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    Thanks, Captain Obvious!

    First, let me say that Captain Obvious – the spokesperson on those subtly funny Hotels.com commercials – is one of my heroes.  Upon viewing a particularly filthy, vermin-infested hotel room, he casually points out to the family that has booked the room that “I would not stay here tonight.”

    Captain Obvious

    Doug French, a managing principal of Ernst & Young, did his best Captain Obvious impersonation at the Canadian Fraternal Alliance Section Meeting earlier this month in Ottawa.  Doug went through a variety of facts and figures about demographics, insurance products, distribution systems, and insurance company operations.  But at the heart of his presentation were his concluding points:

    •   Embrace the internet.  Customers are connected, digital, and engaged.  If you’re not, then your organization is irrelevant.

    •   Don’t swim against the demographic tide.  Two groups really matter:  millennials and boomers.  If you can’t find a way to connect with them, your future is not particularly bright.

    •   Learn about and get to underserved markets.  They still exist and could be an excellent niche for fraternals.

    •   Be realistic about changes to the “advice model” of selling life insurance and realize that there are viable alternative distribution channels.

    •   Encourage experimentation and celebrate failure.

    Nothing up there should surprise you and you’ve probably heard every one of those suggestions at least once in the past five years.

    The item that really struck me was the final one – “encourage experimentation and embrace failure.”  While many companies across all industries pay lip service to this notion, few actually implement it.  Within the fraternal community, the concept is rarely applied.  And it’s not just because we are set in our ways or restricted by antiquated governance structures, although that certainly has something to do with it.

    Based on my keen grasp of the obvious, many fraternals a) don’t have the financial resources to invest in experimentation (whether it involves alterative distribution models, new product development, branding initiatives, local chapter reorganization, or community service outreach); and b) simply can’t afford to fail (because one wrong move could mean the end of the road for the organization).

    That leaves many fraternal leaders with only one choice: keep doing what we’ve always done.  That “strategy” will almost certainly produce a long, slow glide path toward obscurity for the society.

    As Captain Obvious might say, “That’s not a very good solution.”

    So what can societies that cannot afford to “encourage experimentation and celebrate failure” do?  Find a partner with similar goals.  Build a society that is relevant to consumers both in terms of financial services and community outreach – one that delivers real value to members and contributes to the social health of the communities it serves.  Combine your resources with another organization in a way that allows you to achieve your common missions.

    You can call it a strategic alliance, a partnership, a merger, a consolidation, or an amalgamation – a rose by any other name, so to speak – but these types of relationships simply have to happen if the fraternal system is going to evolve and remain the powerful force for good that it has been for the last 100+ years.

    Obvious?  Certainly?

    Difficult?  Incredibly.

    Necessary? Undoubtedly.

    Taking Parliament Hill By Storm

    Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Alliance’s Canadian Section Annual Meeting in Ottawa, Ontario.  This year, for the first time ever, the CFA incorporated a “Day on the Hill” component into their meeting.  And the results were nothing short of spectacular.

    Thirty-six CFA members, organized into delegations of 3-4 members each, swarmed Parliament Hill on Thursday afternoon.  The groups met with more than 20 Members of Parliament (MPs), many of whom held key positions on the Insurance Caucus and Finance Ministry.  The objective of the meetings was to increase awareness of Canadian fraternals and the good work they do in every province and territory.  And, judging by the feedback from MPs, they accomplished our goals and then some.  The frosting on the cake came later that afternoon when Peter Braid, an MP from the district where FaithLife Financial is headquartered, read an official statement in support of fraternals during that day’s Parliamentary “question and answer” period.

