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.”