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    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.

    Board of Directors opens a new chapter for the Alliance…

    After nearly a year of work, the Alliance Board of Directors has announced plans to overhaul the organizational structure of the association in order to focus greater resources on advocacy initiatives and utilize technological advances to more cost effectively deliver education, information, and networking services to members. Here is a link to the Board Bulletin that was sent to members yesterday.

    The transition to the new organizational model will take place over the next 18 months, with full implementation scheduled for January 1, 2019. A key component of the reorganization is a much larger investment in advocacy activities at both the state and federal level. Members overwhelming cite political advocacy as the primary benefit of Alliance membership and the new structure will reflect the value of these efforts to members. The Board also approved the relocation of the Alliance offices to Washington, D.C.

    In addition, the Alliance will achieve the operational efficiencies needed to expand its advocacy activities by downsizing staff, reducing the number of meetings and conferences, partnering with other groups to provide educational programs, and using technology to provide members with information on everything from regulatory compliance to governance best practices.

    Over the summer, the Alliance will be conducting webinars to provide details on the reorganization and the impact that the new operating model will have on members. Additional information on these webinars will be sent to members soon. More information on the Board’s decision will also be provided at the Alliance’s Annual Meeting, September 6-8, 2017, in Chandler, Arizona.

    Got questions or comments on the Board’s action? Please contact Board members directly using the contact information in the Board Bulletin, send a private email to me at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org, or post a public comment here.

     

    Summer Reading List…

    A few books to pack before heading to the beach, lake, mountains, or your backyard patio:

    Novels
    As most of you know, I’m not a huge fiction fan, but I really enjoyed these three…

    Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – Wildly creative; deeply touching; the most inventive ghost story I’ve read in a long while.

    Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – Wonderful story in an F. Scott Fitzgerald setting.  No one has greater command of the English language than Towles.

    I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes – A completely implausible spy novel page-turner, but entertaining nonetheless.

    Non-Fiction and Biographies

    The General vs. the President by H.W. Brands – Harry “the buck stops here” Truman squares off with Douglas “I shall return” MacArthur over Korea, China, Russia, and nuclear war.  My kind of stuff!

    Richard Nixon: The Life by John Farrell – I’ve been fascinated with Nixon since my dad grabbed me by the neck as the President announced his resignation in August 1974, sat me down in front of the television, and said “You’re watching history being made.”  And this profile of one of the most intriguing political figures of the 20th century does not disappoint.

    Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen – Insightful look at the life of “The Boss” (so named for good reason) from Freehold, NJ to superstardom, including a hard look at his battle with depression along the way.  Enjoyable.

    Testimony by Robbie Robertson – Autobiography of one of my favorite songwriters and musicians.  Incredible story which gives credence to the lyric, “This living off of the road is getting pretty old.”  From the Hawks to Dylan to the Last Waltz, it was quite a journey.

    In Case You Missed It (I know I did)

    In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson – Written sometime in the 1990s, this hysterical travel guide through Australia is perfect beach reading.  My next vacation is to Alice Spring and Ayers Rock!

    Right in the Old Gazoo…

    I’ve always admired Alan Simpson, the former GOP senator from Wyoming, whose book – “Right in the Old Gazoo” – is one of my all-time favorite political memoirs.

    I’m not saying I always agreed with Simpson’s policy positions, but I always appreciated the fact that I knew where he stood and, more importantly, why he stood there. While he had strong opinions – and wasn’t afraid to share them – he was willing to listen to other views and wise enough to know when it made sense to compromise and when it didn’t. That’s an increasingly rare characteristic among legislators today.

    When it comes to politicians – and people, in general – I don’t like mysteries.   That’s why I’ve always liked and respected (though not always agreed with) Allen Bailey. Many of you know him as the CEO of a top-notch actuarial consulting firm that counts quite a few fraternals among his clients. And, like Senator Simpson, he’s a rather astute observer of the business practices of the fraternal community and he’s always more than willing to share his views on those practices in an effort to help improve them and enhance the professionalism and profitability of the fraternal sector.

    His latest unedited and unvarnished insights can be found HERE. Let me warn you, these are not for the faint of heart. You may see some familiar fraternal flaws in here that will make you uncomfortable – like a punch in the old gazoo. But you can’t remove the burrs from your saddle unless you can feel them and find them. And Allen does a good job of creating a map to their exact location.

    Let me know what you think of Allen’s piece by posting a comment here or sending me an email at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org. You can also send an email directly to Allen at abailey@allenbailey.com.