    (L-R) Terry McGoldrick, Sons of Scotland; The Honourable Ralph Goodale, PC, MP; Doug Baker, TeachersLife; Tammy Barclay, Toronto Police Widows & Orphans Fund; Clayton Orne-Zalusky, Worden Actuarial & Benefits Consulting

    (L-R) Terry McGoldrick, Sons of Scotland; The Honourable Ralph Goodale, PC, MP; Doug Baker, TeachersLife; Tammy Barclay, Toronto Police Widows & Orphans Fund; Clayton Orne-Zaluski, Worden Actuarial & Benefits Consulting

    Congratulations to the CFA members that participated in this event and laid the groundwork for an expanded advocacy program for Canadian fraternals in the future.

    Not to be outdone by the political portion of the program, the CFA Advisory Council put together an outstanding educational package for attendees, as well.  The highlight, from my perspective, was a presentation by Jane Rooney, the Financial Literacy Leader of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.  Jane identified some incredible opportunities for fraternals to partner with her agency in Canada – and pointed out several similar organizations in the U.S. – to enhance the financial literacy of their members, particularly younger consumers.  The meeting also featured an address by Doug French of Ernst & Young (who should also be known as the funniest actuary in North America).  Doug’s insights were worthy of a blog posting all their own – which I’ll share with you next week.

    What’s an Idea Worth?

    Ever attend a meeting where you just can’t wait to get home and put what you learned to use IMMEDIATELY?

    San Antonio
    That’s the experience I had at last week’s Alliance Fraternal & Communications Mid-Year Meeting in San Antonio.  There were so many excellent ideas shared – both from the podium and in casual conversations with members during breaks and social events – that I resorted to jotting notes down on the back of receipts just to make sure I didn’t forget them.

    As I’ve said frequently, the “FratComm” is my favorite meeting of the year simply because it represents the future of the fraternal system.  And given the quality, enthusiasm and youth of attendees, the future of fraternals is very bright indeed.

    Oh, by the way, this group may decide to change what our societies are called.  There seems to be universal agreement that while “fraternal” means something to the senior members of our societies, it doesn’t work for anyone under 50 (or maybe even 60) any more.  In fact, it may be an unnecessary impediment to make our business model – a member-owned, non-for-profit, cooperative life insurer – relevant to the next generation of members.

    Sound familiar?  Here’s the coolest part:  I don’t think this group of up-and-coming leaders is going to sit around and talk this issue to death.  They want to do something about it – to create a brand for their societies and the fraternal system using words that work for people their age.  Hallelujah!

    SA2

    Zach Snell, Senior Marketing Specialist for Thrivent Financial, shares the good word about Thrivent Action Teams.

    It was incredibly refreshing to hear how member societies have stopped trying to “tweak” their way to success – especially when it comes to reforming the local lodge system – and are mustering the courage to start the member engagement process from scratch.  It’s even more encouraging to hear how enthusiastically the members of these societies are embracing these changes!

    But don’t take my word for it.  Here are a few of the many comments from members about the meeting:

    “Really great speakers this year – great energy and great info.”

    “Meeting was a good blend of specific programs from fellow fraternals, external presenters and Alliance activity. Nice job on the agenda.”

    “I’ve been to many Mid-Year Meetings and feel the content of this meeting was all valuable for the initiatives we are working on back at our society. Many take-aways to go back with us to use. Thank you!”

    SA4

    Networking with peacocks and our peers.

    “Best content ever!”

    Other thought-provoking ideas embraced by attendees were those supplied by new Alliance partners, including Perkspot, who recently joined our MemberPerks program.

    Fraternals – or whatever we call ourselves in the future – are going to successfully “grow younger” or slowly rust away.  I know what course of action the folks attending the “Frat- Comm” are choosing.  What path will your organization take?

