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    More on technology and the future of your society…

    I received a fair number of responses to a recent post on technology issues (“Climbing the Ladder, drinking the Lemonade, and looking for a safe Haven…”).  A few brave souls posted their comments on the web site, others emailed them to me privately, and still others shared their thoughts through third parties (“Please let Joe know that I think he’s crazy”).

    Fair enough.

    But I received one response from an associate member of the Alliance, Intellect SEEC (not surprisingly, a technology firm) that I’d like to share with you. This post is not an “infomercial” or an “advertorial.” This blog is, was, and always well be endorsement-free. But when smart people make intelligent observations about an issue on which I am not an expert, I tend to want to pass those comments on to my readers.

    The ideas laid out in this response made sense to me – a person whose understanding of technology is dangerously shallow – and seemed applicable to virtually any size society in any stage of evaluating its technology needs. So I’m sharing it with you on that basis. Take it for what’s it worth and use it as you see fit, no matter what your current system’s capabilities or what consultant or vendor your society happens to be working with.

    Seed money…

    Last week, I had one of those experiences that reminds me why I love being the president and CEO of the American Fraternal Alliance. I led a group of fraternal members on a series of visits with members of Congress and watched them secure the future of the fraternal tax exemption by telling their stories of the good works that they and their colleagues do in the backyards of the lawmakers with whom we met.


    My job was simply to provide the “elevator speech” – the 2-minute synopsis of who the American Fraternal Alliance and its members are and what we do from a 30,000-foot perspective. I then turned it over to the most effective and capable lobbyists on Capitol Hill: the local chapter leaders of Alliance member societies. They added the real-life color commentary about the impact of their societies’ community service activities for lawmakers and their tax counsel. I watched as legislators and their staff – many of whom did not have a firm understanding of what a fraternal was – absorbed the incredible value these individuals and their organizations had on their constituents.

    If there was a theme for the comments that each of these fraternalists delivered it was “seed money.” They demonstrated that the added value of well-organized and well-funded volunteerism can pay dividends not just for a day or a week, but for a lifetime. They also showed the incredible flexibility of fraternal volunteerism by being able to meet the needs of the local community on an almost immediate basis. And they drove home the point that fraternal volunteerism “fills the gaps” that the government’s social safety net was never intended to address.

    Check out our Facebook page for a few photos of these incredible ambassadors’ congressional visits. A special “thank you” goes out to the Thrivent Financial government affairs team for organizing the visits and for bringing such outstanding representatives of their society to Washington, DC. The Thrivent members were joined by representatives from Catholic Order of Foresters, Catholic United Financial, Gleaner Life, KSKJ Life, Modern Woodmen of America, Sons of Norway and Royal Neighbors of America, which made this event a truly fraternal-wide experience. A tremendous “thank you” to all these selfless individuals who traveled to Capitol Hill to tell their stories, and to the CEOs of these societies who generously funded this initiative.

    Like the “seed money” provided by fraternals that results in beautiful blossoms of volunteerism in communities across the country, the investment these societies made in having their members tell their stories to public policymakers will help the Alliance and all its members maintain the tax exemption that allows fraternals to fulfill their unique and critically important financial and community service missions.

    The final appeal…

    I promise this will be the last time I ask you – at least this year, anyway – but there is less than a month to go before I “brave the shave” to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for children’s cancer research and I’m still just a little short of my $5,000 fundraising goal.

    St. Baldricks

    I hope you will join with dozens of other fraternal colleagues – and a smattering of my family members – and help me reach the $5,000 threshold by making a personal or corporate contribution to this year’s campaign.

    My sister sent me a check with a note last week accusing me of doing this “because you get a free haircut that lasts a long time!”  And while my sister knows that I can make a dollar go a very long way, the real reason I’m shaving my head for the third consecutive year is because I believe deeply in the work of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and because Alliance members inspire me to give back. My schedule sometimes precludes me from participating in community service activities, but this is one way that I can fulfill the fraternal mission without simply writing a check.

