By

Honolulu

Nineteen months after the Society of Financial Service Professionals last educational forum, a more diverse membership gathered to celebrate its 75th year and to look ahead to the challenges the association faces going forward.

Since the last meeting, the Society has been trying to distinguish itself as a professional associationwith a diverse membership being its major differentiator, according to officials at the SFSP.

To be a candidate for membership in the SFSP, professionals must complete or be actively pursuing any one of 11 different professional designations. While the Society has its historical roots in the life insurance industry, in recent years it has made membership available to professionals in other financial planning disciplines, such as attorneys and accountants, and with other designations, such as Certified Financial Planners.

“That is our differentiator,” said Alan Ziegler, president of the SFSP in an interview with National Underwriter.

While an estimated 90% of its current members are professionals in the life insurance industry, Ziegler said that adding more members with different areas of expertiseother than life insurancewill help all members. This is one of the messages he has been conveying in his year as president.

“We really are making a conscious attempt to show people who we are,” he said.

But even though membership in the Society has been opened up to professionals from other disciplines, membership figures have decreased in recent years. Ziegler has been working with executives at the Societys national level to address this issue.

“About a year ago we started taking a close look at our chapters and how they measured up,” said Joseph Frack, CEO of the SFSP. “Are they exciting places to be? Is the leadership in those chapters motivated? Do they understand everything that national is doing? Are they going out getting new membersdiverse membersor are they just sitting back?” he asked.

The task for Frack, Ziegler, and the rest of the Societys leadership is to change the momentum in the local chapters. Working with three different task forces, the Society decided the key to success would be to increase the level of communication and support coming from the national headquarters for the local chapters. To do this, they developed something called a “CAT” team.

“We launched the Chapter Assistance Team (CAT) to really work with our largest chapters,” said Frack.

While the Society has about 200 chapters, the CAT teams initially targeted the 30 largest.

The CAT teams included board members, Society staff and other members who volunteered to work with the local chapters. The objective of these teams is to “pay close attention to the chapters so we can give them the help that they need,” said Ziegler.

The CAT teams look at local chapters membership figures, compare it to previous years and look at what theyre doing to recruit new members. If a chapter is losing members, the teams try to figure out why and then address it.

CAT teams also are helping with “chapter planning.” In the past, many chapters had no plan in place for the coming year. Now, they are starting to look at where they want to be in the next year, from both a programming and a membership perspective.

Opening communication channels with the national organization already has started to benefit some chapters, said Frack. “Weve seen tremendous shifts in momentum and a lot of enthusiasm.”

Frack expects much of the effort for the coming year to be directed at keeping that momentum shift growing, as well as working more with the smaller chapters on many of these same issues.

But, as the Society was working on its own issues and problems, the American College announced last June that after this year it would be holding its own commencement exercises and would be forming a new alumni association separate from the Society.

“This was enormously disruptive and very upsetting,” said Ziegler. “However, Im convinced that both organizations will come out stronger.”

In the past, Ziegler admits there was a lot of confusion in the industry as to who the Society was and exactly what its relationship with the American College is. Even many members thought of the two as the same entity, he added.

Historically, the Society was formed to be the alumni association of the College, but in 1944 the Society changed its mission to that of a professional association. It wasnt until 1998 that the Society opened up membership to professionals who were not alumni of programs offered by the College.

The split between the American College and the Society gives both organizations an opportunity to better define themselves, said Ziegler. “This really has allowed us to rethink who we are and go back to our chapters with greater confidence to tell them who we are and who were not,” he said.

In fact, with all the publicity generated with the actions taken by the American College, national leadership at the Society had a reason to go out and speak with each chapter to reinforce its message of being purely a professional society, said Ziegler.

Membership obviously remains a challenge for the coming year, but leadership at the Society feels the momentum is moving in their favor.

Ziegler estimated this years drop in members to be 2% to 3%–for a total of just under 24,000 members. The Society has seen decreases in membership over the last decade, but Ziegler feels this years small drop indicates the trend is reversing. “We feel confident we can move forward.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 31, 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.