Catherine Weatherford, the new chief executive officer of NAVA Inc., Reston, Va., is urging the annuity industry to attack the problems caused by today’s economic storm rather than “hunkering down and waiting it out.”

Speaking here during NAVA’s annual meeting, Weatherford proposed a 3-point action plan for the industry:

1. Make it clear to the public that policyholder investments in annuities are safe and sound.

2. Focus more than ever on customer service and policyholder protection, “letting the investing public know that we’re acting on their behalf.”

3. Create a new “consumer confidence task force” through NAVA.

The purpose of the task force would be to “develop an action plan for navigating through this climate,” Weatherford said.

The task force would work not only with NAVA’s own public relations and regulatory affairs committees but also with regulators and the public, Weatherford said.

Weatherford herself spent 12 years as executive vice president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo. Earlier, starting in 1991, she served a 4-year term as Oklahoma insurance commissioner. In August 2008, she joined NAVA as president and chief executive officer, succeeding Mark Mackey, who retired after 10 years.

This speech Weatherford delivered at the NAVA annual meeting is the first formal address she has given at an association event since taking over as CEO. “NAVA,” she said, “won’t sit by, wringing our hands and let events happen to us. We will attack the problem.”

NAVA’s top officers carried that message forward.

“This industry can go in one of 2 directions,” said outgoing chairman Clifford Jack, who is executive vice president and chief distribution officer at Jackson National Life Insurance Company, Lansing, Mich.

“The industry can do what it has done in the past, or it can become a lot more aggressive,” Jack said.

The annuity companies have the right product at the right time, Jack said, “but we need to simplify our products and message, and we need your help.”

Incoming NAVA Chairman Mark Casady, the chairman of LPL Financial Services Inc., San Diego, said the speed of change in the financial services industry has been “remarkable.”

For example, the country no longer has investment banks, Casady said. “Now, all [U.S. banks] are commercial banks, and it happened in just 2 weeks.”

The annuity industry should expect more acceleration, too, Casady said.

“It’s tough for all of us, to watch” the problems in the banking industry and the related developments, Casady allowed.

“But it is important for us to get behind whatever the new normal will be,” Casady said.

Casady said the NAVA board has agreed that the association will be more aggressive about consumer protection issues and promoting the work NAVA members do in providing annuities clients.