In a column I penned at this time last year, I urged the powers that be at the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting to lift restrictions on press access to their annual meeting, which is again being held this year in Washington, D.C, April 29-May 2. Either the association’s executives failed to read the opinion piece or (I suspect) chose to ignore it.
The decision is—once again—disappointing.
As was the case in 2011, all of the conference workshops—the main content of interest to advanced sales professionals who are looking to learn about new life insurance-funded solutions and practice management techniques—are strictly off-limits to media. So you won’t be seeing any recap on our LifeHealthPro.com portal, or in our print magazine, about topics that are now top-of-mind among producers.
Among them: “Annuities in the Private Placement Marketplace;” “Lawyer Up! Legal Tactics for Wealth Transfer Enhanced by Life Insurance;” “Large Sales Opportunities (BOLI & ICOLI) in the Current Legal and Economic Environment;” “Solutions for Highly Compensated Employees in the Pending “Retirement Crisis;” and “Need to Know: How to Comply and Compete in the Face of New Regulatory Requirements.”
Also closed off to journalists are two much-anticipated sessions: a talk by former President Bill Clinton during Monday’s general session; and a “Super Session” that will be held on Wednesday, the closing day of the conference.
Why is the AALU preventing reporters from attending these gatherings? James Lee, AALU’s vice president of member services and marketing, told me last year that the policy change was instituted for members “who believed that non-members who were not prospective members inhibited discussions in the workshops.”
I can appreciate this rationale—to a point. Reporters, true to their profession, have a penchant of asking those in the public eye probing questions that may not be to the liking of (in this case) conference speakers and/or audience members.
Also, session speakers and attendees want to be able to engage one another forthrightly in a relaxed, informal environment. That can be difficult if they know their comments will be faithfully aired—or distorted—in the next web or print edition of an industry magazine or general business publication.
These concerns, in my view, are outweighed by the greater benefit that unrestricted press access would yield for the association’s organizers. And what I wrote last year about this bears repeating: My reporting of conference content serves both to: (1) educate readers about news and trends that impact them; and (2) offer advisors a window into career-enhancing skills and expertise available to them in greater depth, if only they would attend.
By preventing journalists from covering professional development content at the annual conference, the AALU also denies itself a valuable member outreach opportunity. At a time when attendance at association meetings is on the decline—because of restrictions on business travel budgets; a disinclination among many young professionals to attend professional development events; and, in the insurance space, a fragmenting of the advisory workforce—it’s more important than ever that the AALU avail itself of every opportunity for increased exposure And the AALU, like many of its sister organizations, needs to significantly boost its membership to wield the political clout needed to ward off the perennial threats to the tax-favored treatment of life insurance. The danger is particularly acute now because Congress is now keen to end various “tax-expenditures”—revenue the federal government forgoes through provisions in the tax code—in order to close the burgeoning budget deficit and national debt.
Evidently, AALU executives remain unconvinced by these arguments. So I and editorial colleagues at Summit Business Media will report on what we can for our loyal readers—AALU member prospects or otherwise. And we’ll continue to hope that the association will ultimately see the wisdom of reversing its position on press access.