Now, they're shadows of their former selves. Combined, condensed and confusing, the only place they sprawl these days is in Washington once a year. I went this year and, as usual, came away with mixed impressions. Here are a few:
The IIABA continues to marginalize the press, joining the party with the Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc., which habitually bars the fourth estate from key meetings, and now the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, which is about to do the same.
In the case of the Big I, the core of its conference, the annual legislative briefing, remains out of bounds to the media. It's there that its delegates air the association's stands on key issues before they make their annual trek up Capitol Hill to buttonhole their senators and congressmen.
Why the closed doors? Don't agents and brokers outside the room deserve to know what's going on as well? Isn't the press an instrument for disseminating this vital information? And did I mention that the pressroom was rarely open? And when it was, it was given over to other activities? Makes you wonder if it's worth the Amtrak fare and the hotel stay anymore.
Of course, there are times when they still need us, like when they want to get the word out on their "Real Time" download awareness campaign, a laudable venture to be sure, one which aims to double the use of real-time interface in the next year.
Or the hoopla surrounding its unveiling talks of "an unprecedented industry coalition," made up of the IIABA Agents Council for Technology, headed by the estimable Jeff Yates, and the ACORD-User Group Information Exchange.
The goal is to speed the processing of transactions and inquiries and to apply the ensuing time savings to broaden relationships with existing clients, develop relationships with new clients and to generate new business. It's an idea whose time came a long time ago. Here's hoping it gets liftoff this time around.
And what's with the fatal attraction of the megapanel? The Big I went the way of all flesh and staged two of them this year. You know the formula: Overpopulate a stage with industry luminaries of various stripes and toss them enough questions on the pressing issues of the times to fill a two-hour hole in the program.
Everyone squeezes in a sound bite on the optional federal charter and the future of McCarran-Ferguson, on agent-broker compensation and transparency and disclosure, on a national disaster program and whatever else. These panels are uniformly long on star power and short on substance. They should go away.
There's a footnote worth a mention, as things have come to a pretty pass in Washington. Keen congressional interest in insurance affairs coming off Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina prompted a witty exchange between Big I CEO Bob Rusboldt and Earl Pomeroy, the former North Dakota insurance commissioner, now a Democratic congressman.
Pomeroy said during a "Town Hall" panel session that one of his colleagues went so far as to suggest that pictures of offending insurance company presidents be put up on the Internet along with those of sex offenders. Rusboldt quipped, "That might give sexual predators a bad name."
TOM SLATTERY, a veteran editor and writer on industry affairs for 40 years, is currently managing director of Slattery-Esterkamp Communications, of Baldwin, N.Y.
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July 1, 2007
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