In 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.”