A new trade association for insurance agents has been formed to support passage of an optional federal charter.
The group, Agents for Change, has been in existence for about two months and has approximately 200 members. It was put together by the Washington firm of Bonner & Associates with seed funding from the Financial Services Roundtable, which continues to fund the group. Among the insurer members of FSR are Prudential, MetLife, Principal and MassMutual.
“What we’re all about is the optional federal charter and trying to make that happen,” said Robert Poli, chairman of Agents for Change. When approached about being a part of the organization, “it made all the sense in the world to me,” he said.
Poli noted that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act said that “by 2002 the insurance commissioners had to come up with something to make it easier for us to do business across state lines.” That, he said, has not happened, highlighting the need for a federal option.
Agents for Change faces significant hurdles to overcome, however. At the moment, the optional federal charter is running a distant second to the State Modernization and Regulatory Transparency, or SMART, Act being proposed by House Financial Services Committee chairman Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, and Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., who chairs a key subcommittee.
“It is an uphill battle,” Poli said. “They’re looking for a very quick, neat and tidy answer,” he added, noting that Congress is also interested in “pleasing a few people,” specifically state insurance commissioners.
Agents for Change held a “very successful fly-in” recently, Poli said, in which members met with 20 different congressmen and senators who, he added, were “very sympathetic to our cause.”
Additionally, the group stands in opposition to the largest insurance agents and brokers trade association, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, or “Big I,” which questioned the role of the Financial Services Roundtable in supporting the group.
“As the top trade association representing 300,000 independent insurance agents and brokers across the country, the Big I finds it interesting that the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents only the largest financial services companies, is behind this so-called Agents for Change that purports to represent small business owners in the insurance market,” said Charles Symington, senior vice president of government affairs and federal relations for the IIABA. “As the largest insurance agents and brokers trade association, the ‘Big I’ opposes the optional federal charter but supports the SMART Act currently being drafted by Chairman Oxley and Rep. Baker.”