As I sat down for an interview with the president-elect of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors during NAIFA’s annual meeting in Seattle this month, one question was top of mind: How can the organization stay relevant as a force on Capitol Hill and in the states when its membership has been declining–and when a significant percentage of the association’s rank-and-file are not engaged in issues that are critical to their futures?
Others evidently share this concern. Michael Kerley–a senior VP of federal government relations at NAIFA, whose retirement after 41 years of service to the organization was announced during NAIFA’s kick-off general session on September 12–told the 2,000 assembled conventioneers that every citizen has the right to speak on public policy issues. But, quoting Jack Bobo–a former NAIFA president and retired NU columnist–you have to earn the right to be taken seriously.
Translation: Life insurance agents have to actively participate in, and financially support, NAIFA’s legislative agenda. Otherwise, the organization will lose political muscle and the authority to speak for the profession. Kerley directed his message to the attending NAIFA members, but he could also have been speaking to the estimated 200,000 agents who are not–and should be–NAIFA members.
Since NAIFA’s ranks hit a peak of 143,000+ in the early 1990s, its membership has steadily declined by about 5% annually, dipping to approximately 50,250 life agents for the 2010 fiscal year that ended June 30th. Only a few years ago, when former CEO David Woods announced the NAIFA 21 Strategic Plan, which called (among other things) for growing the organization’s membership rolls to 100,000, the total stood at approximately 65,000. And yet, the number has moved in the opposite direction.
NAIFA President-elect Terry Headley expressed confidence, however, that the hemorrhaging is almost over. He noted during our interview the organization has renewed membership for a progressively larger percentage of its base each year. In 2009-2010, NAIFA reintroduced to its ranks nearly 10,000 lapsed members out of more than 55,000 producers contacted.