    Meeting Season Reading List

    In the spring, a young (poetic license, please) man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…business travel and reading.  My Kindle and I have been logging quite a few miles this spring, traveling to industry conferences, member board meetings, and Alliance Mid-Year Meetings (most of which still lie ahead).  And that means many hours in airport lounges and airplane seats.  When I grow weary of sending or responding to emails, here are the books that have been keeping me occupied.  Not exactly light summer reading material, but worthwhile nonetheless…

    • Fall of the Ottomans (Eugene Rogan) – My fascination with World War I Fall of the Ottomans
    history continues, and this book explores it from a perspective I had never considered: the rulers of the Ottoman Empire, a centuries-old imperial dynasty that once ruled from North Africa to Iraq from its capital, Istanbul.  The empire was on shaky ground before WWI broke out – which made it a tempting target for the Entente Powers (Great Britain, France, and Russia) to expand their own colonies.  There’s an enormous amount of material to cover here, from the Armenian genocide to the T.E. Lawrence-fueled Arab Revolt, and Rogan explores it in detail.  If you want to understand more about the birth, boundaries, and ongoing conflicts that permeate the modern Middle East, this book is a must read.

    Deep Dark Down• Deep Down Dark (Héctor Tobar) – The true story of the 33 trapped miners in Chile and the heroic effort to rescue them.  Tobar profiles the strengths, weaknesses, egos and humility of the various miners and their families – including more than a few mistresses.  The most interesting aspect of the story to me was the miners’ transition from prayer to capitalism once it became clear that they would be saved.

     

    All the Light We Cannot See

    • All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr) – As most of you know, I don’t read many novels, but this one was one of the best I’ve read in recent memory.  Set in WWII France, it weaves the stories of two seemingly unconnected individuals into a beautiful tapestry.  Looking for a little inspiration while on the beach this summer?  This is it.

     

     

    Hellhound on His Trail• Hellhound on His Trail (Hampton Sides) – Sides is one of my favorite writers and this is one of his better efforts.  It’s the story of the search for James Earl Ray following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Sides is from Memphis, where the killing took place, and his personal connection to the place and its people comes through in his depiction of King and the supporters who were with him on that fateful visit, as well as Ray, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Scotland Yard investigators who were instrumental in his arrest.

     

    Happy reading.  See you at the Fraternal Communications Mid-Year Meeting this week in San Antonio, and the Canadian Fraternal Alliance Meeting next week in Ottawa!

    6 things I learned at the Alliance’s Executive Summit

    1) Effective innovation does not rely solely on “lightning bolt” ideas that strike the CEO, said innovation guru Robert Tucker.  The most innovative companies – including organizations that have been around for over a century – make innovation everyone’s job and incorporate processes to foster innovation at every level, from the mail room to the board room.

    2) Innovation is not limited to organizations with deep pockets.  As the members of the Monday afternoon “innovation panel” demonstrated, smaller societies with modest financial resources can be leading innovators in both the financial services and community services arenas.  In fact, smaller organizations with greater flexibility may actually have an advantage over larger companies when it comes to experimenting with innovations in their operations.

    Jim Brown, Consulting Partner, STRIVE!

    Jim Brown, Consulting Partner, STRIVE!

    3) The primary responsibilities of a society’s Board of Directors, according to governance expert Jim Brown, come down to two words: DIRECT and PROTECT.  The Board charts the course for the organization (Directs) and ensures the financial health of the society for its current and future members (Protect).

    4) Engaging the individual members of your society in advocacy activities (like the Alliance’s recently concluded “Fraternals GIVE Back” grassroots campaign) is good for business.  Ryan Donovan of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) reported that 82% of credit union members who participated in CUNA’s most recent advocacy campaign reported that they felt a stronger connection to their credit union and were more likely to purchase additional products from the organization.

    5) Low interest rates are the “new normal” for the foreseeable future.  That’s the opinion of Andrew Paone and Marc Mercurio of Wellington Management, who delivered a thorough presentation on domestic and global factors influencing the interest rate environment.  The bottom line for life insurers – fraternal and commercial – is that a careful balancing of your portfolio’s yield and duration is critical to squeezing a profit from razor thin margins.  If you are interested in learning more about the current investment landscape, you should consider attending the Alliance’s Investment Mid-Year Meeting – click here for more details.

