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The changing face of your advocates: industry associations are in place to lobby on your behalf, support the industry, and give you the resources you need to succeed. But how has today's market affected their efforts?

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For an up-to-date list of all the major industry associations in your field, visit www.ASJonline.com/associations.

There is a revolution going on in the insurance industry--and specifically in the ways that associations serve insurance agents and go about their business. A downward-spiraling economy, combined with continued expansion into cyberspace, has forced many changes onto insurance professionals. To keep up, associations have had to alter their way of doing things. Some have folded, some have shifted gears--and some are showing a lot of innovative skills.

For agents involved in industry associations, the benefits are countless. Many groups offer networking and professional development opportunities, plus the chance to attend conferences and earn designations and continuing education required to stay ahead.

So how are your associations different today? And what does that mean for you?

NEW GROUPS, NEW DIRECTIONS

One person trying to get everyone on board is Jesse Slome, an industry veteran who recently created a new association and dramatically changed another to keep up with the times. As the executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance (AALTCI), founded in 1998, Slome knows a thing or two about building and growing a successful association

"So often, insurance people take what I call the 'rear view mirror' mentality," Slome said. "But the long term care insurance industry is much like electronics. The platform you used four or five years ago is woefully outdated."

To bring everyone up to date, Slome has launched what he calls the nation's largest online learning and marketing center for insurance producers--the Learning, Marketing & Sales Center a component of the AALTCI's Producer's Resource Center The information and knowledge he dispenses there targets nearly every type of agent, from seasoned veterans who are highly knowledgeable to those just getting into the business.

Slome is also big on educating the consumer As he puts it, that goes hand in hand with helping agents.

"It's easier to sell insurance to an educated, interested prospect than to push insurance onto someone who has never heard about what you are selling," he said. "You have to serve two purposes."

In 2006, Slome founded the American Association for Medicare Supplement Insurance. Then, in early 2009, Slome established the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance (AACII)--something that he believes was long overdue.

"The world has changed," Slome said. "People today are far more likely to have a critical illness that they survive. The problem is, no matter how good their health insurance or how good their retirement savings or their disability coverage, there are enormous expenses that still go uncovered."

Slome went on to say that about 60 percent of all bankruptcies are directly related to medical expenses--and 80 percent of those bankruptcies are among people with health insurance.

Despite its importance, Slome said that critical illness insurance has not yet gained a foothold in the United States, and the AACII is designed do the same thing that his AALTCI has done for long term care insurance.

"The first thing is to educate producers on how the products work and the reasons to discuss it with your client," Slome said. "At the same time, we are going to educate consumers who are totally unaware that the product even exists."

Slome's efforts seem to be working--his overall membership numbers are up, and in the last five years, membership in the AALTCI has grown tenfold. He also expects the AACII to attract more producers, and is offering free membership for a year to get things rolling.

CHANGING FOCUS

Some associations are changing names and switching focus in response to industry changes. One such shift occurred in the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI), previously NAVA, which recently underwent a major makeover and name change.

Originally an acronym that stood for the National Association of Variable Annuities, NAVA eventually grew and dropped its longer name, simply going by "NAVA" and adding the tagline "the Association for Insured Retirement Solutions." In June 2009, the group became officially known as the IRI.

IRI describes its new organization as truly comprehensive, one that better reflects its mission and the people it represents. The group says the old name was too limiting and had outlived its original purpose.

"Our new agenda is an ambitious one that brings together the interests of the industry financial advisors, and consumers under one umbrella," said IRI President and CEO Cathy Weatherford. "The IRI is working to become the first-choice source for distributors and financial advisors who handle insured retirement strategies. The consumer is the new focal point for intelligence gathering, and financial advisors are being further integrated into membership, providing them with greater information, tools, and training."

In anticipation of its new focus, said Weatherford, IRI brought a new team on board that is vigorously fighting for its positions on both the federal and state levels. The groups has have also created a state-of-the-art Web site that captures the needs of the investing community.

