By Linda Koco
SAN ANTONIO – “I’m miffed,” said a member of National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors from the floor of the organization’s annual meeting here. He was referring to a proposal to increase membership dues by $25 — a proposal being made to help offset the costs of future lobbying in Washington.
The proposal would make the annual cost of NAIFA national memberships total $355, effective in January 2014.
The member said he objected to the increase, particularly since NAIFA membership continues to decline, though by a smaller number than anticipated.
Instead of increasing dues, NAIFA needs to grow membership, the agent concluded in what became a type of mantra for dues increase opponents, of which there were many.
(NAIFA has about 40,000 members. In 2012, 16 states that actually grew their membership, and 800 agents from Thrivent became members when Thrivent became a corporate partner, according to NAIFA.)
The association leaders presented five other proposed amendments during the same session, but the dues increase proposal is the one that got the lion’s share of the attention. Member after member came to the microphone to complain about the increase, or they texted the association leaders sitting on the podium. Only a few spoke in favor.
War of words
The war of words brought to the fore many issues that percolate throughout the industry — potential threats to the tax-favored status of the insurance products, fiscal responsibility, strategic direction, financial transparency, and growth opportunities, among others.
Last year, the organization of roughly 40,000 considered a somewhat similar proposal — to increase dues by $15 a year. It was voted down.
That request came with “dire predictions” about how the organization may not be able to sustain itself without the increase, the member who was miffed recalled. Yet thanks to leaders exercising fiscal responsibility, the association ended the year with a small surplus, he noted.
Among other complaints were these:
--“You’re squeezing the little guy.” This came from a member who said that for years, he has paid the membership dues of agents in his office, of which there are now eight.
--“We support the board…but what is lacking is the unity…We need a national roadmap and commitment to everyone, to create unity, so we all know what the goals are.”
--“Stop asking for dues increases so we can grow our membership. We will do it if you give us the time to do it.”
--“I’m not understanding that you have exhausted all resources” (to build membership, so dues increases would not be necessary).
--“Why aren’t we reaching out to other associations that have similar issues?...Let’s bring ’em in.”
Those in favor
Among the few members who spoke in favor was a member who noted that although he is fearful that a dues increase could cause trouble with membership, he is much more fearful of an association that is not able to be financially sound and able to “fight and move to protect us when they need to.”
People in the NAIFA office don’t even turn on the lights, he said. They work in natural light, and they’ve also cut back on things like copiers and fax machines.
A $25 dues increase comes out to $2.08 a month, he added. If members can’t go back to their states and locals and talk to them about spending that to protect the industry, he said, “then we’re not very good at what we do.”
Speaking from the stage on behalf of the leadership, Juli McNeely, secretary of NAIFA, said that if the association does not defend its members in Washington, then we’re going to lose members.”
“We’re trying to do what’s right for this organization and to defend this industry, and we need your help to do that.”
Last year, NAIFA organized a fly-in of more than 1,000 members to speak with Congressional members about the importance of insurance products and keep the tax benefits in those products. Association leaders expect to do more of the same in the coming year.
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