New Orleans has long been famous for its cuisine, music annual celebrations and festivals. Starting Sunday, June 14, thousands of members of the Million Dollar Round Table — an association comprising the world’s top-producing life insurance and financial service professionals — will converge on “The Big Easy’s” convention center and be treated to MDRT’s own signature offerings. Chief among them: professional development content, from sessions on building a practice to exit planning, to cater to a wide range of advisors’ interests.
For the 2015 annual meeting, MDRT has “repackaged” its Main Platform talks to further enhance the value and appeal of the general sessions. In advance of the meeting, LifeHealthPro Senior Editor Warren Hersch interviewed Caroline Banks — the association’s fourth woman and second non-North American member to serve as MDRT president — to learn about the conference revamp, as well as opportunities and challenges facing its global community of agents and advisors. The following are excerpts.
Hersch: Tell me about this year’s annual meeting. How will it differ in format, content or scope from prior years?
Banks (pictured at right): We’ll have the traditional conference line-up: Main Platform sessions, Focus Sessions, Special Sessions, Idea Exchanges and the Connexion Zone: the exhibitor space where members can find more than 100 speakers, plus opportunities to meet new people, ideas and technology. To these offerings we’ve added several new events.
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The changes will be evident at Monday’s general session in the Main Platform room, where speakers — many of them longtime MDRT members — will deliver innovative and creative business concepts in a variety of formats. Attendees will leave these fast-paced sessions with ideas to improve their productivity and business practices.
Also new are Cornerstone Presentations, where attendees can customize Wednesday morning content to meet their needs. They can choose from several concurrent Main Platform-quality presentations on sales strategies, practice management, technology and health and wellness. Each presentation will be followed by a Focus Session offering the opportunity to further explore related topics.
A third addition are language-specific Echo Sessions featuring MDRT native language speakers. Trained in the “echoing process,” they’ll share their understanding of the key messages from the various Annual Meeting presentations given on Monday and Tuesday. They will also discuss how key takeaways can be adapted in attendees’ local markets. The MDRT Echo Sessions take place concurrently with the Cornerstone Presentations and will be presented in various languages.
With these additions, the 2015 Annual Meeting will avail members of more time to share together in a general session. Although the schedule and delivery times may be new, attendees will enjoy the same amount and type of content during the main platform as in past years; the content will just be packaged differently.
We’ve put a lot of thought into the new conference format; and we’re really excited about it. Everyone wants great content, not least the thousands of members who will traveling to the annual meeting from more than 60 countries. We think they’ll find what they came for.
Hersch: How did you go about shaping the conference agenda? Was there member input?
Banks: We always do a survey of members after the annual meeting. But arriving at the right mix of content is a challenge. People want to be inspired to do better; the motivational talks delivered during the Main Platform sessions fulfill this role.
They also want practice management content — information about product trends, techniques and best practices — that help pay for the trip. Hence the afternoon Focus Sessions. The difference this year is that we’re providing more opportunities for members to personalize what they’re looking for.
Hersch: How many people will be coming to this year’s annual meeting? How many members do you have worldwide?
Banks: It will be a large and diverse community: Some 10,000 people — nearly a quarter of our 43,000 members globally — are coming to New Orleans. We also must serve throughout the year our 33,000 other members. Compared to last year, membership is up by fewer than 1,000 people. But we’re not seeking many new members — only the top producers.
Hersch: What are the top practice management issues that MDRT members are facing in common across countries this year? And how do these issues vary from last year?
Banks: There is a great fear, though not always country-specific, of new government regulations. In the U.K., we experienced significant change in 2013 as a result of the Financial Conduct Authority’s Retail Distribution Review, which prohibited commissions on product sales. Japan and South Korea, too, are facing an evolving compliance environment, so regulation is a worldwide issue. Change is not necessarily good or bad, but it does bring uncertainty.
Hersch: Are international regulators spearheading initiatives similar to that of U.S. Department of Labor’s fiduciary proposal, which would elevate the standard of care for brokers offering investment advice on retirement plans? And are we talking about, as in the U.K., the possible phasing out of commissions in favor of fee-only services?
Banks: Across the world, there are mixed views among producers and insurers as to whether similar regulatory changes will happen in their countries. Australian and the U.K. members who have, like myself, successfully navigated the transition to fee-only are, by and large, stronger and better business people as a result. But the casualties of new rules governing producers have been the average person on the street: people who can’t afford to pay the advisory fees.
Also, the regulatory changes prompted many U.K. advisors who didn’t secure the requisite qualifications to leave the business. So there are fewer of us serving the middle market. But other nations are years away from the stricter regulatory regime of the U.K.
Hersch: What other practice management issues will feature prominently this year at the annual meeting?
Banks: Succession planning varies significantly from one country to another. MDRT has gone a long way to addressing this issue with its mentoring program, which has been surprisingly successful. When you connect a young advisor with an older and more experienced mentor, you’re not only helping the young advisor gain a footing in the business; you’re also helping to pave the way for the mentor’s smooth exit from the practice.
So pairing these two — mentoring and exit planning — is a natural. That said, in some markets, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, succession planning is not anywhere near as great a concern because of these countries’ young sales forces.
Hersch: Speaking of young people, many boomer-age agents and advisors have trouble connecting with millennials because of a generational divide. Will this also be a focus of the conference?
Banks: Yes— it’s a common issue for older MDRT members. Many of those in their mid- to late-50s are not as tech-savvy as young people; and it’s through technology like social media that young people increasingly communicate and conduct business. The generational divide is less pronounced in Asian countries because, again, of these nations’ younger agents and advisors.
Hersch: What other practice management challenges are common across countries or geographic regions?