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Kim O’Brien retires from NAFA

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When Kim O’Brien announced her retirement as president and CEO of NAFA, the annuity industry lost perhaps its strongest voice and a true champion of fixed products.

O’Brien’s retirement was effective as of Friday, January 16, 2015, and ends a role she has held since 2004. Calls to the organization have not been returned as of press time, but in a statement released by NAFA, the group’s board of directors has begun the process of finding a replacement to fill the position of Executive Director. During the transition, Janet Terpening, Director of Operations, will take over the duties being vacated by O’Brien.

As for a successor, S. Christopher Johnson, Chairman of the Board of Directors, said, “NAFA is well-positioned for significant growth, due in part to Kim’s vision and leadership. We are confident Kim’s successor will have all the tools, staff, and resources needed to exceed NAFA’s goals in the future.”

O’Brien has been something of a trailblazer in the annuity space and is one of its most recognized advocates. 2008 will be remembered as a bellwether year for her. That year, NBC Dateline aired a segment called “Tricks of the Trade,” which exposed questionable sales practices that involved some insurance agents and advisors. 

As O’Brien told Senior Market Advisor at the time, “NAFA has zero tolerance for inappropriate, unsuitable, fraudulent or misleading sales because they are bad for the consumer and bad for the insurance industry.” As far as she’s concerned, the customer is the key to the industry’s success. “Our industry wants satisfied customers. It’s why the industry has made customer satisfaction a priority.” 

Later that year, the SEC’s Section 151A hit the insurance industry. The proposal sought to reclassify certain annuity products as securities. As O’Brien and her organization argued, “The minimum level of performance of an indexed annuity depends on the strength of the general account of the issuing insurer, not the performance of the investment markets, and that an indexed annuity is definitely an insurance product, not a security.” In 2010, annuity advocates won a stunning victory over the SEC when The District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals vacated Rule 151A. In addition, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin added an amendment to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which would ensure state regulation of the index-linked annuities.

O’Brien played a huge role in rallying the troops, leading packs of annuity insiders to descend on Capitol Hill to plead the case of annuities as insurance products.

Though the years, O’Brien continued her advocacy for annuities. At the 2014 Advisor Summit Network in Las Vegas, she served on an expert panel to discuss key regulatory issues facing the industry.

With suitability and compliance a constant whipping point for the mainstream media to use against annuity producers, O’Brien argued with facts.

“Producers have done an astounding job with suitability. NAFA just got our numbers in on 2013 and there were 46 complaints against the indexed annuity and a total of 202 for all fixed annuities. That’s down 85 percent. We wouldn’t have gotten the Harkin Amendment if we didn’t have the suitability rule in place.”

O’Brien’s accomplishments are many:

U.S. Most Outstanding Women – 1987

First Female CFP in Wisconsin

Sun Life Entrepreneur Award

Madison Theatre Guild Board of Directors – Honorarium

2008 Annuity Power List – Senior Market Advisor

O’Brien began her career working for an insurance agency in Madison, Wis. and also worked as executive director of the CIGNA/WEA 403(b) trust before taking on her role as executive director of NAFA. 

Her academic career includes a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), English Language and Literature/Letters and DANCE, Ripon College; a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.), Business/Managerial Economics, Edgewood College; and, a Master of Arts (M.A.), Choreography, University of Northern Colorado.

That O’Brien would have a love for dance would come as no surprise to her many peers that have seen her perform a perfect can-can at industry events.