"Today, we're at a critical moment in our industry, one that requires a reinvigorated approach," she said. "As the industry has evolved, so have our shared needs and goals by offering enhanced resources and tools."

ADDING SUPPORT

The Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) is also increasing its resources to help members navigate through the industry, recently updating its retirement solutions Web site with new planning documents, seminar recaps, and other tools designed to help insurance professionals. MDRT's main objective is to provide resources and concepts that agents can use to help their clients understand today's environment, and stress that any form of action taken to increase financial security is better than none at all.

One of the most popular endeavors MDRT has undertaken has been its Boomertirement road shows, held in five cities in early 2009. The program's Web site includes communication tools intended to help producers conduct local financial literacy programs, overviews of key events, exclusive member podcasts, and strategy briefs.

Guy Baker who became MDRT's president on Sept. 1, 2009, said the organization has been an invaluable asset for him during his successful career, and he hopes to help others in the same way.

"MDRT has been at the core of my growth and success," Baker said. "The present economic climate presents unique challenges and opportunities, and MDRT will continue to be the leading source of educational programming and resources to help members extend their trajectory of accomplishment well into the future."

CHANGING WITH THE TIMES

With more than 58,000 members, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) has the largest membership of any financial services association in the United States. But it's not standing still--in fact, it's dramatically changing the way it operates and the messages it sends out to its members.

For starters, NAIFA announced in the spring of 2009 that it would begin expanding its advocacy efforts to include health and employee benefits. As a result, its health conference, the Association of Health Insurance Advisors (AHIA), was phased out in the beginning of 2010 and stopped taking new members in September 2009. A conference of NAIFA, AHIA was primarily dedicated to helping health and employee benefits advisors shape federal and state legislation and regulation that impacted their business. Among its services, AHIA sponsored seminars and educational conferences on long term care insurance, disability income insurance, and other health insurance topics. AHIA members were also part of an online agent referral system, allowing consumers to locate the best advisors for them.

Other conferences and affiliations of NAIFA include The Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE), The Association for Advanced Life Underwriting (AALU), GAMA International, and The American College/LUTC.

NAIFA's goal is both simple and complex: to protect an agent's livelihood and the financial security of their clients. There are many ways to accomplish this, including being on the political frontlines and trying to influence legislation at the federal and state levels.

"These are unprecedented times for America, your clients, our industry, and our very livelihoods," NAIFA CEO John Healy recently told members. "Like never before, there is much at risk. Our government relations team is juggling more issues, delivering more results, having more influence, and creating more accessibility to legislative and regulatory leaders than NAIFA has enjoyed in memorable history."

Healy said that, within the last year NAIFA's Member Benefits Committee continued to build on the Professional Development System, launched last year. He noted that the program was significantly expanded, adding 10 product launches at the group's recent career conference, including new online seminar programs; coaching programs; and sales, marketing, and prospecting services.

"There are now more than 40 educational and networking workshops along 10 tracks, so you can customize and tailor your educational experience exactly as you want it," Healy said.

According to Healy, 16 percent of the states achieved membership growth this year, and a program launched to reach out to lapsed members resulted in a 30 percent success rate.

"New advisors, whether young or simply new to the field, are the future of this industry," he said. "And like fledglings, they should not be irresponsibly left to fend for themselves. NAIFA's [Young Advisors Team] programs are providing opportunities for vulnerable 'newbies' to connect, learn, grow, prepare, and succeed."

Healy said that NAIFA's Web site now offers a wide range of tools and resources, in addition to having a new look and more intuitive navigation. And, most importantly, the site gives members the tools they need to become immediately involved.

No matter what your specialization--whether health, life, LTCI, annuities, or some other line of work--there is an association for you. However, the landscape is not what it used to be. As your business changes, so do the groups in place to help you succeed. Knowing what those changes are, and how industry associations can help you, will be instrumental to your practice.

Alan Dell is a freelance writer. He can be reached at adsparta@msn.com.
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Author:Dell, Alan
Publication:Agent's Sales Journal
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Words:1651
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