The Million Dollar Round Table, an annual meeting of top-producing life insurance and financial services professionals, regularly draws thousands of attendees from across the globe. But leaders of the now 90-year-old organization weren’t quite expecting this year’s outsize turnout.
The convention and hotel spaces set aside for the event being held in Vancouver, Canada, June 11-15, will be positively bursting at the seams. And, it seems, for good reason: MDRT is customizing professional development content as never before to cater to the particular interests and issues of members’ countries — and in their own tongues.
“The five tracks we’re introducing this year expand the footprint of our sessions and the ability to hear from the industry’s best and brightest in their own languages, about their own tax laws, and about the unique situations in their own regions,” says MDRT President Brian Heckert. “This is a big change for us.”
A sellout crowd of 11,500 agents and advisors will be attending the 2016 annual meeting. That attendence number exceeds last year’s record turnout of 10,000-plus. Among this year’s attendees will be about 5,500 first-timers, or about 45 percent of the event participants. The U.S. contingent, about 40 percent of attendees, remains the largest by country.
But MDRT’s Heckert observes that a growing proportion of the annual’s meeting’s rank-and-file increasingly hail from the association’s fastest-growing region, Asia. Among the continent’s long-established contingents: members from Japan, South Korean Hong Kong and Singapore.
These country delegations are being increasingly displaced by producers in emerging markets, most notably India and (not least) Mainland China. Closer to home, Mexico is also fueling the surge in new members.
“We’re seeing a huge group of members from the People’s Republic of China, where the life insurance and financial services industry is exploding in size,” says MDRT First Vice President Mark Hanna. “The top two life insurance companies in China now employ 3 million agents between them.”
The burgeoning number of MDRT members in the Asia-Pacific region more than compensates for the near-flat growth of association’s U.S. member base, which has dipped slightly in recent years, though Hanna notes that performance of U.S. members, as measured by annualized commissions and premiums, are “up dramatically” this year. The upshot: More members now occupy the top membership tiers, Court of the Table and Top of the Table.
The increasing international character of the association has prompted MDRT’s leadership team to offer more tailored content for workshops featuring best practices, tools and techniques specific to individual countries. The custom content will also be translated into six of the most widely used languages: Mandarin and Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Hindi and Spanish.
“The track translations cover the major languages represented at the annual meeting,” says, Hanna (pictured at right), who is due to assume the presidency in September. “We’re creating a global experience where each member will feel like the program was put together just for them. The change is acknowledgement that we’re a global association offering programming around a globalized membership model.”
Indeed. When you add in translations for main platform presentations — long a hallmark of the annual meeting — the languages represented total 16. There’s more interpreting taking place than at the United Nations.
And it’s not just happening at the U.S annual meeting. MDRT has augmented its signature American event with “MDRT Experience Meetings” in Asia. More than 8,000 members attended a sold-out gathering in Hong Kong last February. The next meeting will be held in Kuala Lumpur in 2018.
Contributing to the surge of the Asian contingent, says Hanna, is a growing demand among the region’s expanding middle class for key protection products. Among these are core offerings like term and cash value life insurance, immediate and deferred annuities, plus specialty insurance products like disability income, critical illness, accident and long-term insurance.
“There is now so much demand for the products and services and skills of agents and advisors in the Asia-Pacific region,” says Hanna. “The growth there is unlike anything we’ve seen anywhere else in the world.”
Also contributing to growth of MDRT’s emerging markets is a less restrictive regulatory environment. Many of the developing markets (Mainland China’s among them) have only taken off in the last 20 years. The high product suitability and fiduciary standards that are so much on the minds of agents and advisors in developed countries are less prevalent in nascent markets, where insurance-only producers mostly work on commission and, often, on a part-time basis.
Given their narrow product focus, many also are looking for basic tools and techniques to help close more sales, reach prospects through innovative marketing strategies and manage their time more efficiently. In short: all nuts-and-bolts professional development areas that MDRT has long focused on at its annual meetings.
But Heckert points out that MDRT’s content increasingly mirrors the growing professionalization of its members. That’s prompted a shift in programming needed to support practices operating on a consulting and services model.
“MDRT has developed ways to help practices run better and more efficiently so that advisors can focus on what they do best: give advice — not just sell product,” says Heckert. “That’s one of the biggest transitions we’ve seen in the industry. The content reflects a worldwide movement among our members.”
That movement is happening particularly swiftly among producers in developed markets, for whom MDRT is also beefing up content to help them in their transition from a commissions-only to fee-based advisory model. For many, the change is being driven by the ability to generate additional revenue serving more affluent clients with advanced planning needs, including retirement, business and wealth transfer strategies. A fee for services compensation structure also permits a recurring revenue stream, freeing producers from relying solely on new sales to generate income.
Yet another factor fueling the shift to fees is a tightening of regulatory requirements that have forced on producers a fiduciary standard of care when advising on insurance and/or investment products. The transition has taken place in Australia, New Zealand and, most recently, the U.K.