Dr. Susan B. Waters has been CEO of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors since March 2010. NAIFA has a membership with a focus that includes annuities, life and health insurance, and financial advising. Waters has more than two decades of experience in professional association management. Prior to her leadership of NAIFA, she was president of Sextant Consulting and executive vice president of an insurance agency.
Describe your leadership philosophy.
I believe that the most important element is commitment to the core mission of our organization. If both volunteers and our professional staff believe in our mission — protecting our members’ business, helping them grow their businesses and promoting ethical conduct — then we can accomplish almost anything. Once I know that our team is on the same page with regard to our purpose, then I know we will find the way to serve our members and help them to promote financial security for American families and businesses.
What is the biggest challenge your industry is facing this year?
Tax reform. As Washington grapples with our nation’s current budget realities — some $16 trillion debt is estimated in fiscal year 2013 — Congress will once again focus on comprehensive tax reform as a way to reduce the national debt, and it is likely that the current tax status of life insurance products will be examined. In April, Congress is expected to unveil a tax-reform plan, so we are making this issue a major priority for 2013. On our agenda will be several meetings on Capitol Hill, beginning in January, when NAIFA members will schedule visits with members of Congress to tell them that the current tax treatment of life insurance products must continue so that Americans will be encouraged to take responsibility for their financial futures.
NAIFA recently held its annual conference. What were the biggest lessons to take away from the event? What is the biggest challenge NAIFA is facing?
NAIFA’s Career Conference and Annual Meeting was a success, largely due to a smart combination of general sessions on the main stage, career workshops for smaller groups, and plenty of networking sessions to provide our members with opportunities to interact and talk about current trends and practices in our industry. One of the lessons we heard loud and clear at the annual conference was that NAIFA-National and NAIFA’s state and local associations need to find ways to partner and work together to help grow membership across the board. Like many associations, our biggest challenge is declining membership. We recognize that time is sacred and people simply don’t have as much time to get involved in their associations as in years past, but through individual partnership agreements between NAIFA-National and each state, we are working to create new programs aimed at helping [states] assess their membership status and determine how we can work together to grow members in their markets.
When you’re looking to hire, how do you decide whether someone is right for your team?
I first look for a belief in our industry and our members. With that value in place, it is a matter of discussing our organization, its culture and our mission. Depending on the position, of course, skills can be verified, and references can be very helpful. Beyond that, it is a matter of trusting my “gut” or intuition.
Which leaders in the industry have influenced you?
Jeff Taggart and Tom Currey, both presidents of NAIFA during my tenure. Jeff had such history with NAIFA, and his family has been involved for three generations. Even though he lived in small-town Wyoming, Jeff was incredibly influential among his peers. Tom showed such courage and fortitude during some tough times, always seeming under control and relaxed. And he can manage a crowd from a main platform like a professional. He’s smooth.
If a recent college graduate came to you and said they one day wanted your job, what advice would you give them?
I would encourage that person to begin a rewarding career in association management and focus on individual membership associations. Jump in and see if this really feels like the place for him [or] her. If so, then begin the journey by understanding the critical importance of our industry to the fabric of America and its financial security.