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Thanks, Captain Obvious!

May 27, 2015
First, let me say that Captain Obvious – the spokesperson on those subtly funny Hotels.com commercials – is one of my heroes.  Upon viewing a particularly filthy, vermin-infested hotel room, he casually points out to the family that has booked the room that “I would not stay here tonight.” Captain Obvious Doug French, a managing principal of Ernst & Young, did his best Captain Obvious impersonation at the Canadian Fraternal Alliance Section Meeting earlier this month in Ottawa.  Doug went through a variety of facts and figures about demographics, insurance products, distribution systems, and insurance company operations.  But at the heart of his presentation were his concluding points: •   Embrace the internet.  Customers are connected, digital, and engaged.  If you’re not, then your organization is irrelevant. •   Don’t swim against the demographic tide.  Two groups really matter:  millennials and boomers.  If you can’t find a way to connect with them, your future is not particularly bright. •   Learn about and get to underserved markets.  They still exist and could be an excellent niche for fraternals. •   Be realistic about changes to the “advice model” of selling life insurance and realize that there are viable alternative distribution channels. •   Encourage experimentation and celebrate failure. Nothing up there should surprise you and you’ve probably heard every one of those suggestions at least once in the past five years. The item that really struck me was the final one – “encourage experimentation and embrace failure.”  While many companies across all industries pay lip service to this notion, few actually implement it.  Within the fraternal community, the concept is rarely applied.  And it’s not just because we are set in our ways or restricted by antiquated governance structures, although that certainly has something to do with it. Based on my keen grasp of the obvious, many fraternals a) don’t have the financial resources to invest in experimentation (whether it involves alterative distribution models, new product development, branding initiatives, local chapter reorganization, or community service outreach); and b) simply can’t afford to fail (because one wrong move could mean the end of the road for the organization). That leaves many fraternal leaders with only one choice: keep doing what we’ve always done.  That “strategy” will almost certainly produce a long, slow glide path toward obscurity for the society. As Captain Obvious might say, “That’s not a very good solution.” So what can societies that cannot afford to "encourage experimentation and celebrate failure" do?  Find a partner with similar goals.  Build a society that is relevant to consumers both in terms of financial services and community outreach - one that delivers real value to members and contributes to the social health of the communities it serves.  Combine your resources with another organization in a way that allows you to achieve your common missions. You can call it a strategic alliance, a partnership, a merger, a consolidation, or an amalgamation – a rose by any other name, so to speak – but these types of relationships simply have to happen if the fraternal system is going to evolve and remain the powerful force for good that it has been for the last 100+ years. Obvious?  Certainly? Difficult?  Incredibly. Necessary? Undoubtedly.