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    “I love the smell of napalm in the morning…”

    “Smells like…victory”

    The Alliance achieved a significant victory last week, and it did not require an attack fueled by jellied gasoline. After over two years of prudent, thoughtful, and effective advocacy, the NAIC Executive and Plenary Committee approved an amendment to the Principles-Based Reserving Small Company Exemption (PBR SCE). The amendment allows insurers – commercial and fraternal – with less than $50 million in annual life insurance premium to apply for an exemption to PBR rules so long as the meet the minimum RBC ratio requirement in their domiciled state, and not the 450% RBC ratio stipulated in the exemption language for companies with less than $300 million in annual life premium.

    The Alliance put this on regulators’ radar screens when we realized that as many as 20 fraternals with perfectly acceptable RBC ratios, not to mention countless other small commercial insurers, would fall short of the 450% RBC threshold to qualify for the PBR exemption. This would have forced these organizations to comply with regulations for which they are completely unsuited. The 450% threshold became even more of an issue when the NAIC announced plans to revise the way it evaluates insurers’ bond portfolios, a revision that could reduce companies’ RBC ratios by as much as 25%.

    After initially making our arguments known, and earning the support of, regulators in those states where most fraternals are domiciled, we successfully introduced language to amend the PBR SCE at the NAIC. And, after making its way through a maze of Working Groups, Task Forces, and Committees, the amendment was officially adopted by the NAIC last week. It will become effective on January 1, 2018 – two years before the PBR regulation is fully implemented nationwide.

    The PBR SCE story demonstrates the need for even the smallest sectors of the industry to come together under the banner of a trade association. It took us nearly six months of internal deliberations to establish the Alliance’s policy position on the issue – which speaks to the difficulties that a diverse membership can create. Birds of a feather do not always stick together. And when they don’t, the whole flock can be endangered.

    But, despite what at times seemed to be insurmountable hurdles, the Board – led through the process by the incomparable leadership of Past Chairs Harald Borrmann and Pat Dees – had the courage to press forward and get the policy position just right. Once we knew where we stood, advocating our position before regulators and the NAIC became much more straightforward. And winning the day after such a prolonged effort? Well, that certainly smells like victory to me.

    10 reasons I can’t wait for the Alliance Annual Meeting next month in Phoenix…

    1. Bob Cialdini’s keynote address – I’ve read several of his books, Influence being the most recent. And his research-tested tactics have improved almost every facet of my business and personal life (including a couple I use successfully at home). Can’t wait to hear him in-person – as long as I can figure out a way to keep my spouse out of this session so my negotiation tricks are not exposed…
    2. Branding campaign update – Wait till you learn what the latest research says about the power of the fraternal model, the words that effectively communicate that power, and the potential for your society to create a brand that resonates with consumers across all demographics. DO NOT MISS THIS SESSION!
    3. Saying “Soul Pancake” in front of an audience – That’s the name of the media and entertainment company that our Thursday keynoter – Shabnam Mogharabi – heads up. Media and entertainment at a fraternal meeting? That’s right. Because we need to find ways to use media platforms to enhance our members’ experience. This ain’t your momma’s Annual Meeting…
    4. Apollo 13 – The Workshop on strategic planning will use the Apollo 13 exercise (“Here are the tools available to the crew; figure out a way to keep them alive and bring them home…”) that you can use with your board and management teams as soon as you return. Will your society splash down safely or bounce off the Earth’s atmosphere into oblivion???
    5. DOL Workshop – The compliance issues related to the DOL fiduciary rule seem to change every day. The only thing certain is that ignorance of them is no excuse for non-compliance. That’s why we’ve assembled an incredible panel of experts and are running this session twice so that every society will be able to learn the latest…
    6. Future Forum – A roundtable session where CEOs of Alliance member societies will be able to discuss with the Board the reasons for the decision to restructure the organization, the transition timeline for the reorganization, and the impact that the new operational model will have on members. Your chance to learn and express your views on this significant Board decision.
    7. Innovation Forum – We’ll turn over the program to the young professionals in your organizations and have them address workplace issues you may not even know about – but should!
    8. Regulator Panel – This one won’t be a snooze-o-rama. We’ve got the Ohio Insurance Director Jillian Froment, the Deputy Director of Wisconsin JP Wieske, and the never-too-shy-to- express-her-opinion Jaki Gardner, former Deputy Director of Minnesota and former fraternal CEO. Add issues like solvency, governance, receivership, and liquidation; stir gently, BOOM!
    9. M&A Panel – I’m just gonna’ come out and say it. Half of the Alliance’s current member societies should be taking a hard look at some sort of consolidation strategy – merger, acquisition, shared services – as a part of their long-term sustainability strategy. This workshop will explore how you can incorporate this option into your planning process, and provide valuable insight on how to value your current operations and determine what potential merger partners make most sense for your organization.
    10. The cool evening breezes of Phoenix in September – OK, it’s going to be hot – probably really hot.  But it’s a dry heat, right? Look, we don’t have any meetings outside, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass has a terrific pool with lots of shade, and there is a casino just minutes away. It’ll be fine. Really. I promise…

