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Successful industry practitioners who have yet to see enough value in the Million Dollar Round Table to justify membership now are being courted by the associations leadership.

The culture of the Million Dollar Round Table is “sharing, caring and helping each other grow,” said Richard Sullenger, president of MDRT, as he addressed the crowd of more than 6,300 members at this years annual meeting in Las Vegas.

For the last eight months, MDRT leadership has been spreading this message aggressively. According to Sullenger, officials have visited well over 100 local National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors chapters throughout the United States.

“Weve been to local and state association meetings, talking about MDRT and the benefits of it, why you should strive for it,” he said in an interview.

Last year, Sullenger took the helm of MDRT and set the tone with an aggressive goal of a 50% increase in U.S. membership.

“The initiative really didnt get kicked off until October, so that only gave us three months to impact 2002 membership, but we still had an increase,” he said.

Sullenger estimated the increase in U.S. membership to be around 5%, but is optimistic that “this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Its going to take some time, but I see this really having an impact on membership for next year,” he said.

One potential source of new members could be the large group of wire house investment professionals who also are offering life insurance to their customers. After researching this population, however, Sullenger and his “Financial Guru” task force decided these were not the right fit for MDRT. “They dont understand our culture and they never will,” he said.

Rather, Sullenger has redirected these efforts to focus on two other areas: independent broker-dealers (IBDs), and wholesalers of equity and insurance products.

Leaders of some of these IBDs as well as a number of wholesalers were invited to this years annual meeting to give them an idea of what MDRT is all about. “Instead of inviting the CEOs of the companies, we are inviting the people who I believe would make more of an impact with their producers,” he said.

There are a lot of IBDs and wholesalers who have access to many insurance professionals who can benefit from membership in MDRT.

This value proposition that MDRT offers its members is one of the areas of focus for the coming year, according to George Pickett, first vice president and incoming president of MDRT.

“We want to get the message out,” he said. “We want to attract the most successful producers in the financial services business.”

Pickett adds that “the organization benefits from excellent members, and excellent members benefit from the organization.”

What makes MDRT different from other industry practitioner associations, he said, is the fact that you have to qualify to join–productivity is a centerpiece of the organization.

Pickett explained that qualifying for MDRT is similar to getting a promotion for someone who may be working at a company in a professional position. The productivity requirement of MDRT shows that the member has accomplished a great deal. “Its certifiable documentation that youre doing something right, youre exceptional,” he said.

But documenting excellence is only one benefit MDRT offers to its members. Once a member gets involved with MDRT there are a number of tools available to help boost productivity, he said.

Real working sales ideas are collected from successful producers and distributed to members at the annual meeting. Several successful MDRT members presented their own sales ideas from the main platform and in breakout sessions throughout this years meeting.

“That has always been MDRTs defining element– sharing of sales ideas and increasing productivity,” Pickett said.

Another benefit available to members attending the annual meeting is the opportunity to network with their peers. Pickett added that hes made several working relationships with members he otherwise would never have met. Many times, when working on a case that requires a specialist in a certain area of planning, he calls on his fellow MDRT members who specialize in that area. “I bring them in and well work jointly on a case,” he said.

Working together with other members of MDRT is also seen through the MDRT mentoring program, which is done in association with GAMA International. “I think thats been the greatest gift MDRT has given to the industry,” said Sullenger.

“The idea is you get an MDRT member and someone whos an aspiring member; they work together to grow their businesses,” Pickett said.

If the aspiring member reaches 80% of the MDRT production requirement, they are allowed to attend the annual meeting, he said.

“Of all the people who have gone through the program, 48% have qualified to come to our annual meeting either by qualifying or hitting the 80% requirement,” Pickett said.

But some members may not be able to commit to a formalized mentoring program, and Sullenger recognized that. In his travels, he encouraged producers who may not have been able to participate in the formal program to lend a hand informally to junior producers.

“If you reach out to someone who is not a member but is striving to become one, and you spend just a few hours a month with that individual, youll help him or her become a member,” Sullenger said.

In addition to helping newer producers qualify for MDRT, Sullenger added that the mentors also are seeing benefits from their efforts. Many mentors have said their production level has increased–some have even doubled their business. “The reason for that is they give their time once a month to help someone grow, and all of a sudden theyre doing the things that theyre telling [the prot?g?] to do. Things theyve gotten away from over the years,” he said.

Another part of MDRTs value proposition to members is the association with the MDRT brand. Over the past year, Sullenger made branding of the association a priority and has seen some success. “We have been featured around the world now on television, radio and in print–nationally, regionally and locally,” he said.

The branding campaign will continue over the next year, with a slightly different twist. MDRT recently adopted a tag line that will be associated with the MDRT name”The premier association of financial professionals.”

In the past, many members did not use the MDRT name on their business cards, simply because the public didnt understand what it meant to belong to MDRT. Pickett described a common situation hes encountered: When checking into a hotel as part of the MDRT group, some people ask him if they are all millionaires.

“Theres an ambiguity about Million Dollar Round Table outside of our business in terms of what it means,” he said.

Now, under this new initiative, the MDRT name will be defined by its description. “I think this particular branding phrase is going to enhance the branding activity that we do and take it to a level that each member can identify with,” he said.

Identifying the significance of MDRT membership in a positive way and communicating that to other professionals, consumers, and the media is a huge member benefit, Pickett said.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, June 30, 2003. Copyright 2003 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.