GAMA International is holding its 2012 LAMP Conference, being held at Marriott World Center Resort in Orlando this week. The following is recap of highlights from the organization’s opening general session.

A Growing Organization
GAMA International President Kenneth Gallacher kicked off the general session on Monday by recapping statistics attesting to the organization’s membership strength and growth.

The number of members attending this years conference, including general agents, managers and others holding leadership positions within their organizations, totaled  2,600 – an all-time high for GAMA. The total includes, he said, 400 international attendees.

In 2011, said Gallacher,  GAMA recruited 1,300-plus new members into its ranks, which at year-end 2011 stood at more than 110,000. Between January and March of this year, GAMA recruited an additional 800 members.

Gallacher noted also that retention of new members now stands 71%, a rate that places it within the top 1% of associations in terms of member retention.

Gallacher highlighted other statistics. Among them: members collectively represent organizations that more than 6,126 products; nearly 1,800 members have enrolled in GAMA’s Field Leadership Series (FLS) program; and 2,259 members have been trained is GAMA’s Essentials initiative.

“GAMA is the only association dedicated to supporting field leaders in the insurance and financial services industry,” said Gallacher.

Words of Wisdom from a Financial Guru
Nick Murray, an industry speaker and author of 11 books for financial service professionals, opened his talk by pointing  out an essential difference – one he repeatedly invoked over the course of the 30-minute presentation – between management and leadership.

The first, he said, entails a top-down management style that restricts agents’ ability to realize their full potential. Leadership, by contrast, calls for “thinking from the bottom up.”

“Insurance and financial service professionals don’t like to be managed; they hate authority,” he said. “But they crave to be led by leaders. They’ll do things they didn’t know how to do or imagine they could do, for leaders. When you return to agencies, be a leader – not a manager.”

Such leadership, said Murray, will be much in need in coming years to inspire agents under their direction to address an unprecedented challenge: helping to proptect clients against the risk of living too long.

Murray noted that a 62-year-old, non-smoking couple can today be expected to live on average to age 92. Yet, many couples are without the financial resources to fund basic expenses over 30 years of retirement.

“The perfectly binary issue for our 62-year-couple is this: Will the money outlive them or will they outlive the money,”  he said. “That’s the question that your agents urgently need to pose to boomers who are now in retirement or nearing retirement.”

Murray added that, at the current rate of inflation, $1.00 spent by a 62-year-old couple today would be equivalent $2.50 at age 92, yielding an aggregate cost of live rise of 250%.

“Your [advisors] need to tell their clients that if they don’t have a strategy for increasing their incomes by 2.5 times the amount they currently generate, then they have a plan for running out of money.”

Murray added that many fixed income strategies, such as those that call for investing in low-yield bonds and certificates of deposit, will fail in providing the requisite retirement savings because the strategies hinge on preserving the client’s account principal, rather than purchasing power.

Invoking a Higher Calling
MetLife Senior Vice President Joseph Jordan, an expert on behavioral finance, echoed Murray in noting that producers will only realize success if they’re inspired by more than the financial rewards that a career as a financial services professional will bring.

“One’s beliefs drives your behavior,” said Jordan. “If your agents are just doing the work for the money, and not to help realize the clients’ financial goals and dreams, then there is a cultural problem in your agency that has to be dealt with. And that means creating culture – not a strategy – that demonstrates the value of our products and what we do as financial professionals.

“You’re the chief culture officers within your organizations,” he added. “You owe it to your reps to make them feel that the work they do is truly significant and worthwhile.”

Jordan said also that it’s more important to manage agents for their efforts (e.g. getting them to commit to speaking with so many prospects per week) rather than results (e.g., closing on x number of sales) because one can control for the first, but not the second. The greater the effort, he added, the greater will be the reward.

“The difference between pleasure and happiness is that pleasure cannot be sustained beyond the activity that supports it,” he said. “If you focus only on what’s easy in life, your life will be hard.”