By Linda Koco
NEW ORLEANS – Members of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) consider themselves to be part of a global organization, not a national organization, according to MDRT First Vice President Brian D. Heckert.
Although 26 percent of MDRT’s members reside in the United States, Canada and Mexico, the remaining 74 percent come from other countries, Heckert told InsuranceNewsNet in advance of MDRT’s annual meeting here.
The total membership of 43,000 represents more than 470 companies in 71 nations, according to MDRT.
Visitors and new members don’t always realize the global reach of MDRT until they arrive at the annual meeting and see the throng of people from around the world. In many ways, the throng echoes the growth in international business that many U.S. insurers and several industry associations have experienced in the last decade. It also resonates with the increased regulatory interconnectedness that has been underway, especially since the last recession.
Heckert, who is a 25-year member of MDRT and soon to become its president, provided InsuranceNewsNet with some insight into how MDRT helps its U.S. and international members benefit from their global connectedness.
MDRT is headquartered in Park Ridge, Ill. That leads many Americans who qualify for MDRT for the first time to assume they have become part of an elite professional advisor’s group in the U.S..
Instead, when they arrive at their first annual meeting, they find themselves rubbing elbows with the elite from not only the U.S., but from around the world. Some members speak a second or third language in addition to their mother tongue, regardless of country of origin. But others speak only their native language. So are members able to communicate well enough to benefit from the international interchange?
Language is not as much of a barrier as some people may think, according to Heckert, who is founder and managing member of Financial Solutions Midwest in Nashville, Ill.
“In our hallway conversations, we all speak MDRT,” he said. Some members communicate by using bits of other languages they know, or by signaling with their hands and eyes.
As for the formal presentations, MDRT provides translations from English into 12 other languages, he told InsuranceNewsNet. “That’s more than the United Nations.”
The translations are not just for the heavily attended Main Platform sessions. They are available in breakout sessions too, as well as in new types of small group sessions that MDRT often provides.
This year, for example, MDRT is introducing short “Cornerstone” sessions on sales strategies and various other topics. These can be heard in multiple languages. Likewise with this year’s new “language-specific MDRT Echo Sessions” where native language speakers share their understanding of key presentations.
Throughout the year, MDRT in the United States stays connected to its international affiliates through it Member Content Communication division. This unit “communicates messages and content back and forth between regions, zones, countries and companies, and they keep us apprised of what’s going on,” Heckert said.
He recounted how he had met with six Japanese members a couple of years ago. The topic was how to plan for retirement in a low interest environment, something the Japanese have been dealing with for several years. “It was a great exchange,” he said, noting that the group used an interpreter.
“I’ve found that, when I open my mind to various levels of communication, I do just fine.”
The global trend
The international side of MDRT traces back many decades. “We’ve had international representatives among our members for 85 of our nearly 90 years,” Heckert said.
Before 1935 or so, the international members were mostly English-speaking or people with dual-language capabilities, he said. They hailed mostly from Canada, Japan, Great Britain and Australia. But by the 1970s and 1980s, MDRT began attracting members from many other regions, countries and companies.
Translation capabilities had become prevalent by then, he noted, so MDRT was able to accommodate the multiple languages.
In recent years, as the last recession took its toll, overall membership did drop. But membership has begun inching back up since then. At last year’s annual meeting, the membership stood at around 42,000. In late May of this year, it crossed the 43,000 mark.
Along the way, “we haven’t lost a significant number of U.S./North American members,” Heckert said.
As MDRT embraces the new growth, it is also embracing its international reach. “The benefits we offer are designed to be universal, for wherever our members are located,” he said, explaining that most of the content MDRT provides is common to advisors everywhere. The exception is content on tax law applicability to sales and practice management.
Heckert said he’s excited about MDRT’s global profile. “Starting in September, MDRT will have, for the first time in its history, two non-Americans on the executive committee,” he said.
One of the two is the incoming secretary Ross Vanderwolf, managing director of Rothgard Financial Partners of Fortitude Valley, Queensland, Australia. The other is the immediate past president Caroline A. Banks, managing director of Caroline Banks and Associates in London's West End.
At the 2014 annual meeting, Banks became the first woman from outside of the United States to be appointed MDRT president.
Globalization of the business
Several other U.S. based insurance groups have global members as well. Even so, it is sometimes difficult for U.S. insurance professionals to grasp the extent of globalization in the business.
But it’s there for the looking. A number of U.S. insurance carriers continue to do business overseas, for example. Also, the International Association of Insurance Supervisors continues to work on developing international capital standards that international regulators can use in multinational company oversight. And the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in the U.S. continues to participate in international discussions on insurance regulatory and supervisory standard-setting.
Bottom line: Although the main presentations at MDRT are still delivered in English, in the hallways, discussion groups and association interchanges, the members are, as Heckert put it, speaking MDRT.
InsuranceNewsNet Editor-at-Large Linda Koco, MBA, specializes in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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