“Son, you have a firm grasp of the obvious.”
I won’t lie; more than a few folks – college professors, bosses, relatives – have uttered those words to me over the years. But I’ve found that it’s sometimes important to come to grips with the realities that stare you in the face – realities for which neither hope nor denial is an effective strategy.
Over the last few weeks a few of those “obvious” factors about the fraternal sector of the life insurance industry, trade association management, and business in general have made themselves clear to me. And I’d like to share those with you.
It’s all about people. I’ve heard presentations from some terrifically talented fraternal executives at Alliance Mid-Year meetings over the past few weeks, who drove home the message – through both their knowledge and their enthusiasm – that, unless you have the right players on your team, all the coaching in the world won’t make much difference. Listening to both the seasoned professionals and the relative newcomers to the system will absolutely restore your faith that the future for some societies is very bright. The one nugget I pulled from a professional speaker at another industry conference was this: be quick to fire and slow to hire. If you’ve got an employee who consistently can’t pull his or her weight, cut your losses as quickly as possible, even though making such a change may be temporarily disruptive. All the turmoil will be smoothed over if a thorough and methodical search and hiring process yields the right individual for your organization. But in order to attract the best possible talent, you’ve got to have a couple of other things going for you.
Governance. If your organization – and the executives and managers who are paid to make it successful – are constantly hamstrung by a decision-making structure that hasn’t been updated since the early 1900s, the chances of you attracting or retaining top talent is pretty slim. Governance is at the heart of any organization’s success. If you don’t know why the society exists and if your structure precludes you from making consistently excellent decisions – about products, pricing, distribution, member benefits, and community service activities – to support your clearly defined mission, then it’s time to put this issue front and center at your next board meeting.
Capital. You, your board, and your management team can know the decisions you need to make and have the authority to make them, but if you don’t have the financial capacity to invest in the organization (and as fraternals, we have very limited ways to access capital), all the good intentions in the world won’t improve your bottom line. It is NOT the thought that counts – it’s the action. And actions that stimulate growth – in sales, in membership engagement, in profitability, in member benefits, and in good works getting done – require significant financial resources. For some societies the correct action may be to look for new ways to access capital, including strategic alliances or outright mergers with other similar organizations. And the time to do consider those bold, game changing options is now.
That final point was driven home earlier this week in a presentation by Jim Doherty, Senior Director of the Life Insurance Group for OSFI, the Canadian federal insurance regulator. Click on this link to view the copy of Jim’s PowerPoint, but the Reader’s Digest version of his remarks to Canadian fraternals is this:
While there are no Canadian fraternals in immediate danger of insolvency, the trends discovered by OSFI in their analysis of the fraternal market segment (rising expenses, flat premium and policy count growth, declining membership) indicate that, in one to five years, several smaller fraternals could be facing serious financial hardships resulting in potential damage to their members in terms of assessments or worse.
OSFI will not let this happen.
Canadian fraternals should begin work immediately on possible “alternative solutions” to address these issues.
The issues are the same on either side of the border. So let’s get a firm grasp of the obvious – sort of like the first step in a Fraternal 12 Step Program – and start working together on solutions that are in the best interest of our current members and the future of the fraternal movement in North America.