    Top Row:  Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA); John Andrzejewski, Polish National Union; Mary Jo Savidge, Ladies Penn. Slovak Catholic Union Front Row:  Joe Evanish, Slovene National Benefit Society; Irene Jugan, PNU; Theresa Kluchinski, LPSCU

    Top Row: Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA); John Andrzejewski, Polish National Union; Mary Jo Savidge, Ladies Pennsylvania Slovak Catholic Union
    Front Row: Joe Evanish, Slovene National Benefit Society; Irene Jugan, PNU; Theresa Kluchinski, LPSCU

    6) Alliance executives are advocacy rock stars.  I mentioned this in last week’s post, but it’s just too important not to give one more shout out to the dozens of CEO and senior executives from Alliance member societies that spread the good word about fraternals to Members of Congress and their staff last week in Washington, D.C.  The 2015 Executive Summit marked the third time in six years that we’ve incorporated a “Day on the Hill” event into the program and the results are more impressive every year.  More members participating, more meetings with legislators, more congressional champions identified, more assurances that lawmakers are aware of the value of the fraternal tax exemption and willing to do everything they can to ensure it remains in place so we can fulfill our unique financial services and community services mission.

    THE 2016 EXECUTIVE SUMMIT IS SCHEDULED FOR MAY 11 – 13 AT THE SHERATON CENTRE TORONTO HOTEL IN ONTARIO.  THE MEETING WILL BE HOSTED BY THE ALLIANCE’S CANADIAN SECTION.  SO DUST OFF THOSE PASSPORTS AND SAVE THE DATE TODAY!

    Alliance Members Are Advocacy Rock Stars

    More than any other product, service, or benefit, Alliance members count on their trade association to provide them with state-of-the-art political advocacy to make certain that public policymakers at the state and federal level know who fraternals are and what fraternals do as financial services providers and community volunteer facilitators.  The Alliance’s professional staff devotes much of its time, energy and effort to advocacy initiatives.  And those efforts are supplemented by retained advocacy counsel at the state and federal level.

    Descending on the HIllBut there are no better advocates for the fraternal system than the  executives of Alliance member societies.  And that simple fact was demonstrated on Tuesday, April 21, when more than 70 fraternal leaders took Capitol Hill by storm.  In just four hours, eighteen delegations of Alliance executives met with more than 60 Members of Congress and their staff to tell the fraternal story and demonstrate first-hand the value and viability of the tax exemption that allows us to accomplish our unique financial and social missions.

    This was the Alliance’s third “Day on the Hill” event in the past six years, and the results exceeded even our high expectations.  Members of Congress have a much better understanding of the impact fraternals have in their own backyards and nationally, and a clear recognition that our tax exempt status delivers a big bang for the buck.  By going to the Hill every two years, we’re turning skeptics into supporters and supporters into champions – which will serve Alliance members and the millions of individuals who rely on them well for years to come.

    I’ll have more to share with you about the “Day on the Hill” and the Alliance’s Executive Summit meeting in next week’s blog post.  But for now, here are a few photos that show some of the Alliance’s advocacy rock stars in action…

    George Yanna, National Mutual Benefit; Joe Kopinski, Employes' Mutual Benefit Association; Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI); Bill O'Toole, Catholic Financial Life

    George Yanna, National Mutual Benefit; Joe Kopinski, Employes’ Mutual Benefit Association; Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI); Bill O’Toole, Catholic Financial Life

    Rick Kleven, Thrivent Financial; Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA); Don Nieland, Western Fraternal Life; Harald Borrmann, Catholic United Financial

    Rick Kleven, Thrivent Financial; Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA); Don Nieland, Western Fraternal Life; Harald Borrmann, Catholic United Financial

    Larry King, Woodmen of the World; Bill O'Toole, Catholic Financial Life; Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS); Bill McKinney, Thrivent Financial; Joe Annotti; Tim Saccoccia, Knights of Columbus Seated: Melissa Bonicelli, Venn Strategies

