84 radio stations with 77 million listeners; and online with 38 million chatters.

In addition, he said, a MDRT task force has started meetings in the United States with associations representing lawyers, accountants, bankers and stockbrokers, “telling them who we are and what we stand for.”

Progress has also been made on MDRT’s mentoring initiative, according to Gordon. This program was created jointly with GAMA, he continued, and “is now truly international,” with mentoring teams in the United States, Mexico, Australia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates.

He said the mentoring program had also gone beyond its original concept, which was to work within an agency field force. MDRT’s productivity committee has come up with a ‘how-to’ on mentoring “so now it can be used outside a company structure,” he said. “Now anyone can be mentored by anyone.”

Marvin Feldman, who is MDRT first vice president and is set to take the helm in September, said in an interview that his term would have three “thrusts.”

Feldman said he would stress “family values,” revolving around the ‘whole-person’ concept that MDRT promotes to encourage its members to be well-rounded individuals.

Feldman’s second thrust will be productivity. “If you’re not productive and efficient,” he said, “you won’t do well in this business.” There needs to be an emphasis on areas such as relationship skills and target marketing, he said.

Finally, Feldman intends to stress professionalism. “MDRT members are not just sales people,” he said. “They provide advice and services, not just life insurance sales. How the community and industry views us is important.”

Feldman, who has been in the business for 34 years and is the son of industry legend Ben Feldman, said one thing his dad had taught him and his siblings was: “Anything can be.”

For instance, he said, if you want to write larger cases, go after them. “Deal with it mentally to get the job done,” he said, adding that he thinks many agents are afraid to call on larger cases for fear of getting a “no.” But you may also get a “yes,” he said. The point is that if you don’t call, you don’t get anything.

Feldman said he is looking forward to “the opportunity to get out and meet with a lot of members he hasn’t spoken to in the past, and in countries we normally don’t get to.”

He said there are places he needs to go–such as Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and Israel for MDRT days and other meetings–but there are also countries he intends to visit “where we want to build the MDRT relationship, such as Brazil and Argentina.”

In addition, New York Life Insurance Company, which is his company, asked him to go to countries where it has agents, such as India and Mexico. “If a company is looking for synergy with agents,” he said, “we will try to accommodate if we can.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 22, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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