By Linda Koco
SAN ANTONIO – “’Advisor 2020’could be a game changer,” said Robert O. Smith in opening remarks here at the annual meeting of National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.
The NAIFA president was referring to a new project that the NAIFA is co-sponsoring with the GAMA Foundation. The project will help agencies recruit new advisors and assist them with becoming more successful.
“Successful advisors of the future are the lifeblood of NAIFA, agency management and the entire financial services community,” Smith declared in a speech that recounted numerous changes afoot in the organization.
This was not the routine “here’s what we’re doing for you” report that typically surfaces at industry association meetings. This one had an edge.
Smith made that clear right up front. He recalled how, at last year’s annual meeting in Las Vegas, NAIFA’s National Council had voted down some streamlining amendments developed by a NAIFA Blue Ribbon Task Force and proposed by the leadership.
Not unprecedented but…
“The vote, while not unprecedented, was unusual,” he conceded. “It was evident to me that we at National needed to reach out to our volunteer colleagues around the Federation to better understand each other’s issues and to bolster our relationships.”
Displaying the wry sense of humor for which Smith is known, the association president also revealed how he felt in the aftermath of that thumbs-down vote last year.
“My wife told me I didn’t know what I was getting into becoming NAIFA President,” he recalled. “However, I remember that first night as your president sleeping like a baby…. I woke up every two hours screaming!”
Truthfully, he added, “I didn’t sleep at all that night.”
Though spoken in jest, the comments aren’t altogether surprising. The members who opposed the changes last year had voiced their concerns in heated complaints from the Town Hall Meeting floor, one protest after another. For those who like fireworks, that was the place to be last year.
Afterwards, Smith said he began considering the year ahead, asking things like, what resources does NAIFA have that are not being fully utilized? What worked in the past? What is working now? And, of course, “what did the National Council want us to do?”
The result was a decision to put more NAIFA feet on the ground, with officers and staff expanding outreach in several ways. The Advisor 2020 project with GAMA is just one example.
Other examples he named include: The National leadership established a partnering program with state affiliates; rekindled partnering with various industry affiliates; and continued building its corporate partnerships. The industry liaisons include, but are not limited to, GAMA, MDRT, NAILBA, Women in Financial Services, AALU, ACLI, and LIFE Foundation. Smith also sought out meetings with CEOs of major Eastern insurance companies “to re-open doors for NAIFA,” he said.
NAIFA’s partnerships with state affiliates have since “spread like wildfires,” Smith added. “In one year, we have almost 40 percent of our states working with National to implement strategic initiatives.”
In addition, he said:
--NAIFA CEO Susan Waters added Thrivent to the corporate partner team, increasing the membership ranks by about 800.
--NAIFA National tightened its budget, sold its home office building, and ended the year with a surplus.
--NAIFA organized three trips to Capitol Hill, the last of which was a Congressional Fly-In with over 1000 members visiting law makers and their staffs.
--Smith testified before the House Ways and Means Sub Committee on Financial Products and Services.
This year, NAIFA leadership is asking members to vote on a new by-laws amendment. This would increase dues by $25.
The increase will help reimburse members for a portion of their expenses when they lobby on NAIFA’s behalf, said Smith, indicating that NAIFA is expecting there will be plenty of lobbying to do, particularly as concerns the tax treatment of insurance products.
NAIFA’s position is that “the tax treatment of insurance products should not be changed, because the products create a positive, not a negative, return on investment for the federal government,” he said.
Both Houses of Congress will likely start addressing tax issues with a clean slate by eliminating all (tax) deductions and exemptions, Smith predicted. “We will have to fight to get our provisions back in. The federal deficit is approaching $17 Trillion. Until the deficit is under control we will be at risk.”
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