Tapping The

Synergy Of All

New Orleans

“Our strength and our leadership rest with our individual members, one member at a time,” said MDRT First Vice President Stephen Rothschild during the final main platform session of the Million Dollar Round Table. “Imagine the quantum leap we make when we move from ‘the power of one’ to the ‘synergy of all!’”

On that inspiring note, the 2005 annual meeting of the MDRT, held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center here, drew to a close. The 9,294 assembled attendees, including more than 7,234 members, were treated to examples aplenty of “synergy,” the theme of this year’s gathering.

Among the motivational presentations: James Barry, a 6-year MDRT member from Ireland, who recounted how his daughter’s courage helped her to overcome cancer; Brian Walsh, who recovered from a fiery accident that permanently changed his life and physical appearance; and Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who in 2003 completed 7 marathons in 7 days on 6 continents, despite having undergone emergency double bypass surgery just 4 months earlier.

Talks of a more practical, and practice-oriented, variety drew equally large crowds. Some 50-plus focus sessions provided insights into business insurance, core and ancillary products, qualified plans, estate planning, practice management, technology, sales ideas and the “whole person.”

MDRT’s ever-expanding global reach was vividly on display during the gathering. Insurance professionals from 485 companies and 77 countries held aloft their nations’ flags during the opening general session.

Foreign representation was highest among developed nations that have well-established life insurance markets. Among them: Japan (634 members); South Korea (494); Taiwan (409); and Canada (261). Producers in developing markets, including such far-flung countries as Cyprus, Guyana, Pakistan and Slovenia, were also present.

But Rothschild, who is in line to become the organization’s president on September 1, says that emerging markets, particularly in Asia, are fueling much of the organization’s current growth. Two much-publicized economic success stories–China and India–boasted 169 and 212 members, respectively.

These insurance professionals are largely working for very young companies. MDRT President Adelia Chung, who spent 15 days meeting with new members in China, said most of that nation’s insurance carriers are only 3 to 4 years old.

“In places like China, producers are very much working in an emerging industry,” she said. “They’re eager to learn and not make the mistakes that we in the U.S. have made.”

Rothschild agreed. “Advisors in developing countries have few if any role models.”

As a result, misconceptions about the insurance profession’s potential abound. Rothschild said many emerging market advisors view insurance selling as a part-time job on the way to something better. Others are surprised to learn top producers can earn more than their managers.

Through its global outreach efforts, MDRT is looking to disabuse overseas producers of these misperceptions. Chung herself logged more than 100,000 miles in her travels to Asia, Europe and other continents.

These gatherings ranged from fewer than 100 to several thousand-plus. In China, Chung presided over an educational program video-broadcasted to 22 venues.

In December 2004, Chung and Wang Xian Zhang, the 2005 president of the Insurance Association of China (IAC), inked a deal intended to “increase cooperation and enhance mutual understanding between the insurance industries of China and the U.S.” Among other provisions, the agreement committed the two organizations to jointly develop initiatives to boost corporate productivity and enhance benefits for individual members; co-sponsor seminars, training and educational programs; and exchange information on market statistics, government laws/regulation and business activities.

Aiding Chung this past year were field representatives stationed in MDRT bureaus in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Belgium. Planned for February 2006 is an MDRT Experience in Bangkok, Thailand, a smaller version of the group’s flagship U.S. event.

MDRT’s top brass also pitched in. These execs–Rothschild, Immediate Past-President George Pickett, Executive Committee Secretary James Rogers and Executive Committee Second Vice President Philip Harriman–traveled worldwide to meet with new members, insurance carriers and industry organizations. In years past, said Chung, such outreach was the responsibility of the president alone.

To be sure, MDRT is not ignoring its home constituency, U.S. members, more than 3,100 of whom were present at this year’s annual meeting. Last January, for example, the organization hosted Best Practices Forum 2005 in San Antonio, its first-ever for Court of the Table members. Guided by executive coaches, the two-day gathering included sessions on developing a strategic business plan, empowering staff, focusing and marketing the producer’s business, plus presentation and selling skills.

“The response of the [attendees] was amazing,” said Chung. “We plan to do the program again next year.”

In addition to extending its geographic reach, MDRT is also broadening membership to permit aspiring members, beginning in 2006, to apply only commission/fee credit or only premium credit toward admission requirements.

Membership in the 2006 Round Table will be based on a minimum of $69,600 of eligible commissions paid or $139,200 eligible paid premium credited to the agent’s account. A minimum of 50% of the 2006 production requirement ($34,800 commissions or $69,600 premium) must come from policies listed under Unlimited Credit.

“We can no longer allow commissions to be the leading tenet of MDRT’s existence and to define who we are,” said Rothschild. “We’re about professionalism and caring about our clients. We’ve made a commitment to be more inclusive.”

Rothschild emphasized, however, that MDRT is not compromising its admission standards. And, indeed, the organization has annually boosted the bar on commissions. Within the next 5 years, candidates will have to report $100,000 in commissions/fees or premiums credited to gain admission to the organization, he said.

MDRT also is investing more than $2 million in an IBM computer system that will allow the organization to share information more efficiently with members through a revamped Web site. When the IT solution is fully implemented later this year, it will bring online minutes of committee meetings, e-mail addresses of members, productivity-enhancing sales concepts and technical information. There will also be a search/find function.

Reflecting its international focus, the solution will also permit e-mail communication between MDRT staff and members in (at least initially) 5 foreign languages: Korean, Japanese, Chinese, English and Spanish.

“We have unbelievable intellectual property that we need to make more easily available,” said Rothschild. “We also want to be more transparent in how we do things. The new computer system will facilitate these objectives.”

Also a top priority in 2006: leveraging the combined resources of the 32,000-member organization to counteract negative publicity about the life insurance industry.

“We must step forward to communicate who we are to the world,” declared Rothschild on the main platform. “This is our profession; it does not belong to the politicians, the regulators, the consumer advocates or the media critics to tell us what is wrong, and to instruct us how to run our profession when they can’t even run their own.”

The MDRT Foundation, the organization’s philanthropic arm, is engaged in community-enhancing initiatives, many with a global focus.

At this year’s meeting, Pickett announced the foundation had secured more than $500,000 for the MDRT Foundation Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund, which aims to provide assistance to the victims of the tsunami that devastated South Asia and eastern Africa in December 2004. The foundation contributed $50,000 to the fund in January; the balance was raised from MDRT members and non-members.

In total, the foundation provided $1.5 million in grants worldwide this past year. In recognition of its efforts, the foundation received a 2004 Associations Make a Better World Award from the American Society of Association Executives.

MDRT, Chung acknowledged, is not without challenges. High among these is the need to retain its focus as it grows.

“It’s a challenge to stay relevant to members who hale from countries with widely varying cultures and are at different stages of development,” said Chung.