A woman reflects at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. AP Photo/Justin Lane, Pool

We all can remember where we were the day those planes hit the two World Trade Center buildings. I was actually working for a firm you may remember called Dean Witter, and was literally on the phone with someone in Trade Center Two an hour before the plane hit that tower. Like a lot of people, I had friends and colleagues die that day, so every September 11th, I always take time to reflect on what was, what happened, and what we should learn from that horrible event.

I think it’s time for the annuity industry to learn from what happened before, during and after 9/11, and how we can apply those best practices to the annuity brand. Please don’t be offended by the 9/11 correlations because they are needed to emphasize the importance of what can be accomplished.

Expect the unexpected

As someone who actually worked in Trade Center Two for a short while, there was not one day that I thought those buildings could fall. As I frequently ate lunch at the Top of The Tower Restaurant (the top floor of the Trade Center), it never crossed my mind the horror that could happen with those huge structures and the people inside.

Just like two planes flying into the World Trade Center seemed unthinkable, we have to ask ourselves as an industry what potential threats may be coming our way? What’s the unthinkable that can happen to the annuity industry? Is it specific carriers going under? Is it the eventual backlash of bad annuity Internet advertising? Is it a class action lawsuit of some sort that we can’t fathom? Is it the current new ownership or yet to arrive new players in the annuity world?

The basic breakdown on 9/11 was the security and screening at the airports where the terrorists got on the planes. Where is our annuity security breakdown? Stop and think about that for a second, and you will be surprised with the immediate answers that pop into your head. We have to expect the unexpected, and do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen. At a minimum, we need to beef up our “annuity security.”

Play offense, not defense

Since the 9/11 tragedy, our country has not suffered that type of large event. Yes, we have had a few random idiots take their shot and do minimal damage, but our political and military leaders can be proud that they have kept our country safe since that dark day. The war against terrorism is daily and unrelenting to say the least.

The annuity industry has to take the same daily diligence to the war we are in as well. Don’t be confused or kid yourself that the fixed annuity world is not in an ongoing war with the securities industry. Yes, it’s a war. They are sick and tired of us constantly transferring money out of their firms to fixed annuities, and they are going continue to attack us because there are trillions of dollars at stake. We won the initial battle and the “taking of hill 151A,” but we all know that they are preparing and planning for another attack of “hill 151A” along with the “source of funds” battle and other strategies yet to be revealed.

We can’t remain on defense anymore. We can no longer wait to be attacked, and we have to deliver the message to our enemies first. The fixed annuity industry has to go on the offensive and take the fight to the annuity haters and the securities power barons, and the media that haven’t done their basic annuity product homework. We have to define the arguments and control the playing field. We have to have a game plan, and a specific and ongoing plan of attack so we can deliver the hit…not take the hit.

Stay focused and plan to win

I can only imagine the morning briefings that the President of the United States of America receives as they drink their first cup of coffee. It’s no wonder why President Obama has gotten so much grey hair during his tenure. The ongoing threats, unknown wars, and potential national problems that happen on a daily basis must be overwhelming.

Like the President, the annuity industry has to keep their eye on the prize. The prize just happens to be the huge demographic shift of 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day and the corresponding money in motion that’s looking for guarantees, contractual benefits and lifetime income. We cannot be distracted, and the industry has to develop and implement one consistent message and theme that properly conveys the annuity message. When you are in a war, you only have one goal. That goal is to win. Our primary war is the message, and our goal is to not only define but win the message.

September 11th will always be a day of reflection and remembrance, and the past and ongoing sacrifice of its victims and families will always be honored by all Americans. A special thanks goes out to all of the military members and their families for providing us the safety and freedom to live and work in the greatest country in the history of the world. Let’s not take that gift for granted, and let’s make sure that we protect the annuity industry with that same ferocity, dignity, and professionalism that they have and continue to display.

For more from Stan Haithcock, see: