Today's hostile environment of low interest rates, high market volatility and continuing regulatory pressure requires products with the flexibility to adapt in an improving economy.
the last word With Larry Barton The Importance of One Voice The industry has to speak with one voice or the interests of the life insurance industry and the people it serves will not be heard. By Larry Barton T he time has come to have a frank discussion about how your interests are represented in Washington, D.C. The truth is that our industry has too many voices trying to represent insurance and financial services professionals. As a result, our ability to affect legislation vital to our future success becomes diluted. Ask yourself, “Who speaks for financial services?” Is it NAIFA? GAMA? AALU? ACLI? The American College? MDRT? LIMRA? LOMA? Need more acronyms? There are plenty to choose from. As you can imagine, the problem is that all of these organizations purport to represent our interests in various forms, and yet none of them is recognized industry-wide as our single, official representative. I submit to you that for our industry to survive in the coming decades, we need to do a better job of cooperating and leveraging our existing resources. To address this issue, I propose that all our industry organizations begin meeting on a quarterly basis to enhance the exchange of information and the coordination of efforts on behalf of financial services professionals. The American College would be proud to organize and host the first such meeting on our campus. This coordination would have several immediate benefits. First, we need to improve the image of the financial services industry and the caring professionals who help families across America achieve financial security. My hat goes off to the LIFE Foundation. Their annual “Life Insurance Awareness Month” initiative and other recognition events have shown that cooperation between various industry partners can make a difference in improving the public’s perception of financial products. One month each year, however, will not get us to our goal. We need a more concerted effort, year round, in order to make a difference. Another immediate benefit would be how our industry is represented in Washington, D.C. If we are to make a difference in the minds of legislators, we need to make all of our voices heard. At present, membership in many of our professional organizations is declining. This makes us less significant in the minds of lawmakers. We are seen as less influential. Part of the reason is economics. As company and family budgets tighten, professionals have chosen to support fewer organizations, or have chosen not to participate at all. Another challenge is the social fabric of our culture. Online communication has replaced the need for face-to-face networking for many industry practitioners. Our culture is not going to change. We can no longer afford to have our voices divided between many organizations. Instead, we need one overarching alliance of multiple organizations that can represent our interests together. What will this do? Speaking with one voice sends a consistent message and tone to legislators about industry issues. When multiple representatives deliver our message, our consistency is sacrificed. Whether it is retirement savings issues, cash build-up of life insurance or estate taxes, we need to speak in a clear and effective manner. By working in concert, we multiply organizations representing fewer voices into a single voice that represents hundreds of thousands. There is strength in numbers. Creating a federation for financial organizations through synergy provides our industry with greater influence – both at the ballot box and through lobbying efforts. Finally, speaking as one increases our ability to represent our industry effectively to members of the public. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of the bad rap insurance professionals get. If a patient has a bad experience with a doctor, no one blames the entire medical profession. Yet, when a financial professional acts inappropriately, the whole industry gets a black eye. We must do more to make sure consumers understand and “Management must speak with one voice. When it doesn’t, management itself becomes a peripheral opponent to the team’s mission.” – Pat Riley, professional basketball executive, former coach and NBA player appreciate the value of financial organizations so that the industry itself is better insulated from a few bad actors when they act in a manner that is illegal, unethical or both. Some may argue, the last thing we need is yet another representative structure added to the mix. I appreciate your concerns. But I tell you this as the leader of the nation’s premier financial services educator: if we don’t do a better job of getting our voices heard, pretty soon, there won’t be any more voices to be heard. Legislators are looking for ways to pick up revenue and with the stroke of a pen, they could very easily create laws that irreparably damage your livelihood. It is time we put aside our differences to work together for the greater good. The time for action is now. Our industry culture will not change until the paid executives of each of the organizations I mentioned earlier get the courage to speak out and earn their salaries by demonstrating leadership, rather than relying on lobbyists. For the most part, my contemporaries have been silent, running conventions and doing zero to help their constituents during the most aggressive attack on agents and advisors in our lifetime. They should be ashamed of themselves – and if they, or you, are offended, please show me tangible proof of their lobbying efforts in Washington over the past year. From my perspective, you deserve better, period. Do you agree? I invite you to write me at InsuranceNewsNet and share your perspectives. Let’s get a thoughtful dialogue started. Larry Barton, Ph.D., CAP, is president, CEO and holder of the O. Alfred Granum Chair in Management at The American College, based in Bryn Mawr, PA. Contact Larry Barton at Larry.Barton@innfeedback.com. 64 InsuranceNewsNet Magazine » January 2013