    Three Items You Need to Know About Before Your Commute Tonight…

    Did I get your attention?  Good.  Read on…

    The opening salvo of tax reform has been fired – The Senate’s failure to pass “repeal and replace” legislation for the Affordable Care Act may trigger a quick pivot to an all-out effort to enact tax reform legislation by the end of the year.  Last week, the so-called “Big Six” — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) – released a joint statement on the status of their ongoing tax reform discussions. While the statement provides few substantive details of the tax reform plan the Big Six hope to agree upon, it does indicate that, with respect to the controversial border adjustment regime previously proposed by House Republican leaders, the negotiators “have decided to set this policy aside in order to advance tax reform.”  In more general terms, the statement indicates that the negotiators “are confident that a shared vision for tax reform exists, and are prepared for the two committees to take the lead and begin producing legislation for the President to sign.”  With respect to timing, the statement signals that the negotiators’ “expectation is for this legislation to move through the committees this fall, under regular order, followed by consideration on the House and Senate floors.”  The Alliance has been working the tax issue hard with members of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee.  And while we’re confident that “repeal and replacement” of the fraternal exemption won’t be included in any tax bill that comes out of these Committees, we know that everything is on the table.  That means when legislation does emerge, we may need to broaden the scope of Alliance member engagement in the grassroots initiative to educate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate about the value and validity of our more than century-old exemption.  Bottom line: STAY TUNED!  The joint statement is provided in its entirety below and is available here.

    Are your products perceived as “skimpy?” – Well, consumers’ perceptions of credit union products certainly are.  Check out this article from CU Times about the impact that such misperceptions have on our “kissin’ cousins” businesses and ask yourselves if your current members and prospects might share the same views about your society and fraternals in general.  (Hint: Based on the Alliance’s branding campaign consumer research, they do.)  More importantly, ask yourself how you can change that perception.  Want to learn more?  Attend the branding campaign presentation at the Alliance Annual Meeting next month in Phoenix.  Not registered yet?  It’s not too late.  Just click on the LINK and you can sign-up in minutes.

    It’s about time! – According to another CU Times article, millennials are finally moving out of their parent’s basements, finding partners, and buying homes.  That’s good news for the financial institutions (like credit unions) who underwrite the mortgages on those homes.  But it’s also good news for life insurers (and fraternals) because home buying and family-starting are triggers for the purchase of life insurance.  These could be great times for those fraternals who have the governance, management, brand awareness, technology, products, distribution, capital and courage to take advantage of this pent-up demand!  Does your society have what it takes?

    WASHINGTON—Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) issued the following joint statement on tax reform:

    “For the first time in many years, the American people have elected a President and Congress that are fully committed to ensuring that ordinary Americans keep more of their hard-earned money and that our tax policies encourage employers to invest, hire, and grow. And under the leadership of President Trump, the White House and Treasury have met with over 200 members of the House and Senate and hundreds of grassroots and business groups to talk and listen to ideas about tax reform.

    “We are all united in the belief that the single most important action we can take to grow our economy and help the middle class get ahead is to fix our broken tax code for families, small business, and American job creators competing at home and around the globe. Our shared commitment to fixing America’s broken tax code represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and so for three months we have been meeting regularly to develop a shared template for tax reform.

    “Over many years, the members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have examined various options for tax reform. During our meetings, the Chairmen of those committees have brought to the table the views and priorities of their committee members. Building on this work, as well as on the efforts of the Administration and input from other stakeholders, we are confident that a shared vision for tax reform exists, and are prepared for the two committees to take the lead and begin producing legislation for the President to sign. 

