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One of the TV shows I like to watch is called “The Most.” The program features information about the biggest or the best in a variety of categories–the biggest bridge, the tallest building, the most populous region, and on and on. Each program also features a “great moment” in history, usually involving a dynamic figure that changed the course of history. “The Most” is welcome relief from some of the nonsense coming from network TV.

A few days ago when I was in a large gathering and noticing how people were dressed, I began to wonder who was “the most” as far as fashion statements were concerned. I decided it was not Versace or Armani or Cassini, or even some of the more common names in the fashion business. Based upon what I was observing as I looked around, I concluded that “the most” important fashion event occurred around 1849 when Levi Strauss took a handful of rivets and a piece of canvas and fashioned a sturdy pair of pants that he sold to California’s gold miners. The pants were an instant success and became known as “Levis.”

Over the years Levis morphed into blue jeans and finally into just jeans. They are everywhere–no matter where you travel, jeans are the dominant garb of today. And you can buy them for $15 to $1,700 or more per pair.

This was a great example of how a seemingly insignificant moment in history can, over time, have an impact upon society. I haven’t decided yet whether the proliferation of Levis or jeans in all areas of public gatherings is a blessing or a curse. But whatever it is, Levi Strauss has made his mark like no other fashion designer.

Our own business has also had its share of great moments. The creation of the first insurance company in America in the 1700s and the emergence of the mutual companies in the 1840s were all pivotal moments in the creation of the business we are engaged in today.

An early contributor to the progress of our business was Elizur Wright, whose work in developing policy non-forfeiture benefits and legal reserves made possible today’s cash value products. Prior to these developments, the premium covered only the term for which protection against risk was offered.

Another great moment occurred in 1890 when the leaders of a handful of local life underwriter associations gathered in Boston and created the National Association of Life Underwriters. For the first time the agents had a national and unified voice. It was a voice that was to speak effectively for both seller and buyer of life insurance for many decades to come. It was a voice that would magnify itself in future years by the creation of other entities to assure progress for people selling life insurance and their clients. Another case of small beginnings moving on to greatness.

Solomon Heubner contributed immensely to uplifting the sales of life insurance to a profession, primarily through education. One of his great moments was the writing of the first textbook on life insurance, and which was given financial backing by NALU. Following that “moment” he became the guiding light for agent education for many years. A small movement at first–and one even opposed by some companies–but an instant hit with agent leaders of the day.

From its very inception, NALU was committed to the task of raising the selling of life insurance to the level of a profession through education. A number of allies were enlisted in this cause, including the YMCA, the Carnegie people and several universities. But over time it became clear that more was needed, and ideally, an institution of its own dedicated to life and health insurance appeared to be the answer. At a NALU meeting in 1925, the idea of following the lead of Canada, which had already established a CLU program, was introduced and authority was given to proceed. At its 1927 mid-year meeting, the NALU governing body voted to create the American College of Life Underwriters (now American College). Pursuant to that vote the college was incorporated in Washington, D.C. with 12 NALU leaders (six of them past NALU presidents) as incorporators. Thus the U.S. version of CLU was born and what a magnificent moment in history that was.

Coincidentally, at that same meeting in 1927 another great moment in our history occurred. A small group of mega-producers for that day and age formed the “Million Dollar Round Table of the National Association of Life Underwriters.” The organization was more popularly called “MDRT” and was always a separate organization. In 1973, it dropped NALU from its official name in recognition of a growing international outreach. Again, a wonderful moment in our history and what a great influence for the promotion of life insurance around the world.

In 1947, NALU’s educational and training efforts were buttressed with the creation of the Life Underwriters Training Council, a joint venture with two company associations. A great moment for new people entering our business.

Finally, a few years ago, NALU changed its name to the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. This was in recognition of the changing nature of the business. There have been pluses and minuses to this moment in history and the jury is still out as to whether it has been beneficial to the association. Agents are comfortable with the term advisor–but, like jeans, there are advisors of all kinds everywhere you look.


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