Life insurance is now properly taxed. Annuity providers, whatever Senator Elizabeth Warren may think, don’t need more regulation. And to help drive home these points with lawmakers, the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting has initiatives underway to boost its membership ranks and supporters on Capitol Hill.
So communicated three AALU executives —Marc Cadin, a senior vice president of government affairs; Chris Morton, vice president of legislative affairs; and James Lee vice president of member services & marketing — in a wide-ranging interview. The three spoke with LifeHealthPro Senior Editor Warren S. Hersch in advance of the association’s annual meeting, being held in Washington, D.C. May 3-5. The following are excerpts.
Hersch: What’s the theme of this year’s annual meeting? How will this focus be reflected in the content?
Lee: In a nutshell: opportunities that come from innovation. This will be the overarching focus of the keynote addresses, starting on Sunday with space activist Peter Diamandis, who runs the X Prize Foundation.
On Monday, Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak will explore how he personally has been involved in innovative businesses — including Apple — and will examine principals of innovation that can be applied to any business. Barbara Corcoran of ABC’s Shark Tank will discuss innovation from an entrepreneur’s perspective: how to always be innovative in business to achieve growth.
Jason Dorsey, an expert on Gen Y, will then bring an insider’s perspective on how producers can effectively interface with millennials. Thereafter, we’ll shift to policy discussions with a keynote from the 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney.
Innovation will also infuse AALU’s program content. For the first time in 7 years, we’ll be putting three AALU members on stage. They’ll be talking about how they used innovation to further their practices, each differently. We’ll also be making announcements respecting about how the AALU will continue to grow and better serve the industry.
Hersch: Is there a nexus between the innovation theme and AALU’s public policy objectives?
Cadin (pictured at right): As we look at the broader industry landscape, there are many challenges faced by industry and distribution, some of which concern public policy. Our job is not only to innovate but also to be an agent of change.
So we’re adopting a new mission at the conference: to strengthen, grow, promote and advocate for the life insurance community. These mission components will be in evidence throughout the event.
We’ve invested a lot into the annual meeting and into connecting the meeting to our professional development tools. That will enable us to better serve our members — and by extension the American people. We have to do a better job promoting the profession to bring more bring into the field.
Over the next few years, we’ll be pursuing a new strategic direction that will change our business model. To that end, we’ll continue to serve our existing members — the industry’s top life insurance professionals — via a subscription model. We’re also instituting a new mid-tier membership level that will provide benefits a la carte.
Hersch: How will the new mid-tier members be served differently than existing members? And to what extent would you expect the new membership model to help AALU achieve recruitment and retention goals?
Cadin: AALU enjoys an exceptionally high retention rate: between 90 and 93 percent year-over-year. Generally, we only lose people when members retire or leave the business.
AALU today is centered on agents and advisors who have built up a book of business and are particularly interested in advocating and protecting their clients by getting involved politically in advocacy initiatives. The new mid-tier member level, to be launched with a number of companies, is geared to the next generation of producers: early and mid-career professional.
As part of this initiative, we’re developing an app that will provide one-stop shopping: for information about our advocacy work, educational initiatives like our Washington Reports and Essential Wisdom Series, plus other online resources. The app will also leverage the knowledge of our top AALU members.
Hersch: Do you expect that AALU will revise educational content at the conference to accommodate its new members?
Cadin: We would argue that we’ve already meaningfully changed educational content. The AALU of the past was about two basic market places: estate planning and executive benefits. The workshops and the professional services we’re providing at this year’s annual meeting covers a broader spectrum of what industry professionals are doing — from insurance and retirement planning to investments.
Lee: We’re also making content more useful to a new generation of producers by changing the delivery — both in form and frequency. The mobile app we’re building, which will avail users of videos, checklists, scripts and other resources, is now in the market research phase. We expect it to go into beta testing by the end of this year.
Hersch: In implementing these initiatives, will you be looking to best practices instituted by other associations or third-parties to help carry them out? Also, will additional funding be required?
Cadin: We’re very much focused on pursuing collaborative opportunities with other industry organizations. And so we’ve entered into a joint venture with NAILBA. We’ve also had discussions with the ACLI, LIMRA and the American College about how to leverage their strengths to inform and empower the distribution system.
We’re also engaged in a healthy dialogue with leaders in carrier and brokerage communities. Everyone feels the industry is capable of so much more — to become a catalyst for change. But to do that, we need to bring the field’s best and brightest minds together.
We believe our industry is uniquely positioned to solve Americans’ financial, retirement and security challenges. So we have to be stronger and more effective. We believe that fundamental innovations to our business model and mission will better position us to help the industry reach its potential.
Hersch: At this time last year, AALU reported a membership base of below 2,500 agents and advisors. Where does membership stand currently? Have you established new membership goals?