With the retirement of Carroll Campbell Jr. under extremely sad circumstances, the American Council of Life Insurers is in the midst of a search for a new president.
Selection of a president is, certainly, one of the most important decisions a trade association can make. That person becomes, in effect, the public face and personality of the membership.
The president interacts with lawmakers, regulators, agents and consumers in a way that may define how these different interest groups view the industry.
That is why we hope that ACLI will select a new president who can reach out to these different constituencies and be seen as a unifying force.
This should not be construed as criticism of Campbells tenure. To the contrary, he had some major accomplishments as ACLIs president.
During his presidency, life insurers took a leading role in the most significant financial services legislation in more than 50 years–the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act–and were able to achieve parity with banks following a series of court decisions that relegated the industry to second class status.
That was a major achievement that helped secure the competitive standing of the industry.
It was also during Campbells tenure that ACLI launched its regulatory modernization initiative. Not only did this put optional federal chartering front and center on the Congressional agenda, it helped spur the states and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to work seriously on regulatory reform.
But it is also fair to say that when Campbell first came to ACLI, he was widely viewed as a partisan political figure who aspired to return to elective office at some point.
Legitimate questions were raised–most notably by regular National Underwriter commentator Jack Bobo–about whether this perception may have hurt the industry politically in the long run.
Indeed, it is important to note that a crucial issue facing the industry–taxation–is not necessarily a partisan one. The Democratic Clinton administration certainly did propose several schemes aimed at increasing taxes on the life insurance industry.
But more recently, Republican leaders in Congress took the initiative on vital life insurance tax issues such as estate tax repeal and inside buildup taxation.
Defeating these onerous tax schemes requires a lobbying effort that is seen as non-partisan and geared only to the benefit of the industry and its policyholders.
It is unknown at this point whether the ACLI board will opt for a nationally known political figure as its new president, or instead choose a highly respected industry CEO.
If ACLI decides to again choose a political figure, we hope it will be someone in the mold of former ACLI president Richard Schweiker.
Schweiker, a former senator and cabinet officer in the Reagan administration, was at the end of his political career when he joined ACLI and devoted himself full-time to the industry.
He was a coalition builder not only on Capitol Hill, but also within the life insurance business, regularly representing ACLI at agent meetings and helping to foster a spirit of good will.
In an era where coalition building is the key to maintaining the success of the industry, this is the path ACLI should follow.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, January 21, 2002. Copyright 2002 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.