Anaheim, Calif.

Within the space of two days, attendees at the annual meeting of the Million Dollar Round Table here swayed to the evangelical-like presentation of MetLife Senior Vice President Joseph Jordan as he spoke about living a life of significance; heard from Her Majesty, Queen Noor of Jordan, on the power of dialogue; and, watched spellbound the seemingly flawless performance of an autistic child pianist, Matt Savage.

They got, by most accounts, what organizers billed as the theme of the 2004 MDRT meeting: a “wow!” experience. Held this year at the Anaheim Convention Center, the annual meeting brought together 6,538 top-producing insurance and financial advisors from 65 countries.

The attendee count, which topped last years total by 151, was MDRTs second-largest gathering since its founding in 1927. Yet, as the annual pow-wow grows in popularity, the organization finds itself dealing with growing pains, say MDRT executives.

Topping the list of issues: how to maintain MDRTs high reputation while broadening its membership. To tackle that challenge, the organization this year established Advancement and Assessment Task Forces.

The first will examine governance, delegation, empowerment and leadership development topics, while the second will review MDRTs core values, purpose, membership benefits and producer needs to create a strategy for the future.

“The idea [of these task forces] is to put our mission into focus,” says Adelia Chung, MDRTs first vice president and incoming president, who takes the organizations helm on Sept. 1. “Do we want to be a 50,000-member organization or a 5,000-membership organization? These are things weve never had to address before because we werent international.”

Adds MDRT President George Pickett: “If everyone can get in, then we dilute our quality. Our job is not to become bigger, but to remain a forum of excellence that attracts the best producers worldwide.”

To that end, MDRT is upping already stringent standards for aspiring attendees. U.S. applicants for 2005 MDRT membership must generate a minimum of $67,400 in eligible commissions paid or $134,800 in eligible paid premiums. These figures compare with $66,000 and $132,000, respectively, for 2004.

Members must also agree to abide by MDRTs code of ethics and belong to a professional association. In prior years, that meant exclusively National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors membership for U.S. producers; and, for international attendees, membership with a life underwriter association. Since loosening the requirement last year, MDRT has expanded its rolls.

Today, the organization boasts 29,300-plus members hailing from 70 nations and territories representing 485 companies worldwide. The total constitutes the top 1% of an estimated 3 million insurance and financial advisors globally, and 4% of all career and independent producers in the U.S.

MDRTs growing membership internationally, says Pickett, can be attributed in large measure to an infusion of people from developing countries. Among them are the former Communist nations of Eastern Europe and, in the Pacific Rim, China, Vietnam, India and Indonesia.

This year, MDRT opened an office in Shanghai to recruit and work with Pac Rim members. The organization also has conducted meetings in Taipei, Taiwan, and in Mexico City. Additional gatherings are planned for this fall in Seoul, South Korea, and Athens, Greece.

In February, the organization also sponsored its second MDRT Experience in Asia, held this year in Hong Kong. Modeled after MDRTs flagship U.S. event, the gathering brought together nearly 6,000 people from 26 nations to learn about sales, technical and motivational concepts.

“Our goal was to give prospective members a taste of what the MDRT experience is all about,” says Pickett. “Also, the regional event provided an opportunity for people who cant afford to spend the 20% to 30% of annual income that many of their international counterparts dole out to attend our U.S. gathering.”

Others better positioned financially opted for the U.S. conference, he adds, seeing it as a kind of “pilgrimage.”

“This is an outstanding forum,” says Pamela Pham, a Singapore-based Prudential Assurance agent and “zone chair” for Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei. “At [the U.S. conference], I always get re-energized and pick up pointers that help me in my practice.”

“I go to the MDRT conference every year, in part to reward myself,” adds Mieke Hosana, a zone chair for MDRT Indonesia who is based in Surabaya, the capital of East Java.

In the U.S., MDRT also is helping to train prospective members through a mentoring initiative that it co-sponsors with GAMA International. Currently, MDRT has 6,300 producers in the program.

Of this number, 42.9% have qualified for attendance at the national conference, according to Pickett. The percentage includes 1,700 producers who have secured MDRT membership and another 1,000 individuals who have met 80% of membership requirements.

“In this business, we think a 40-plus percent success rate is phenomenal,” says Pickett.

MDRT is moving aggressively to raise its prominence worldwide under a redesigned logo with the tag line, “The Premier Association of Financial Professionals.” The brand remake is appearing in, among other media, a new quarterly print and electronic newsletter that MDRT members can private-label (customize) for clients.

MDRT also is rolling out a new MBNA Platinum Plus credit card that sports the organizations logo. When a member makes a purchase on the card, MBNA will pay a fee to the MDRT Foundation.

The latter, a philanthropic arm of the MDRT, foundation has given $11.7 million in grants raised by MDRT members to more than 1,500 charities in 61 countries since its creation in 1959.

MDRT additionally has partnered with the National Association of Realtors to produce a revised, CD version of “Family Time.” First published in 1976, the publication describes how parents can spend more time with their children and achieve a more fulfilling work-life balance.

“Were not just rebranding MDRT, but also reinvigorating our Whole Person concept,” says Pickett. “We urge members to live this program, which includes 7 elements: family, health, career, spiritual, education, financial and community service.

“About 75% of our Main Platform [speeches] incorporate some discussion of the Whole Person philosophy,” he adds. “Maybe 25% of the platform content is business-related only.”

Pickett is banking that these and other effortsthe organization also co-sponsors educational seminars in partnership with LIMRA International and NAIFA; and a national ad campaign in alliance with the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE)will help MDRT more effectively recruit promising producers. Thats a growing challenge, he says, because the market is increasingly fragmented among insurance agencies, independent broker-dealers, banks and p-c shops.

“Theres now a bigger universe of producers,” Pickett says. “But we no longer have as much of a bulls-eye audience to shoot at as we did 10 years ago when producers were more likely to have come from an agency.”

To be sure, MDRTs latest initiatives are not solely focused on reaching out to prospective producers. Chung says the organization will hold the first-ever personal growth programs for “Top of the Table” and “Court of the Table” members in November 2004 and the first quarter of 2005, respectively.

For 2005, COT producers must have achieved production equal to or greater than 3 times the MDRT requirements: $202,200 in eligible commissions or $404,400 in eligible premiums. TOT requirements next year will be double these amounts: $404,400 and $808,800, respectively.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, June 18, 2004. Copyright 2004 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.