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    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.

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    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.

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    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…

    A Change Would Do You Good…

    Spring meeting season is just around the corner, and the Alliance has overhauled its signature education programs based on feedback from members to provide you with more value and more choices.  Here is a quick look at our two major spring conferences and all the information you need to get registered for the meeting(s) that will help you build the collaborative relationships and subject matter expertise that you need to increase your professional skills and enhance the performance of your society.

    2017-es-logo-treatmentExecutive Summit – April 3-5, 2017 – W Chicago City Center – Chicago, IL

    For the first time ever, the Executive Summit is an “invitation only” event.  Attendance is limited to the CEOs of Alliance member societies and one additional executive designated by the CEO.  If the CEO cannot attend the event, he or she can authorize one executive from the society to participate.  Associate member and sponsor attendance is also extremely limited.  The net result of these changes is that fraternal CEOs will have much greater opportunities to network with one another, engage directly with speakers, and participate in CEO-led roundtables on topics important to them.  Featured speakers include nationally-known economist Diane Swonk; NAIC investment expert Ed Toy; Governor Dirk Kempthorne of ACLI; performance analytics guru Mark Higgins, Senior Managing Director of FTI Consulting; and a special presentation on the Alliance’s strategic planning initiative by Vim Anand of Edge Consultancy.

    But it’s the conversations that take place in the hallways, over coffee, and at the receptions that really count.  And we’ve carved out plenty of time for CEOs and senior executives to have those rich discussions and develop the diverse relationships that can lead to interesting and unanticipated business opportunities for Alliance member societies.  Registration and eligibility details can be found on the Alliance website.

    symposium-logo-croppedSpring Symposium – May 23-25, 2017 – Loews Hotel – Rosemont, IL

    We’ve taken five terrific spring meetings – Actuaries, Compliance, Communications and Community Engagement (affectionately known as “Comm/Comm”), Investment, and Business Operations – and will run them concurrently in one convenient location.  Each subject area will have its own education “track,” and registrants have the option of sticking with their tribe or building a schedule that jumps across all tracks.  Actuaries may want to listen in on an Investment topic; Compliance officers may be interested in a Business Operations speaker; and “Comm/Comm” professionals may want to learn more about the economy.

    We think this will provide more educational options, and make it more cost effective for members to send various professionals from their society to the Symposium.  Moreover, this event is open to all Associate Members, which makes it ideal for networking with a broad cross section of fraternal executives.  Registration opens next week. For more information on the Spring Symposium, click here.

    Let me know what you think of these changes by posting a comment here or sending me an email at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org

    Alliance-backed Congressional Resolution re-introduced in House of Representatives

    With tax reform topping the congressional “to-do” list in 2017, it’s more important than ever for the Alliance and its members to make sure that U.S. Representatives and Senators understand and appreciate the value of the fraternal business model and the more than century-old tax exemption that allows societies to fulfill their unique financial and community service missions.

    That’s why the Alliance is once again backing the Fraternal Resolution – this year known as HCR 10 – which was reintroduced last week in the 115th Congress. You can see the full text of the Resolution by clicking here.

     
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    The Resolution – like fraternals themselves – is non-partisan, and the lead co-sponsors are Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.). Last year, the Alliance mounted a full-blown grassroots campaign known as the “Race to 100” that successfully secured 106 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle for the Resolution.

    But this year’s co-sponsorship campaign will be a little different from 2016’s. Instead of the broad-based grassroots initiative intended to generate thousands of emails to lawmakers from fraternal members, in 2017 our outreach efforts will be more narrowly focused. Our first order of business will be to secure the 94 co-sponsors that remain in the House of Representatives as co-sponsors of the Resolution. This will be done with targeted contacts from Alliance staff, retained counsel, and member society executives with long-standing relationships with their Representatives.

    After that, we’ll expand the effort to include freshman lawmakers, and those Representatives from areas with a significant number of fraternals that were not previous co-sponsors of the Resolution – think congressional delegations from Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana.

    So while the Alliance won’t likely be asking you and your members to participate in another “Race to 100” campaign this year, we would like to know if you’re willing to quietly reach out to your Representatives and encourage them to sign-on to HCR 10. All you have to do is provide the desire to participate. We’ll supply the communications tools and tactics to make sure your outreach effort is as effective as possible.

    Interested? Just send me an email at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org and I’ll get back to you with the details.

    Universal Questions for the Fraternal Sector…

     

    questionsIn my last two posts I’ve discussed some of the factors – both the hard, cold data points and the emotional connections to a business model that we cherish – that are driving the Alliance Board’s effort to develop a strategic vision and plan that will set the direction for the organization’s future.  Today I’ll outline the key questions that need to be addressed if this initiative is to be successful.

    The questions themselves are tough, and the answers may cause more than a bit of discomfort.  But that’s really the point, isn’t it?  To break free from our comfort zone and build an organization that is focused on the future and respectful – but not trapped – by the past.  Moreover, these are universal questions that I think can and should be asked by the leaders of every fraternal.  By taking the first step of answering them honestly and objectively, the next step for the future of your society – and the Alliance – will become clear.