    IMG_0104 (3)

    Joe’s inaugural shave – 2015

    So, I’m asking you one last time for your generous support of my soon-to-be-bald head. You can give directly HERE or by phone at 888-899-BALD. Credit cards are the easiest way to give, or you can send a check payable to “St. Baldrick’s Foundation” to me at the Alliance home office. This year I’ll be shaving it all off at the American Fraternal Alliance’s Executive Summit at the W Hotel in downtown Chicago. If you are feeling REALLY generous, you can join me and “brave the shave” yourself. I guarantee that it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

    Please help give other families’ stories a happy ending. Whether you are a first-time contributor or one who has been with us in supporting this cause for years, I truly appreciate your support. Thank you!

    Tax reform: It won’t come easy…

    capitolOn February 15, I spent the day on Capitol Hill meeting with the tax counsel for a variety of Republican and Democratic members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees.  Conducting this type of in-person outreach to legislators and their staff is one of my most important responsibilities as the president of the Alliance.  And with tax reform – the Alliance’s signature and single most important issue – squarely on the congressional priority list in 2017, this role takes on even more significance.

    Meeting with policymakers, particularly specialists like tax counsel, can sometimes be intimidating.  After all, these folks have forgotten more about the Tax Code than I will ever know.  They’re bright, committed, and curious about how organizations with a tax preference or exemption provide real value for individual Americans and the nation’s economy.

    Fortunately, I come to the table armed not only with a firm belief in the value of the fraternal model, but with statistical and anecdotal evidence to demonstrate how Alliance members secure the financial futures of millions of families, and create and coordinate the philanthropic effort of their members in communities across the country every day of the year.

    Here is the “Readers Digest” version of the takeaways from these meetings:

     I’ve got more congressional visits scheduled for March 8-9, and April 20-21.  And I’ll spend as much time in Washington as needed to make sure policymakers know who fraternals are and what we do.  In addition, the Alliance will conduct targeted outreach to members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees, previous co-sponsors of the Fraternal Resolution, members of congressional delegations from the states in which most fraternals are domiciled, and freshman Representatives and Senators in the coming months.  These outreach efforts will involve members of the Alliance’s Federal Advocacy Task Force, as well as targeted CEOs from other member societies in key legislative districts.  At this point, we do not anticipate conducting a significant grassroots campaign involving a broad cross section of member companies unless a well-defined threat to the fraternal exemption emerges during debate over the tax reform measure in either the House or Senate.

    Alliance members tell us again and again that advocacy is the most important benefit the association provides.  I wanted you to know that we are doing everything possible to make sure that federal lawmakers are aware of the fraternal community and the tremendous value that our tax exempt status delivers to the American public and economy.  We want to make sure that this century-old provision remains in place so that fraternals can continue to fulfill their unique financial and community service missions for decades to come.

    Follow-up to “Ladder, Lemonade and Haven post…

    blog-graphI’ve received more than a few comments and emails from members who thought last week’s post may have over-emphasized the need for fraternals to develop new distribution channels – specifically on-line platforms that allow consumers to purchase simple products quickly.  As I noted in my post, I am not predicting the demise of professional financial advisors, but I am acknowledging the likelihood that the life insurance industry will not be exempt from the sweeping changes affecting other businesses around the world – including financial services providers.  Want proof? Consider this:

    • The world’s largest taxi company owns no vehicles – Uber
    • The world’s most valuable retailer owns no inventory – Ali Baba
    • The world’s largest accommodation provider owns no hotels – Airbnb

    Still not convinced?  Think about home mortgages for a minute.  A hugely important and considerably complex financial product that bankers once felt they owned.  In order to get one, you had to come into the bank, sit down with the banker, disclosure our entire financial history, and sign copious amounts of paperwork.

    But today, the fastest growing consumer lenders ARE NOT BANKS.  They are Lending Club, Prosper, and Quicken.

    It’s not a stretch to go from “Push Button, Get Mortgage” to PUSH BUTTON, GET INSURANCE!!!

    Just sayin…

    Climbing the Ladder, drinking the Lemonade, and looking for a safe Haven…

    Over the last few weeks, I’ve read articles in The Wall Street Journal, insurance industry trade magazines, and futurist publications about the impact of technology on the insurance industry – the life insurance sector, in particular. Recent start-ups like Ladder, Lemonade, and Haven are all trying not just to tweak the way life insurance products are purchased, they are attempting to turn the traditional model of what insurers sell and how they sell it on its head.