    “Above all, the mission of the committees is to protect American jobs and make taxes simpler, fairer, and lower for hard-working American families. We have always been in agreement that tax relief for American families should be at the heart of our plan. We also believe there should be a lower tax rate for small businesses so they can compete with larger ones, and lower rates for all American businesses so they can compete with foreign ones. The goal is a plan that reduces tax rates as much as possible, allows unprecedented capital expensing, places a priority on permanence, and creates a system that encourages American companies to bring back jobs and profits trapped overseas. And we are now confident that, without transitioning to a new domestic consumption-based tax system, there is a viable approach for ensuring a level playing field between American and foreign companies and workers, while protecting American jobs and the U.S. tax base. While we have debated the pro-growth benefits of border adjustability, we appreciate that there are many unknowns associated with it and have decided to set this policy aside in order to advance tax reform.

    “Given our shared sense of purpose, the time has arrived for the two tax-writing committees to develop and draft legislation that will result in the first comprehensive tax reform in a generation. It will be the responsibility of the members of those committees to produce legislation that achieves the goals shared broadly within Congress, the Administration, and by citizens who have been burdened for too long by an outdated tax system. Our expectation is for this legislation to move through the committees this fall, under regular order, followed by consideration on the House and Senate floors. As the committees work toward this end, our hope is that our friends on the other side of the aisle will participate in this effort. The President fully supports these principles and is committed to this approach. American families are counting on us to deliver historic tax reform. And we will.”

    The Week Where Your Dues Paid For Itself…

    There’s a lot going on out here in public policy land.  Here’s a recap of the week that was and why a strong, independent, and effective trade association is so important to fraternals…

    • On Monday, July 17, the Alliance-sponsored amendment to the existing Principle-Based Reserving Small Company Exemption (PBR SCE) took another huge step toward final enactment when the NAIC Life Insurance (A) Committee approved the measure by a 13-1 vote.  As you know, the current PBR rule contains an exemption for companies with less than $300 million in annual life premium.  The catch is that in order to qualify for the exemption, an insurer had to have an RBC ratio of 450%, well above statutory minimums in most states.  The unintended consequence of this measure is that many small and mid-sized life insurers, including a significant number of fraternals, with RBC ratios between 300-449% would have been forced to comply with PBR regulations for which they are completely unsuited.  There are those within the fraternal and regulatory communities that argued that these insurers should have to meet a higher RBC standard in order to qualify for the exemption.  This may be particularly true for fraternals because they do not participate in state guaranty funds.  The Alliance is more than willing to engage in a debate over what the appropriate RBC level is for fraternals.  But we felt strongly that this should be addressed separately, rather than arbitrarily tied in to the discussion on the applicability of PBR.  The Alliance explained our position on this issue to regulators from key fraternal states more than two years ago, and worked with policymakers to craft an amendment that would exempt insurers with less than $50 million in annual life premium from PBR requirements so long as they met their state’s minimum RBC requirement. That’s the language that was approved by the (A) Committee and now moves on for consideration by the NAIC Executive and Plenary Committee at the August NAIC meeting.  We’ll keep you posted on the outcome of that vote.
    • And the enactment of that amendment may be more important than ever as regulators keep up their efforts to revise the way insurers bond portfolios are evaluated – efforts that, if put in place, would significantly reduce RBC ratios for all insurers by as much as 25%.  Based on our research, an insurer with a 550% RBC ratio today could drop as low as 425% under the proposed NAIC rules.  Without the Alliance-sponsored amendment to the PBR SCE, this insurer would be forced to comply with PBR rules – a needless and costly exercise that would deliver no benefit to the insurer, its policyholders, or regulators.  Even more disturbing, insurers with RBCs in the 400% range could see their ratios drop to levels that would spur regulatory action.  The Alliance is joining forces with other trade groups, most notably ACLI, to express our concern about these proposed changes to regulators in an effort to amend the measure so that it is less punitive to small and mid-sized insurers, fraternals included.  Dozens of Alliance members have responded to our survey and provided us feedback on the potential impact of these changes to their RBC ratios.  Armed with that information (with the identities of individual organizations redacted, of course) we’re alerting regulators to the unintended consequences of their actions.  The August NAIC meeting will give us a better idea of what’s ahead for the bond rating issue.  The Alliance will be there and provide members a full update following the meeting.
    • Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital…  I met with tax counsel from eight lawmakers this week (Senator Isakson (R-GA) and Representatives Pascrell (D-NJ), Roskam (R-IL), Chu (D-CA), Johnson (R-TX), Bishop (MI), Schweikert (R-AZ), and Davis (D-IL) – all members of the Senate Finance or House Ways and Means Committee.  The feedback I received ranged from “We know fraternals and we love them!” to “We had no idea what a fraternal was prior to this meeting, but they sure sound like some worthwhile organizations.”  If I was a handicapper, I’d say the odd are better than 80% that we’ll secure at least seven more co-sponsors for our Senate and House Fraternal Resolutions.  We’ve got a great story to tell, and when we tell it people really respond positively.  That said, while all tax counsel expressed support for the fraternal exemption, all of them also cautioned that “everything is on the table” in the coming tax debate – which could begin in earnest soon after the August recess.  That means we’ll need to be exceptionally vigilant and when a bill finally emerges from either or both of these committees, we’ll likely require broader grassroots participation from Alliance member society executives, staff, and local chapter leaders to ensure that policymakers know who we are and what we do in their own back yards.  Stay tuned and BE PREPARED!

