"Fraternal Vision Report” Contains Some Inconvenient Truths
January 30, 2013
In 2001, the Board of the American Fraternal Alliance (then known as the National Fraternal Congress of America) appointed a group of staff members, consultants, and member society representatives known as the Fraternal Vision Subcommittee to “determine whether structural changes are necessary to preserve the uniqueness of fraternal benefit societies while making them more relevant and responsive to member needs in the 21st Century.”
On November 8, 2002 – just over a decade ago – the subcommittee presented its report to the Board. Titled “The Search to Redefine Fraternal Benefit Societies in the 21st Century,” the report identified the most significant challenges facing fraternals and, more importantly, provided detailed recommendations for overcoming them. It was an exhaustively researched analysis that didn’t pull any punches. It contained truths – some of them inconvenient and uncomfortable – that many of us would prefer to ignore. In a word, it was – and remains – brilliant.
It was also ahead of its time. Economic conditions in 2002 were much different than they are today, and a steady and reliable supply of investment income – so critical to the health of any life insurer – made it much easier to “paper over” some of the underlying flaws in many organizations’ operations. As a result, there was no real urgency to distribute the report to Alliance member societies. Like the box that contained the Ark of the Covenant in the first Indiana Jones movie (“We’ve got top men working on this. Top…men”), the report was buried in a file cabinet.
I keep a copy of it on my credenza and refer to it often. What I find most remarkable is how well it has aged. Like a savings bond, the findings and recommendations are more valuable to the sustainability of the fraternal business model today than they were in 2002. The report drives home the fact that, despite all the keynote addresses, panel presentations, board deliberations and committee discussions over the years, we are confronting the same problems today that we faced in 2002 – problems, that because of prolonged low interest rate environment, now pose a more serious threat to the future of our business model.
The Fraternal Vision report is a treasure trove of information and over the next few months I’m going to highlight its findings and recommendations, assess how we’ve addressed them over the past decade, and lay the groundwork for more meaningful ACTION that leaders of member societies and the Alliance Board can take to make the work of this visionary subcommittee a reality.
My motivation for doing this stems from a recent conversation with one of the authors of the report – an individual who is no longer involved in the fraternal industry – who told me that while he was doing the research for the project he was inspired by the commitment of the founders of the fraternal system, who built organizations dedicated to improving the lives of their members and the communities in which those members live and work. If today’s leaders can embody the courage and creativity of those individuals, we can breathe new life into a business model that can still be as relevant today as it was over a century ago.
Will this ruffle some feathers? I hope so! The first item on the agenda and the topic of my next posting: “How come it’s so tough for organizations based on the cooperative business model to cooperate with each other?”
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