SFSP Making Changes To Serve A More Diverse Membership

By

Seattle, Wash.

The continuously changing financial services environment has forced companies, agents, and organizations to change the way which they do business and the Society of Financial Service Professionals is no exception. At its annual educational forum here last month a new focus on serving a diverse membership was clear.

“Five years ago, you were asked to write down on a piece of paper what you call yourselves,” said Ann Hartmann, president of the SFSP. “Twenty-five percent of those present said they were insurance agents, some said benefit specialists, some said financial planners. It was all over the place,” Hartmann said.

At that time, she explained, the Society was still acting as if its membership was not diverse. Since that time, however, it has been taking steps to change its culture to create a better environment for its diverse membership, with a major effort towards growing the organization.

“We are broadening our scope,” said Joe Frack, CEO of the SFSP. “We need to do a better job to attract some new professionals, namely attorneys, CFPs, and CPAs.”

The Society has conducted a number of focus groups to discover what these professionals consider important elements to membership in a professional organization. Frack said the majority are looking for educational and networking opportunities.

“These folks are trying to learn more about the traditional life business but they’re also looking to have a cadre of professionals they can trust, feel comfortable with, and understand have recognized credentials,” said Frack. “Networking is a big part of what we think these people are after right now.”

He explained that networking takes place mostly through the community built around the local chapters.

Hartmann feels that in recent years, that sense of community has been lost, with not all chapters giving adequate service to their members. But now, she said, the Society is taking steps to rebuild a strong sense of community by working more closely with local chapters.

Hartmann said the Society’s board will be visiting every local chapter this year.

“We really believe the most valuable membership experience someone can have through the Society is being part of a community,” said Hartmann.

She refers to each chapter as a “franchise” and says it has a responsibility to its members to provide real services in the form of programming.

“We are developing materials to identify what makes a healthy chapter, and what things a good chapter should offer members,” she said.

Building a stronger community around the local chapters, and developing programs that will be supportive of their diverse membership will also help the Society expand its membership beyond the insurance professional, said Hartmann.

“Another recurring theme that comes through [in our research] is that sometimes the Bar Association and the CPA associations do not offer the kind of education that we offer,” said Frack.

He noted that many CPAs get a lot of information regarding taxes, or Securities and Exchange Commission developments, but many do not get anything on developments in the insurance industry that may impact their clients.

“We think we have a lot to offer in terms of education that they really can’t get anywhere else–we really look at that as being our niche,” said Frack.

“One thing we really started doing a lot of this year are educational audio teleconferences. We’re probably doing about 3 a month right now on different topics, topics all across the board,” he said. “We are finding that those are being embraced by current members and some of the new professionals that we’re trying to attract as well.”

Frack noted that many local chapters will build their meetings around the audio teleconferences, which cover issues on life insurance, but also other timely issues in which a CPA or attorney would have interest.

“We are trying to create a home for credentialed financial service professionals,” said Frack.

Looking forward, Hartmann discussed the new task forces the Society is forming for the upcoming year.

“We’ve had people who are interested in having study groups within each section, and we’re looking at how we can have more networking in sections,” said Hartmann.

Another task force Hartmann described focuses on practice management. Here, the Society will try to address the transitioning practice issue, developing a new practice, as well as how members can build successful alliances with CPAs and attorneys.

The Society will also be looking to develop more national alliances with attorney accounting and planning groups to see how they address practice management.

The final major issue for the Society’s year ahead is how to add more value to members who are home office employees.

“About 20% of our membership is home office,” said Hartmann. “We really don’t think we’ve done the right kind of job and value offerings for that set of people.”

While she noted there are many issues the Society needs to address, she feels that “this is the year that’s turned the organization around.”

“We’re on track for 33,000 members by the end of the 2004 membership year,” she said.


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.