Close Close

Life Health > Life Insurance

Lessons From History

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.


When I studied history in school, the coverage of our countrys early days and the role of our founding fathers was cursory at best. We learned important dates and events and the deeds of significant individuals. However, there was little or no discussion of the passion, sacrifices and patience required to overcome countless obstacles.

Recently, though, I have enjoyed reading best-selling biographies of John Adams, Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton and have gained new insight and respect for what it took to put this country together. Too often, I think, we judge history by current values and environment, and that is a mistake. In an age of e-mail, fax, telephone, TV and radio, it is hard to comprehend the frustration of communications when it took 2 to 4 months to send and receive a reply from England. Our Constitution was 10 years in the making, whereas today we want instant results.

While we may not thoroughly understand the problems of yesteryear, our nations founders are still revered and their traditions have kept us strong, resolute and sufficiently flexible to deal with ongoing issues on the world stage. Understanding history is important for it keeps us relevantconnecting our past with our future.

I thought about this recently as a result of a conversation with a veteran agent. He said many agents today feel the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors is no longer relevant. I disagree with this and suspect it stems largely from a lack of knowledge of our history.

We, too, had our own founding fathers and heroes that blazed a trail for us. The road to greatness in business, like government, never runs smoothly and also requires passion, sacrifice and vision. Our country remains relevant because we continue to build upon the base our founders created. NAIFA also will remain relevant so long as it continues to build. Those who have passed the torch to us, I am sure, expected us to keep it burningnot blow it out.

Perhaps a very short journey into our past will serve to refresh our memory and bolster our resolve to support that which we so often take for granted. Modern selling really began following the Armstrong Investigation in New York in 1905, which was called because of widespread and vicious attacks upon the insurance business by the press alleging mismanagement of companies and policyholder funds and rampant marketing abuses. For 10 years prior to the investigation, the National Association of Life Underwriters had been raising the same red flags. The publicity from the hearings was devastating, causing mass policy cancellations and aversion to new purchases. It took 5 years for the business to recover lost ground.

Subsequent to the investigation, President Roosevelt convened the “Chicago Conference” for the purpose of developing model laws for the states. NALU (now NAIFA) was the only industry organization invited to participate in the conference and did so with distinction.

NALU emerged from this experience resolved to be involved in the legislative process and with a commitment to raise the level of the agent to a profession through education, training and better public relations. Agent education efforts were spearheaded by the dynamic Ernest J. Clark (NALU President 1912-14). Over the next decade, NALU leaders like Ernest and Paul Clark, Ed Woods, John Newton Russell and Julian Myrick, at great personal sacrifice, implemented numerous educational programs pursuant to NALUs goal. They worked with the Carnegie Organization, the YMCA and community colleges, but with few exceptions, universities did not offer courses of study in insurance because there was no textbook or course outlines.

To remedy this, NALU contracted with Dr. Solomon Huebner, Professor of Insurance at the University of Pennsylvania, to write such a text. Ed Woods, NALU President, wrote a personal check for $10,000 (a tidy sum in 1915) to the publisher as a guarantor. Following the publication of the textbook, Huebner remained as a consultant to NALU as they pursued the goal of professional status for agents.

At the 1925 mid-year meeting of NALU, Guy MacLaughlin, chairman of the educational committee, made a motion that NALU create a college for Life Underwriters leading to a professional designation. After 2 years of contentious debate and over the objections of powerful interests, NALU, at its 1927 meeting, voted to found the American College of Life Underwriters and elected as its officers, Ed Woods, President, Guy MacLaughlin, V.P., S. Huebner, Dean, Earnest Clark, Secretary, and Franklin Ganse, Treasurer. The incorporators were past NALU presidents and other NALU leaders. It is worth noting that the struggle to create a college of our own took more than 15 years.

Another resolve resulting from Armstrong was the commitment to improve public relations. There were many efforts to reach that goal, but a major breakthrough occurred during the presidency of Holger Johnson (1938-39). The company organizations had for some time studied the idea of an industry public relations program but no action ensued. In early 1938, at the prodding of Johnson, NALU passed the “Richmond Resolution,” which urged the companies to establish what became known as the “Institute of Life Insurance.” The institute was created and Holger Johnson became its first president and served 22 years. Creation of the institute was timely, because President Franklin Roosevelt convened an investigation (1939-40) to look into allegations of predatory practices in our business during the Depression era. The institute was helpful in blunting the criticism.

To fill the gap between company training and CLU, in 1947, NALU co-founded LUTC.

The final resolve of NALU following Armstrong legislative involvement, received a major boost in 1966 by the creation of the Life Underwriters Political Action Committee (now IFAPAC). For years, NALU leaders, like Charles Zimmerman (President 1939-40), had been testifying before legislative bodiesbut the door was not always open for us to tell our story. LUPAC, under the leadership of Robert Bowlis and Kent Babcock, helped to remedy this problem.

Our history is a tale of passion, perseverance, vision and action by strong leaders bent on improving our lot and that of our policyholders. All of these leaders are now gone, but their legacy remains for us to enjoy and learn from.

Those who say NAIFA is no longer relevant are really saying, “Our troubles are over; there will never be another investigation or adverse legislation and our growth opportunities through education are as good as they need to be.” I can think of nothing that is more absurd. It is the ultimate form of denial and a repudiation of the “lessons of history.”

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, September 9, 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.