During NAIFA’s ’07 Convention and Career Conference, held here Sept. 8-12, outgoing CEO David Woods sat down for an interview with National Underwriter Senior Editor Warren S. Hersch to explore NAIFA’s evolution, continuing challenges and the legacy he leaves to the organization.
NU: How would you assess this year’s convention?
Woods: We have a good attendance and execution so far has been excellent. The mood and spirit of the crowd is upbeat. Yes, a proposed dues increase and bylaws changes have provoked angst among some advisors. But, the negative [reactions] came from where we expected. So there were no surprises.
NU: How long have you been associated with NAIFA? How did you become active at a leadership level?
Woods: I joined the local association in Springfield, Mass. in April of 1964. I personally chaired a public service program that hosted a Valentine’s Day party for handicapped children living in a state-run institution. It was a highly successful event that generated a lot of publicity for insurance agents and that garnered a national award at the 1967 NAIFA Convention in Atlantic City.
That convention made a very positive impression on me. The people I met really understood the business and the speakers had very good ideas. So I kept coming and one thing led to next.
NU: How have NAIFA’s key priorities changed over the years?
Woods: NALU [National Association of Life Underwriters] was founded in 1890 in Boston from then independent local associations to deal primarily with regulatory and legislative issues. Sales and practice management ideas grew out of this initiative. But the primary business of political advocacy has remained job number 1 for NAIFA.
When I became CEO in 2002, the challenge was to determine what advisors wanted in a changing marketplace. The latest iteration of our strategic plan reaffirms advocacy as our top priority. NAIFA 21 also recognizes that independent agents, who represent about half the universe of producers, really have no other place to go for quality education, sales training, motivation, inspiration and networking.
A key component of the strategic plan is our Professional Development System, which aggregates under the NAIFA brand the best educational and sales programs and makes them available to members on a favorable cost basis. But we don’t just want to deliver courses. We want to be an organization that can help advisors at any stage in their career figure out what they have to do to achieve their goals.
NU: How would you compare the advocacy challenges that NAIFA faces today relative to when you began as CEO?
Woods: The tax treatment of life insurance wasn’t more than a routine issue when I started 5 years ago. Now, especially with the new PAYGO rules, it’s a major concern because Congress is going to be scrambling to find new sources of revenue. And life insurance is in the bull’s eye.
NU: During your five-year term, how has NAIFA changed its approach to advocacy?
Woods: One of our greatest accomplishments was to rebuild bridges to sister organizations like the AALU, ACLI, NAILBA and others that have advocacy as part of their mission. As a result, we collectively agreed that whichever organization went to Capitol Hill to speak about an issue would represent the industry. Previously, each organization operated independently. This was a huge change.