    Think the “fraternal difference” doesn’t matter? Think again…

    It’s hard being a fraternal.

    You have to operate a well-run financial services company that offers consumers the life insurance and retirement income products they need and want. You have to provide those products at the price consumers are willing to pay in a fiercely competitive marketplace. You have to offer members an array of additional benefits such as scholarships, affinity program discounts, and cultural events. And, on top of all that, you have to fund programs and facilitate volunteer activities that reflect the shared values of your members.

    Whew!

    But check out this web site and then answer this question:

    “When did State Farm become a fraternal?”

    The answer, of course, is when market researchers told company executives that the next generation of consumers wants more than a policy. They want to feel good about the organizations – including financial services companies – that they deal with. And fostering a sense of community by providing opportunities for policyholders to volunteer on projects that appeal to their values is an important and effective way to instill that “feel good” sensation – and sell auto, home, and life insurance policies.

    State Farm – a company with some pretty smart folks at the helm – is willing to spend millions to convince current and prospective policyholders that they embrace the same characteristics upon which fraternals were built. What are you doing to communicate this important message about your own society to your members and all those folks that should be members? Do you have your own version of the “Neighborhood of Good” out there? Is it working for you? Can we learn something from State Farm? From each other?

    Tell me – and your fraternal colleagues – about it by posting a comment or sharing a link to your site HERE.

    In a whirl…

    When I was born back in the dark ages, my dad – who was very excited to have a son after four daughters – went into the recovery room, kissed my mom, grabbed the doctor and…headed to the track!  When he arrived, the woman at the betting window said, “Mr. Annotti, you look like you’re in a whirl.”  He explained the reason for his exuberance, looked down at the program, and noticed that there was a horse in the next race named “In a Whirl.”  Of course it was a longshot, of course he bet the house, and of course it came home a winner.

    While not quite as exciting – or profitable – I had several of those “in a whirl” experiences last week.  Here’s a quick recap:

    Monday, June 19 – Traveled to Springfield where Alliance Advocacy and Policy Director Melanie Hinds and I led a delegation of representatives from seven of the Alliance’s ten Illinois-domiciled societies in a meeting with newly-appointed Illinois Insurance Director Jennifer Hammer and a cross-section of Illinois DOI officials.  The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the Director to the sizeable fraternal community in the state, establish the Alliance as a player in the advocacy and policy arena, and discuss regulatory issues important to both fraternal life insurers and the Illinois DOI.  We accomplished that and then some.  It’s no secret that the relationship between the Department and fraternals was more than a little contentious in the recent past.  But thanks to cooperative and collaborative work between the Alliance and the DOI on state legislation that enhanced fraternal solvency and governance regulation, we’ve managed to transform the relationship into one of mutual trust and respect.  And it appears that momentum will continue under the leadership of Director Hammer.  Outreach to state regulators – particularly in those states with a significant number of domiciled fraternals – has been an important (and sometimes overlooked) component of the Alliance’s advocacy agenda.  And with new regulators likely to be appointed in two other key fraternal states – Pennsylvania and Texas – we’ll continue our proactive efforts to communicate with regulators and shape the outcome of debates on regulation that impacts Alliance members.

