The race among trade associations to spread their professional development brands abroad is becoming a fierce battle.
In the space of 72 hours, separate financial advisor associations announced new initiatives to expand their reach to life insurance professionals operating in foreign markets -- in particular, Asia.
The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) in Falls Church, Va., was first out of the gate with a May 30 announcement that it was unveiling the Life and Annuity Certified Professionals (LACP) certification for life and annuity pros.
On June 2, The American College of Financial Services announced a “distribution and development partnership” with GAMA International, a professional development organization for financial services industry leaders.
The “development partnership” consists of two yet-to-be-determined “streamlined credentials” for international markets, the American College and GAMA International said in a joint release.
One designation will require a three-course skills training for agents and advisors and another will be a three-course management for leaders, each taking about a year to complete.
"We see the promise of a long, productive partnership focused on increasing financial security around the globe,” said GAMA International CEO Bonnie Godsman in a news release.
As in the U.S., standards set by the designations do not supersede state or national insurance regulations in a foreign country.
Designations offer consumers more confidence in knowing that advisors have obtained seals of approval from reputable professional insurance training organizations. For the advisor, they more than likely offer an income boost.
Two-Way Economic Opportunity
Life insurance leaders say there is a huge opportunity in Asia for people looking to develop themselves and progress in the industry.
“When you look at demand for certification, primarily in Asia, LACP is the equivalent of a college degree,” said Kevin Mayeux, CEO of NAIFA.
NAIFA is the holder of the broad-based and widely held Life Underwriter Training Council designation, often seen as the first step to becoming serious life insurance professionals. LACP is considered the “next step” in professional development.
India and China, each with populations of well over a billion people, both offer a rapidly developing middle class. The countries include hundreds of millions of underinsured consumers, life insurers with little or no market penetration, and relatively few people with higher educations.
Much the same could be said of the hundreds of millions of people living in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.
In 2015, life insurance premium growth rose 12 percent in China and 7.7 percent in India over the previous year, but only 2 percent in advanced markets, according to data compiled by Swiss Re Economic Research & Consulting.
Economic opportunity cuts the other way as well, with trade associations looking to grow membership and mine new sources of revenue.
Foreign markets with tens of thousands, or even millions, of potential insurance agents and distributors could generate a windfall for organizations sponsoring professional advancement at a cost of several hundred dollars or more per program.
Professional development has been identified as a growth area by NAIFA 20/20, the organization’s long-term development blueprint. Other professional development programs beyond the LACP are under consideration, Mayeux said.
Competing Brands in the Training Market
Agents don’t have to dig too deep to figure out that professional organizations are competing for their attention and wallet share.
In 2014, when the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., dropped the LUTCF curriculum, the College for Financial Planning in Centennial, Colo., stepped in to fill the void.
The College for Financial Planning lists the LUTCF and the Registered Paraplanner, or RP, as “industry credential” programs among a host of other retirement planning and asset management designations.
For its part, the American College said it would rely on GAMA as the primary international outlet for its Retirement Income Certified Professional, or RICP, designation, its Wealth Management Certified Professional, or WMCP, designation, and the Master of Science in Management, or MSM, degree in executive leadership
WMCP will be launched in the U.S. this fall and will be made available at a future date in global markets, the American College said.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at email@example.com.
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