Is NSSTA heading toward irrelevance or is it already there?

Over the last few weeks I've had the opportunity to talk with a lot of settlement professionals and discussed some of the bigger events of the last month, among them the retreat from the structured settlement market by Hartford Life and the smearing of the structured settlement brand name in the Scott Rothstein fraud. As this is "convention season" I've met people at the NSSTA regional and several other meetings that were hosted here in Scottsdale, as well as a lot of phone call and company people in to visit when the weather improves out here in the Valley of the Sun.

The one over riding theme is that our trade association, while well intentioned and staffed by decent people, is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the professional life and plans of most settlement professionals.

By a wide majority the following are the primary concerns of most settlement professionals I've spoken with:

1. As an industry our market is down anywhere from 30% to 40% year to date with some firms and individuals down over 50%. While there is some uptick at the end of the year, there is little doubt that most firms are going to end the year off 20% to 30% which when you consider how stagnant the market has been leading up to this, is a huge pay cut for the profession.

2. The loss of Hartford Life and the continued struggles of American General and other A rated firms to attract premium indicates further weakness in the market, making attracting new players even more difficult.

3. That NSSTA is "doing nothing" to address the business decline or promoting the industry in a fashion where other firms look to enter the market and invest in new products. Further the perception from many is that due to it's organizational structure and historic mission, it is ill suited to address protecting the brand or attracting new players.

Of the three topics, the third is the most troubling as it indicates to me that most members pay their dues out of necessity, not out of any passion for the mission, and that as events unfold in our profession that the organization is not properly designed to react quickly or proactively.

The best example was last week as the Scott Rothstein saga unfolded it became readily apparent that this was going to be a real issue in protecting the Structured Settlement brand name that is so important to our profession. News reports then, and now, blasted all over the internet and into search engines that this con artist had been running a "structured settlement" scheme. Now, as we all know, and as Peter Arnold went to great pains to point out to many news organizations, this was NOT a structured settlement scheme but a total fraud. However, the harm was done and this story is now circulating all over the internet and dominating search results, with the net impact long term being that the brand name has been associated with a major financial fraud.

While our PR guru was doing his job and we had a position paper on the NSSTA web page, the new media tools that have been offered to NSSTA over and over again were largely ignored as it was impossible to find " a voice" that was able to speak for the organization. This is largely a function of the fact that many of our officers have day jobs working for life markets, have compliance issues to worry about and can't afford to be active spokesman for the profession. By the time NSSTA forms a committee and checks to make sure no one is going to be offended by something, the opportunity is lost and we once again surrender the internet and search results to those who do not have our professions best interests as their primary motivation.

Additionally the continued frustration about trying to attract new markets and players to our profession only drives home NSSTA's organizational inability to get this done. Now I have covered this before but NSSTA really CAN'T do this as their are anti-trust issues and competitive market players that don't make recruiting new markets very plausible. I get it, it's not NSSTA's job and I've opined on that topic on many occasions. However, the fact that NSSTA can't address the big issues concerning most brokers just points out how irrelevant it is in the professional lives of most.

The question now becomes, what if any organization will rise up to address these concerns effectively or are we as a profession content to run out the clock as the foundations of our business continue to crumble?

I already know the approach I'll be taking, but i'm curious as to the thoughts and ideas of others. Drop me a note or comment on the post and lets discuss whether NSSTA will continue to play the central role in our profession or if we are now evolving to a time when other entities might start taking it's place as the world and profession evolve.

Posted on November 9, 2009 .