    Smart, simple, affordable, and fast are the characteristics of these technology-driven insurers. And their objective is transforming the sale of a complex product that took place over a kitchen table and required days or weeks to conclude into the purchase of a commodity without blood tests or physical exams done online in a matter of minutes.
    salesman

    Whether these three new entries will ultimately prove successful has yet to be seen. After all, Napster changed the way that we listen to music, but Apple made the online purchasing and downloading concept viable and profitable. The company that is first to discover a new product or delivery mechanism need isn’t always the one that reaps the most benefit.

    But the underlying message of Ladder, Lemonade, and Haven is clear: fundamental, transformational, and technology-driven change is coming to our business.

    blog-graph

    And those organizations that can’t or won’t invest in and adapt to those changes will face a future with a very predictable outcome: a slow and steady fade into obsolescence.

    There are hundreds of examples of how technology has transformed businesses and changed the way we purchase goods and services. When was the last time you went to a travel agent, a record store, a bookstore? Have you walked into a bank branch lately? Do you still get a daily newspaper or do you access multiple papers online? What about your children and grandchildren? It’s not just nostalgic but downright dangerous to think that the financial services business is going to be exempt from these forces of change.

    I am not predicting the demise of agents or financial advisors. A certain (but most likely a shrinking) segment of the population is always going to want to help from a competent and trustworthy professional. And the fraternal life insurance model, with its often undersold virtue of community service activism and financial support for causes that reflect the values of members, may be the ideal niche for field representatives that truly embody the society’s financial and fraternal missions.

    That said, fraternals will still need an online door through which new (and primarily younger) members can enter. These individuals may very well be attracted to a particular society – or the fraternal business model, in general – because of our unique “giving back” features. But smart, simple, affordable, and fast are still going to be extremely important to these consumers. And if we can’t offer that option, then they’ll climb the Ladder, drink them Lemonade, and seek a safe Haven somewhere else.

    Brave the shave…

    From first grade through twelfth, the rules on hair length in the Catholic schools I attended were abundantly clear: no hair touching the ears or the collar, and no facial hair of any kind. And as many of you know, on the day I graduated from high school I made a solemn promise never to cut my hair or shave again – ever.

    young Joe

    I admit that I waivered on the shaving part over the next four years, always keeping some sort of facial hair but stopping short of the ZZ Top look.

    Now, however, I gladly “brave the shave” every year about this time, going temporarily bald for the most worthy of causes: the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for children’s cancer research.

    St. Baldricks

    Why am I shaving for the 3rd consecutive year?

    • Because Alliance members inspire me to give back. My schedule sometimes precludes me from participating in community service activities, but this is one way that I can fulfill the fraternal mission without simply writing a check.
    • Because, thanks to your generosity, the fraternal community contributed nearly $12,000 to the more than $38 million that the St. Baldrick’s Foundation raised last year, allowing it to fund more pediatric cancer research grants than any institution other than the U.S. government.
    • Because progress is being made. Dr. Peter Adamson, chairman of the Children’s Oncology Group, puts it this way: “We are entering an era of unbelievable scientific discovery. But if we don’t turn these discoveries into cures, we will have failed another generation of children.”

    You can count on your donation being used effectively and responsibly to fund research to find cures and give survivors long and healthy lives.

    So, that’s why I am again asking for your generous support on my soon-to-be-bald head. You can give directly HERE or by phone at 888-899-BALD. Credit cards are the easiest way to give, or you can send a check payable to “St. Baldrick’s Foundation” to me at the Alliance home office. This year I’ll be shaving it all off at the American Fraternal Alliance’s Executive Summit at the W Hotel in downtown Chicago. If you are feeling REALLY generous, you can join me and “brave the shave” yourself. I guarantee that it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

    Please help give other families’ stories a happy ending. Whether you are a first-time contributor or one who has been with us in supporting this cause for years, I truly appreciate your support. Thank you!

