GAMA Broadens Its Traditional Focus To ‘Distribution Management’

By

Orlando, Fla.

GAMA used to be an association exclusively for general agents and field managers, but not anymore, according to Charles Smith, executive vice president and CEO of GAMA International.

“General agents and managers belong to GAMA, but we are now in distribution management,” said Smith, at the group’s LAMP meeting here.

“One of the things that has driven this change is the fact that the constituency group we represent today has changed over the last 50 years,” he said.

Smith noted that in the past, if an organization’s lead product wasn’t life insurance, it really wasn’t considered a potential member. “One of the things we have noticed is there’s a huge audience of multi-line managers out there that have been off our radar screen for most of our history.”

Smith explained that while multi-line producers, financial planners, and equity producers all enter the market in different ways, they almost always end up in the same place: providing services in risk management, asset accumulation, distribution management, and legacy planning.

“Ultimately, whatever you do in this business you’re going in one of these directions,” he said.

GAMA is looking to have every different distribution style represented in its membership, according to Smith.

“When you ask the question today of who is our audience, the answer is distribution management,” he said.

“We’ve gone through an evolution,” said Bill Pollakov, GAMA president, and part of that evolution included the decision to move away from the local chapter organization.

Smith noted that at one time GAMA had as many as 150 chapters throughout the country. “That chapter distribution model was not functioning for us to have any impact that was of value.”

Phil Richards, president-elect of GAMA, added that in order to replace the local chapters, the organization had to become more of a resource to its members–this led to the change in services to focus on education.

“We made the decision that we are not a chapter organization, that we are now an association that’s here for education, training, and other things,” added Pollakov.

Driving the shift in focus, noted Smith, was the industry environment. It had brought about challenges for companies to reallocate assets, and cut costs–many times the first area of cuts were in agent training and professional development for field managers. “Our members looked at us and asked ‘If GAMA doesn’t do this, then who will?’” said Smith.

“Members want education and training; they want added value,” said Pollakov.

The changing environment, coupled with a broader membership type has led GAMA to work with the American College to develop two new educational programs. One is a new designation in field management, the other is a master’s degree program in distribution management, said Smith.

He said the American College does have a CLF designation, but that it is missing some key elements and needs to be changed. The first course for the CLF designation is being reworked to be more reflective of the changing financial services environment. There will be new material covering compliance, technology, and “how to build a marketing team,” said Smith.

Some of the changes to the CLF program have already been implemented, Smith said, and others will soon follow.

The proposed masters program in distribution management will be a true MBA, said Smith. It will take some time for the American College to complete the accreditation process required for the program, but Smith is anticipating an announcement in the next 12 months.

“This has a lot of potential throughout the financial services industry in terms of giving people who are launching their careers some of the core skills they need,” he said.

He explained that the idea is to develop a curriculum for people throughout the industry who work in different distribution styles–the course curriculum will focus on fundamentals in distribution management.

The master’s degree curriculum should be ready in the next year, he said.

Looking at both programs, Smith said the new CLF designation will be looked at as an associate’s level degree program, which may provide 6 credit hours towards the proposed 30 credit-hour MBA. The CLF would not be a prerequisite, just a way to accumulate some credits towards the MBA, he said.

More information on both programs will be available in the near future.

Another change that has been occurring gradually over the past few years and that became evident at this year’s LAMP meeting was the large number of home office personnel in attendance. “Years ago GAMA was a field organization, it just represented people who ran agencies in the field,” said Smith.

“Today, we have a strong link with the people in the home office that run the distribution of products from the company,” he said.

Smith explained that the barrier between the field and home office within GAMA has been broken down, and now they see more of a sense of community among home office personnel and field managers.

Smith explained that through GAMA’s executive management cabinet and annual leading practices symposium, company executives and agency leaders share ideas on rebuilding and reinventing distribution, and focus on the tools and resources used to improve marketing and professional development of distribution systems.

At this year’s meeting there were about 350 home office attendees, said Smith.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, April 8, 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.