    • Why does our organization exist?
      • It all starts with “why”, right?  And the worst possible answer to this question is, of course, “I don’t know.”  The Alliance exists to serve its members – to do for them collectively what it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to accomplish on their own.  Traditionally, this service has fallen into four main categories: advocacy, education, information, and networking.
    • Are these the services that the current 64 member societies need to help them solve the major problems they are facing today?  Are these the services that the societies that will be operating 10 years from now will need?
      • Hmmm, let’s think about that.  Clearly there is and will continue to be a need for advocacy – and not just on fraternal-specific policy issues like promoting the value of our tax-exemption and educating policymakers on the reasons why fraternals were specifically excluded from participating in state guaranty funds.  The Alliance’s intervention in the PBR small company exemption debate is playing a critical role in ensuring that all small life insurers – not just fraternals – are not placed at an unfair competitive disadvantage in the market.  Increasingly, regulatory issues at the individual state and NAIC levels are having a greater impact on fraternal operations than the fraternal-specific issues on which the Alliance has traditionally advocated.
      • Information, especially data on regulatory compliance – again, on issues that go beyond fraternal-specific regulation – will become more important to the societies of the future.  Thorough analysis of regulatory and legislative proposals will be demanded by members, and the data will need to be provided electronically and on-demand.
      • Education and networking is almost certain to remain a high priority for Alliance members, and the organization has proven adept at providing an array of conferences and on-line education programming and prices far below what other industry trade groups offer.  Can we continue to do this in an environment of 50 member societies; 40 members; 30?  Are there better ways to offer education and networking – particularly for those professionals dealing with fraternal-specific functions like corporate philanthropy and community service engagement?  Would members benefit from expanding education programs to include commercial insurers or other service organizations?
    • Don’t most fraternals really need help in achieving the scale and scope needed to realize operational efficiencies for product development, distribution, asset management, information technology and philanthropic and community service activities?  Is that the role of a trade group?
      • Well, yes.  Even the largest societies could probably benefit from cooperative programs in key functional areas.  Whether it’s the Alliance’s responsibility to facilitate or coordinate such shared services initiatives – or whether the Alliance has or could acquire the expertise to do so – needs to be explored.
    • Can the Alliance, as it is currently structured, address the changing needs of the fraternals that will be operating 10 years from now?
      • As consolidation in the fraternal sector continues, the societies that remain will be larger and more sophisticated financial services and community service organizations.  The Alliance will have to be able to meet the advocacy, information, education and networking needs of these societies, which may require a significant reallocation of our limited resources, the discovery and develop of new sources of revenue – or consideration of totally new ways to fill these needs.
    • Do we have the creativity to identify ALL of the alternatives and the courage to select the one that is in the best interests of the fraternal sector of today AND tomorrow?
      • Time will tell, but given my experience with and confidence in the Alliance Board of Directors, I’d bet the house that the answer to this question is “yes.”

    The Drivers of “Transformational Change”…

    Some would argue that transformational change is driven by desperation; something akin to the mood struck by Bob Dylan when he sings, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

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    The transformational change initiative being undertaken by the Alliance Board is being driven not by despair, but by courage and foresight.  Today the Alliance is a strong and financially healthy organization.  Every year nearly 100% of members renew their membership.  And those that don’t renew typically merge with another member society.  Our membership satisfaction survey scores are off the chart.  Alliance members tell us that they are exceptionally satisfied with the organization’s advocacy initiatives, education and information programs, and opportunities for engagement.  Almost every current member reports that the cost of dues is an excellent value.  These are results that would make trade association leaders in virtually any industry green with envy.

    The leadership of the Alliance is wise enough to know that the time to plan for the future is when the larder is full, and brave enough to take an honest look at what lies ahead.  Because even though the Alliance rarely, if ever, loses a member due to dissatisfaction with the organization’s policies or benefits, we have the fewest number of members – 64 – in our more than 125 year history.  Sure, there are a handful of fraternals that are not members of the Alliance, but the opportunities to grow the organization by increasing the members are limited, to say the least.

    Moreover, it’s a virtual certainty that consolidation within the fraternal sector will continue.  The current pace of mergers – 1-2 per year – may remain steady for the next few years. However, the economies of scale necessary to survive in the life insurance and annuity business, combined with an increasingly complex and costly regulatory system, and the declining brand awareness and relevance of “traditional” bonds with consumers is almost certain to result in further consolidation.

    We are not the only industry undergoing such radical change.  Look at the impact on Macy’s as a result of the advent of Amazon and other on-line retailers.  When was the last time you visited a bookstore?  Do you remember what a travel agent’s office looked like?  Financial services may be the last industry to experience a complete overhaul, but rest assured it’s coming.  We’ve seen hints of it on the regulatory side through the Department of Labor’s fiduciary standard.  While that may be rolled back by the new Administration, the underlying perception of misbehavior on the part of financial institutions and the individuals that sell their products is still very real among consumers.  On the operational side, we see change coming from the likes of companies like Lemonade and others who are not just tweaking the time worn role of insurer and agent, but tossing it out and starting from scratch.

    Next week’s post will review the tough questions the Alliance Board of Directors is asking about the future of the organization (here’s a hint: It all starts with “Why?”).  By extension, these are the same type of questions that every fraternal CEO and board should be asking of their own society.  We’re not printing up “The End is Near” posters. But we are acknowledging – with courage and foresight – that the needs of Alliance members and, more importantly, the needs of the individuals, families, and communities those fraternals serve, has fundamentally changed.  And we are attempting – with courage and foresight – to find the best possible way to meet the needs of the Alliance member societies.