By

Charlotte, N.C.

Right in the middle of last years National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors annual meeting, the country was devastated by the attacks of September 11. Instead of the celebration and positive reinforcement usually associated with it, the meeting ended on a confusing and sorrowful note.

“Overall, it was a tough year,” said Robert “Bob” Nelson, president of NAIFA, in an interview. Following last years meeting in Salt Lake City, NAIFA–along with the rest of the country–felt the squeeze of a tightening economy, turbulent markets, and a poor advertising environment.

In January, advertising revenue from NAIFAs members-only magazine, Advisor Today, was down over $1 million, according to Paul Smith Sr., treasurer of NAIFA, speaking from the podium. This, in addition to a drop in membership, a $1.1 million budget cut mandated by the finance committee, and news that the Million Dollar Round Table was no longer going to require NAIFA membership for its members, resulted in a proposed increase in membership dues and a reduction in staff.

“NAIFA is in a cash crunch,” Smith said.

Delegates at the meeting approved a $25, or 21.55%, increase in NAIFA membership dues. The current dues of $116 a year will go up to $141 a year, said a NAIFA spokesman.

This increase is set to be in place for only two years, the spokesman said, after which time it may be dropped.

Looking at membership levels, Smith explained that in January membership was 3% above budget, but slipped in April and May to end up with approximately a 4% drop.

And with MDRTs decision to change its membership requirements, Nelson is expecting some additional attrition in NAIFA membership.

Steve Bowlds, a member from Tulsa, Oklahoma agreed. “What MDRT is doing is going to hurt the association; some members just joined NAIFA to qualify for MDRT.”

Bowlds, an agent for 20 years, admitted that he initially joined NAIFA to qualify for MDRT, but now he is a delegate for his chapter.

However, in an effort to dispel these beliefs, MDRT has pledged to work with NAIFAs special programs to guarantee that the attrition doesnt happen, Nelson said.

“Theyre [MDRT] putting money and resources, including people and programs, in place to do more than they had ever done before in promoting NAIFA membership,” said Nelson.

One bright spot Nelson pointed out was that the political action committee “has for a third year in a row set a record level of fundraising.”

Nelson explained that no other organization plays the advocacy role NAIFA does. “The threat of unwanted government intervention is never-ending,” he said.

“We have succeeded in keeping the National Association of Insurance Commissioners from adopting a flawed and unnecessary suitability regulation, and we successfully worked with other associations to enact the NAICs producer licensing model act in 35 states,” Nelson said.

While governmental advocacy is one of the major benefits of belonging to NAIFA, Nelson admitted that many times it is not the primary reason agents join the association. “The importance of advocacy in a regulated business is not fully understood when youre starting in this business,” he said.

“I dont think members join because of advocacy, but I think they stay because of it,” Nelson said.

But while most members agree that the advocacy role NAIFA plays is important, there was also concern among some members over the impact that an increase in membership dues might have.

“A lot of other states have done the same, so if this passes youre looking at a double increase for a lot of members,” Bowlds said in comments before the vote to increase dues was held. “I think we may lose some of those people that have been on the line with membership.”

Although he himself was initially inclined to vote against any increase, he changed his mind after attending most of the sessions at the meeting and participating in several discussions on the state of NAIFA.

“I think we need to give them an opportunity to clean up their act,” he said. “NAIFA is too vital an organization to let go.”

Looking ahead, Nelson is excited about the new business sense in the organization. “The accountability of being able to have a business plan that can be measured and tied back to what we said we would do is becoming clearer and clearer in the management of our association,” he said.

Nelson feels that going forward, effective leadership and teamwork will be vital to the success of NAIFA. Most recently, that leadership role has changed. Last month, Arthur Kraus resigned as CEO of NAIFA, and this month, Jim Benson, former chairman, president and CEO of New England Financial and GenAmerica Financial, was hired to take the role of interim CEO of NAIFA.

“With Jims many talents we will not lose any precious time during his tenure while we conduct a deliberate search for a permanent CEO,” said Nelson.

Benson is enthusiastic about working with NAIFA over the next few months. “It is absolutely essential that this organization is strong, grows, and continues to be vibrant,” he said. “Its the only organization that in our business that represents, promotes, and builds every single person who is licensed to sell insurance products.”

NAIFA officials said a permanent CEO should be chosen by the first of the year.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 30, 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.