Dr. Susan B. Waters, the late CEO of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA), reached out to as many constituencies as she could in her attempts to strengthen the bonds between the association and its far-flung members.
When the news of her untimely death last month began to spread, members came from everywhere to pay their respects.
From Hawaii to Guam, from Texas to Maine, from Maryland to Mississippi, from Northern Virginia to Oregon, from Florida to California, and from as far away as Belgium and Japan, the condolence notes poured into NAIFA in the wake of her unexpected death Dec. 16.
In 10 days, 177 comments were posted on NAIFA’s Advisor Today blog in remembrance of one of the association’s most effective leaders.
Waters, 63, was known not only for her quiet reach within the organization but for building, rebuilding and strengthening NAIFA through the organization’s lifeblood: the state and local associations.
She helped to cement the bonds between the national organization and local associations, and pushed hard for members to engage with NAIFA at the retail level.
Indeed, with NAIFA membership last June at just over 40,000, a drop of more than 25 percent from 54,000 in June 2009, Waters needed to find ways to retain existing members and attract new ones in short order.
Diane Boyle, vice president of NAIFA federal government relations, said Waters was instrumental in creating NAIFA’s Congressional Conference, which last May attracted 700 -800 insurance advisors to Washington, D.C.
“The Congressional Conference makes sure we have all the areas covered,” Boyle told InsuranceNewsNet.
Waters was named CEO of NAIFA in March 2010.
In 2013, she won the American Society of Association Executives’ Key Award, which recognizes the association CEO who demonstrates exceptional leadership qualities and displays a deep commitment to voluntary membership organizations.
Terry Headley, former NAIFA president and head of Headley Financial Group in Omaha, Neb., said Waters also was the “instrumental and the driving force” behind the creation of the Congressional Councils, the complement to the Congressional Conference.
The councils, a group of active and engaged members, participate at higher levels of political action within NAIFA, Headley said. Created in 2013 and made up of about 70 members so far, the councils “build by the day.”
With more than 23 years of experience in professional association management, Waters was keenly aware of strengthening an association from the group up and she made it her goal to solidify advisors’ connection with state and federal lawmakers.
Kenneth Vacovec, past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA), said in an Advisor Today blog posting that Waters was “beloved by the MBA,” for restructuring the organization and bringing it to new levels.
“I was just about to contact her to meet when I travel to Washington in a few weeks,” he wrote. “We are all so sad to lose this good friend.”
By all accounts, Waters was content to leave the political front-office work and congressional testimony to NAIFA’s presidents and vice presidents. She preferred working mostly behind the scenes to buttress the organization and cement the bonds with members.
It was Waters who implemented a structure of identifying individual NAIFA advisors — not committees — to serve as “champions” around whom to build more robust bridges and closer, tighter bonds.
It was also Waters who forged NAIFA’s written partnership laying out the responsibilities of the national organization and the state associations, and laid out the parameters for membership recruitment and retention.
NAIFA has 26 such partnerships involving 29 states, according to the organization’s latest annual report. “Susan was the architect of these partnership agreements,” said Headley, who served as president of NAIFA from 2011-2012.
Membership declines have affected many organizations, but NAIFA has seen pockets of its membership grow, and Waters has been “instrumental in stabilizing and consolidating the membership base,” he added.
Waters, the first woman president to lead NAIFA, pushed to make women more visible for NAIFA through “diversity tracks,” Boyle said. NAIFA began sending more women to represent the organization in front of women lawmakers.
If nearly anyone can send in written testimony on pending legislation through their computer, very few people are ever invited to testify in person before a congressional committee on major bills. Appearing before the glare of the cameras and undergoing scrutiny of the national press before a mass audience is a big deal.
Under Waters’ tenure, NAIFA testified before the financial services committees when Congress sought input into what eventually became the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, Boyle said.
NAIFA also testified on the Tax Reform Act of 2014 last year, and joined in lobbying efforts that eventually led to the Department of Labor to revisit its expanded definition of fiduciary rules that apply to advisors, Boyle said.
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