    The greatest shows on earth…

    I know there are many more pressing issues to write about – increasing regulatory cost and complexity; competition from Lemonade and Ladder; economic volatility and interest rate uncertainty, to name a few. And I promise to get to all of those in the coming weeks. But I saw “The Last Waltz” on an obscure cable channel last week, and it got me thinking about all the incredible concerts I’ve witnessed over the years. I don’t get to many live shows these days. So many tours seemed programed and less than authentic. Not to mention that most them are in arenas so large that it’s impossible to hear the nuances of the lyrics or watch the musicians improvise through extended solos. But that’s the curmudgeon in me coming out. Here’s a list of the Top 10 concerts that I was fortunate enough to see over the years:neilyoung2

    10.  Rare Earth at the Oakland Arena, 1973 – This one is on the list because it was the first concert I ever saw. Rare Earth was in rare form. Funkadelic opened the show (10 bonus points to anyone out there who’s seen them). But the show stealer was the second act: Buddy Miles. I’m sure Buddy is dead or in prison by now, but I haven’t stopped humming “Them Changes” since…

    9.  Neil Young at the Boarding House, San Francisco, 1978 – Neil in a nightclub with an acoustic guitar. Doesn’t get much better.

    8.  Bob Dylan and The Band at the Oakland Arena, 1974 – The “Before the Flood” tour. Skipped school and a basketball game to see the mid-week show. It was worth the detention and the benching.davidbowie

    7.  David Bowie at the Sportshalle, Vienna, Austria, 1978 – I spent the first six months of 1978 on an exchange program in Vienna. Since most of the bands that toured were either British or American, the local concert promoter recruited temporary “roadies” to help the crews set-up and tear down the stage and equipment. So not only did I get to see this incredible concert from the side of the stage – and actually meet Bowie himself – I got paid to do it!

    6.  Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge at the Sportshalle, Vienna, Austria, 1978 – Kris and Rita were married way back then and this was another one of those “get paid to watch from backstage” gigs. I’ll never forget all of us Americans dancing to “Me and Bobby McGee.”

    5.  Elvin Bishop, the Marshall Tucker Band, and the Outlaws at Winterland, San Francisco, 1976 – Elvin was a local legend in the Bay Area and put on a terrific live show. A very underrated guitarist, particularly with a slide on his finger. The Outlaws were the warm-up act – those guitar lessons really paid off for them – and the Marshall Tucker Band rocked what was absolutely my favorite concert venue on the corner of Post and Steiner Streets in San Francisco. Don’t go looking for it on your next visit; it’s been turned into condos.thetubes

    4.  The Tubes at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, 1977 – I attended college at UOP and whoever was booking bands for on campus concerts that year was a genius. We got to see the Kinks, Boz Skaggs, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. But I’m pretty sure the poor kid got fired after booking this concert by the cult classic Tubes. I don’t think anything stronger than chamber music was ever allowed to be played in the Conservatory after that.

    3.  The Grateful Dead at Red Rocks, Denver, 1982 – This could actually occupy three spaces on this chart because they played three consecutive nights and every show was different and better than the last. Red Rocks is a magical outdoor amphitheater in the hills just outside of Denver. I went with a diehard Deadhead (Ralph Koransky, where are you now?) and the chemical levels in the bands bloodstream were balanced from the opening chord of night one to the last encore of night three.

    2.  Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Winterland, San Francisco, 1978 – Another entry that could take up two slots as the band played on December 15 and 16, and were at the height of their powers each night. The first night, I went with a group of buddies; and the second night I took the woman who is now my wife on one of our first dates. And, of course, Bruce played the best version of “She’s the One” I’ve ever heard just for her.

    1.  The Last Waltz, Winterland, San Francisco, Thanksgiving Night 1976 – The Band’s farewell concert. A group of us had thelastwaltz4purchased $5.00 tickets for a Band concert in October, only to be told the show was cancelled and to hold on to our tickets for a “special event.” We cautiously traded them in for $25.00 tickets – at the time, an astronomical price for a rock concert – to a show billed as “The Band and Friends.” Bill Graham dressed up Winterland with sets and accessories from the Opera House. Dinner for the 5,000 guests was provided. Martin Scorsese filmed the whole thing. The Band absolutely rocked. And those friends of theirs – Neil Young and Bob Dylan, among them – were on top of their game. But the two guys who brought down the house were Paul Butterfield and Van Morrison. Butterfield and the Band’s version of “Mystery Train” is still ringing in my ears. And Van Morrison knocked it out of the park with “Tura Lura Lura” and “Caravan.” Turn it up…that’s enough…so you know…it’s got soul.

    Feel free to share your favorite concert experiences here. Next week it’s back to business…