Those of us attending the MDRT annual meeting last month received an unexpected jolt that had nothing to do with the programming. I refer to the bombshell thrown by the American College, which quickly became a hot topic of conversation in the halls between sessions. We learned that the American College executive committee had notified the Society of Financial Services Professionals that it was severing relationships and that the SFSP would no longer be the alumni association for the college. Commencing in 2004, the American College will conduct its own conferment and this will no longer be held in conjunction with the societys forum.
Reasons given for this action centered around moves that had been and were being made by the SFSP to distance itself from the college. Specific moves cited were the societys name change, fund-raising activities and the launching of educational products. The last two reasons were no doubt viewed as activities competing with the college, particularly in the light of LUTC now being part of the college.
In the ad hoc discussions that I personally witnessed during the MDRT meeting, no consensus seemed to develop. Both the college and the society had strong defenders, but there did seem to be a general feeling of sadness over this turn of events, with the sentiment that somehow we were all losing something.
My purpose in writing about this is not to take sides in this dispute, but rather to offer a few thoughts that might cause the parties to rethink their positions.
First of all, I believe it would be well for the executive committee of the American College to remember that it was the college that started everyone down the road of name changes. I remember well a meeting in Miami Beach between Dave Gregg, then head of the college, and Bruce Hendrickson, president of NALU, Bob Forker, president-elect of NALU, and myself as NALU secretary. The purpose of the meeting was a last ditch effort on the part of the NALU to dissuade Gregg from changing the name of the college. We argued that dropping the name “American College of Life Underwriters” was distancing the college from the life insurance business and the CLU movement. Our efforts were in vain. I asked Dave Gregg, when he had picked July 4, 1976, as the date of change, whether this was a declaration of independence from the life insurance business–his only response was a smile.
It is also true that the college led the change into diversification, which the society has embraced and attempted to frame a response. The first industry forum on the movement to financial services was held at a CLU forum with Dave Gregg as moderator. There were skeptics at the time who alleged the college primarily was seeking other venues because of sagging enrollment in CLU.
Gregg was followed by Ed Jordan as head of the college. Jordan was controversial and his tenure was relatively short, but he did make one cogent observation in a speech that went largely unheeded. Jordan stated that despite his close ties to the securities business, he had been unable to interest any other discipline in affiliating with the American College, and that despite the name change, to the outside world, it was still an insurance institution. He further opined that the American College had only one constituency and that was the life insurance business, and they had better start taking better care of it.
It is no secret that the society has been trying to break out of its “alumni box” for a long time. Over the years a number of ideas have surfaced, often to the consternation of the college and other organizations. Ideas such as becoming a legislative advocate and changing its nonprofit status to an educational organization clearly would have changed the mission of the organization had they been implemented.
For many years an important precept of both the college and the society was that the CLU designation would not be exploited to the detriment of the non-CLU. An aggressive advertising campaign by the society raised the question in a committee meeting of field people as to whether the society, by this action, was abandoning the precept of nonexploitation. The answer to the question, by the then president of the society was, “Yes we have.” In the minds of many, this was an elitist move raising the hackles of many fine insurance people that happened not to be CLUs and distanced the society from other organizations.
Eliminating CLU from the name of the society was bound to raise concern with the college that was the source of future members of the society. Presumably this was done to attract other disciplines beside insurance people into membership. When I mentioned this to my son, who is treasurer of his local SFSP chapter, he said, “thats crazy, we cant even get life insurance people to come to the meetings.” He said, “We are lucky to get four or five bodies to a meeting, and that is why we have petitioned to abandon the chapter.”
This whole idea of attracting lawyers, CPAs and others into our fold is I believe largely an illusion. It reminds me of the story of the dog with a bone in its mouth gazing at his own reflection in a pond. The dog, thinking the bone the dog in the reflection was bigger–dropped his own bone and lunged for the other one, thereby losing everything in the process.
Well, the point of all this is that we need a cooling off period on which all parties need to rethink their position. I believe sincerely that this turn of events is likely to harm all parties. Both parties share blame for the present situation, and it is time for more thought to be given to the industry being served and less to organizational egos.
Perhaps a neutral panel could provide the kind of healing that seems so desperately needed. When a relationship spanning many decades ends in divorce, it is seldom a one-sided affair. Cool heads, I would welcome help in patching up differences.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, July 14, 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.