    Tuesday, June 20 – Wednesday, June 21 – Spent two days on Capitol Hill with the Jenn Fogel of Capitol Counsel, the Alliance’s retained federal advocacy firm, meeting with the tax counsel from six members of the Senate Finance Committee and five members of the House Ways and Means Committee.  The purpose of these visits was to make sure that the lawmakers who will be primarily responsible for writing the tax reform legislation (that will almost certainly be introduced later this year) know who fraternals are and what fraternals do before the debate on the overhaul of tax code begins in earnest.  We were also hoping to pick up a few more co-sponsors for the fraternal resolutions (SCR 7 and HCR 10) introduced in the House and Senate earlier this year.  The feedback we received from Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle was exceptionally positive: 1) you’re doing the right thing by getting your message out to the tax writing committees early in the process; 2) there is no specific threat to the fraternal exemption right now; but 3) everything is on the table.  The Alliance’s objective is to keep the fraternal exemption off the tax reform menu.  We’re doing that by focusing the lobbying efforts by staff and our advocacy firm on key congressional committees.  As the debate moves forward we may need to broaden our outreach to include larger numbers of contacts from fraternal executives, field representatives, local chapter leaders, and rank-and-file members.  So my message to you is this: Watch for updates on the tax reform issue from the Alliance on a regular basis and BE PREPARED TO MOBILIZE YOUR MEMBERSHIP AT MOMENT’S NOTICE!

    Friday, June 23 – Saturday, June 24 – Traveled to Atlanta to attend the Foresters Financial Convention and Leadership Development Conference and to speak to the society’s Board of Directors.  Foresters CEO Tony Garcia was adamant about his support for the fraternal model, stating in his opening comments that “Foresters has been a fraternal for 140 years and will be a fraternal for the next 150 years.”  Society leaders provided members with an overview of the organization’s strong financial results and Foresters plan for continued growth over the next 10 years.  The Board was very interested in the overall health of the fraternal sector, the opportunities for mergers and shared services within the fraternal community, and the operational and political challenges facing fraternals and the life insurance industry.  Finally, the educational programs provided to Local Chapter leaders were like none I’ve ever seen at an Alliance member convention.  Foresters will send its most engaged members home with hands-on tools and information they can put to use to do more good in their own communities.  Very impressive…

    Whew!  That qualifies for an “in a whirl week.”

    Next week I’ll be taking a few days off from work and this blog.  So please enjoy Independence Day celebrations and look for my next post on July 10.

    Spring Symposium Hits the Mark…

    Guest Blog – Joe is traveling quite a bit this week so here with a guest blog is Andrea Litewski, Alliance Director of Education.

    Last month, the Alliance held its first ever Spring Symposium, a reimagining of our traditional Mid-Year Section Meetings. Over the course of a day and a half, the Symposium had thirty sessions in five different tracks – Business Operations, Communications and Community Engagement, Compliance, Investment, and Actuaries – and close to 200 attendees participated in our inaugural event.

    Because I am a “Millennial,” I am always looking for feedback.  One of the first things I do after one of our events is read the attendee evaluations. I am always so interested to hear directly from our attendees about what they loved and what we can improve. We dreamed up this new event based both on member feedback and on the roles of our attendees, many of whose day to day responsibilities don’t fall into narrow job descriptions. We wanted to create a more flexible educational event, one that reflects our attendees’ job functions, and offer the opportunity for increased networking across disciplines.

    And based on the comments we received, I’d say we hit the mark – take a look:

    What attendees found most valuable:

    Networking. Almost half of our responses mentioned networking in their answer to what was most valuable about the Symposium.

    Crossing Tracks. This was the number two top answer.

    Diversity of Topics and Sessions. Attendees greatly enjoyed the variety of topics and sessions, so much so that it was difficult for them to choose which sessions to attend.

    Among the excellent feedback from attendees were some very valuable ideas for improvement for next year’s Spring Symposium, including ways to create a joint session so all the attendees can come together and offering repeat sessions.  We are so grateful to you for sharing your thoughts!

    Some additional comments from attendees:

    “Liked the idea of having all groups together. Gave us an opportunity to attend other sessions other than frat/comm.”

    “Wonderful! Looking forward to next year!”

    “This is a valuable conference.”

    “Excellent consolidation of the section meetings. Great job.”

    “Female leadership was eye-opening! Would have liked more one-on-one with fellow women fraternalists”

    “Fraternal/financial session and data visualization were amazing! I learned so much that I can take back and implement!”

    Thank you so much for attending the 2017 Spring Symposium and for sharing your thoughts and ideas. Don’t forget to mark your calendar for next year’s Spring Symposium, May 22-24, 2018, back at the Loews Chicago O’Hare in Rosemont, IL.