    Larry King, Woodmen of the World; Bill O’Toole, Catholic Financial Life; Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS); Bill McKinney, Thrivent Financial; Joe Annotti; Tim Saccoccia, Knights of Columbus
    Seated: Melissa Bonicelli, Venn Strategies

    Joe Annotti; Larry King, Woodmen of the World; Sally Murphy, Royal Neighbors; Sen Mike Crapo (R-ID); Bill McKinney, Thrivent Financial; Tim Saccoccia, Knights of Columbus

    Joe Annotti; Larry King, Woodmen of the World; Sally Murphy, Royal Neighbors; Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID); Bill McKinney, Thrivent Financial; Tim Saccoccia, Knights of Columbus

    Deb Gephart, Catholic United Financial; Lisa Flanary, Degree of Honor; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Eivind Heiberg, Sons of Norway; Doug Baker, Teachers Life Insurance Society

    Erica Oberg, Degree of Honor; Lisa Flanary, Degree of Honor; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Eivind Heiberg, Sons of Norway; Doug Baker, Teachers Life Insurance Society

    Tim Saccocia, Knights of Columbus; Larry King, Woodmen of the World; Bill McKinney, Thrivent Financial; Sen. John Thune (R-SD); Sally Murphy, Royal Neighbors; Joe Annotti

    Tim Saccocia, Knights of Columbus; Larry King, Woodmen of the World; Bill McKinney, Thrivent Financial; Sen. John Thune (R-SD); Sally Murphy, Royal Neighbors; Joe Annotti

    Final Push for Fraternals GIVE Back Grassroots Campaign

    Finishing line

    Did you know that credit union members who are called on to participate in grassroots campaigns:

    • Become more aware of the importance of their organization’s tax-exempt status and the need to protect and promote it;

    • Become more effective advocates for their organization not just with members of Congress but within their own communities;

    • Purchase more products from the organization that asked them to participate in the campaign?

    It’s true.  And Ryan Donovan, chief advocacy officer for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), will discuss other positive aspects of engaging members in grassroots political campaigns during his presentation at next week’s Alliance Executive Summit in Washington, D.C.

    But credit unions aren’t fraternals…

    Before you send me that email, I understand the difference between fraternals and credit unions.  We have unique missions, histories, and operating philosophies.  But our organizational structure and tax-exempt status are not exactly “apples and oranges” either.

    When it comes to advocacy and grassroots engagement, there are some lessons that we can learn from one another.  And the knowledge that politically engaged credit union members also purchase more products and services from that organization should set off bells and whistles in the offices of fraternal executives everywhere.

    It makes sense, doesn’t it?  “Members” (of fraternals or credit unions) theoretically have a greater affinity with the organization than a “customer” of a commercial bank or insurance company.  If that affinity is real, then those members will understand that they are stakeholders in a political debate and not only participate in the process, but are also more likely to be more engaged in the activities of the organization – from purchasing products to participating in community service activities.

    So here’s your chance…

    With one week left in the Alliance’s “Fraternals GIVE Back” campaign, we are within striking distance of our two primary objectives:

    1) Have every member of Congress – all 435 Representatives and all 100 Senators – receive at least one email from an Alliance member society executive, employee, agent, local chapter leader, or member.  358 Representatives and 98 Senators Contacted Through April 10

    2) Have every U.S.-domiciled Alliance member society have at least one executive, employee, agent, local chapter leader, or member send an email to a member of Congress.  48 Societies Have Participated Through April 10.

    We’re almost there and it’s so easy for member societies and all the individuals that are affiliated with them to participate.  Just send an email with this link to everyone at your society with an email address and ask them to let their U.S. Representatives and Senators know about the value and viability of fraternals.  It takes someone with even the most rudimentary computer skills less than two minutes to participate in the campaign.  Not only will you be helping to protect and promote the fraternal tax exemption, you’ll be building a more loyal membership base for decades to come.

    So do it.  Right now.

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