Posted on

HOLUA/IHOU Then, AHOU Now, and What Tomorrow?

The following was written for OTR magazine as a response to Hank George’s article. I wrote it hoping the good old days when the OTR was full of point and counter point from which many of us learned that not everything is as it seemed. We learned from the verbiage thrown back and forth that was without edit and censorship. The freewheeling articles, letters, notes and short novels were the best part of OTR in some readers (underwriters) opinions. Alas, this attempt to respond to Hank’s article even though Hank himself thought it should be printed, fell to the axe of make changes, shorten it up, make it less personal, etc. Okay I get it. I will just put it out there on my web site.


Every On The Risk crosses at least one of my desks and it barely has time to relax before I glance through it, tear out what I think is important to me and then I recycle the rest. As all that lovely glossy paper falls into the recycling bin I perpetually wonder why glossy paper as there is not a centre fold or an exotic car gracing the cover. I read what I think is both practical and relevant to the day to day operations of the underwriting department. I wonder who ever sees some of the esoteric impairments that some learned type has researched. I will have to work another 40 years in the insurance business just to say I have seen the impairment/disease/affliction and know what to do with it other than to ask the medical consultant. All that said I digress as usual from the task at hand and that is to write an additional tome or at least a note as an adjunct to Hank George’s recent article (see page 38, On The Risk, volume 24, n.4, 2008.


Hank and I have been on different sides of many issues in the underwriting spectrum and although we have sparred at a distance we have never drawn swords to settle any debate. The pen after all is mightier than the sword. It is just like the decline can be mightier than the standard in its devastation. After reading Hank’s (he allows me to call him Hank) article I admitted it was indeed thought provoking. AHOU and its functions have grown out of the spirits of both the HOLUA and IHOU plus their co ownership of the infamous “Joint Education Committee” (JEC).  As with any history the story of that emergence and reincarnation has never been well published (yet) and today’s neophyte underwriters know little and perhaps even care less about how did we get to where we are today. Thus to even contemplate moving forward and looking at what is the next transformation necessary to keep AHOU current those secret few who chart the course should know that the course so far has often strayed.


AHOU has surpassed many of the expectations the last generation of underwriters had for it but it also failed in one main objective. When the JEC died, after being abandoned by many of the underwriting leaders of the era, many stepped out and expended their energy into a LOMA course upgrade. The stubbornness of many JEC members to cling to ancient ways was a spectacle to behold. Once forced to admit their ways were wrong a strong and vibrant education course emerged and remains at least to today a beacon to which a fledgling underwriter can climb upon. No longer is the material 30 plus years old. No longer are the exams so terribly constructed the student often failed through frustration not lack of knowledge. Another day the words will reflect how only through chastisement and abandonment did today’s ALU ascend to its educational prominence. I see that as the goal or mission of the pre AHOU organizations. Once the road was set in direction it had to follow that the two bodies would merge into one. Personal biases, personal entitlements, narrow minded zealots and humble followers had to get passed their personal desires and then voila we have AHOU.


Hank lays out thoughts on AHOU’s mission and I would just add that to me and the many who have long since closed their last case file the one shortfall in what has been stated is that we really have not made underwriting a profession in the eyes of many other professions within the financial services domain. Education should have been a means to an end. If the ALU is the gold standard for underwriting and there was to be no “grandfathering of the ancients” why have we not after all these years made it mandatory for an underwriter to have the designation FALU? Instead, and the reason for public snickering, leaders in any company can anyone they want an underwriter. Instead we made two classes of AHOU members hoping that compromise makes some underwriters more professional than others. Did it work? No. Education standards that are rigorous, consistent and current should have been the means to an end and the end being professional status at the table of financial services. Thus as I circle Hank’s thoughts I see professionalism as the mission and education and the rigor of standards as the tact to get us (well you may not want to carry me along) there.


On to Hank’s next point about spending a “bundle” on the feel good speaker and asking for the rest to pay their way. Hank is right on. When I have given speeches or partaken of many a panel for the SOA or CIA (not the spooky one) my airfare is paid and there is free registration. Why do underwriters not have the same format for expenditure? If someone is good enough to prepare as a presenter why not pay their way. If the conference agenda and speaker profiles are good enough you can charge appropriately. I do like some of the motivational speakers though as it gives me new jokes to transpose as my own when in front of audiences in Edmonton or Mumbai. Hank, dare I say it,  is right on when he says this focus of cash outlay on one at the expense of many may be old school in today’s harsh realities. If location draws I say go for the Vegas and stay clear of Fargo. If the program is full f holes and fails to attract an audience the saving grace is that the coffers are swollen and the executive can live the good life for another year.


AHOU missed an opportunity to show it was not a “provincial” entity and understood the role of pioneers  when it failed to recognize one of the world’s best medical directors and author of the world’s best tomes on underwriting. Dr. Brackenridge lived underwriting. He wrote more than perhaps the rest of the world combined. His books are legend around the world. IF you are going to court to prove a point there is not better text to lay at the table of judgement on the importance of an impairment than one of Brackenridge’s books. He should have been awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award” first or second or third and moved down the pecking order those who subsequently received it as I am sure whoever chose them saw their merit and jut missed Brackenridge’s. He has left this world and perhaps left the need for more accolades to adorn his eulogy. Sadly we as an industry lost a great opportunity to collectively honour a pioneer and superstar. A little transparency as Hank states would go a long way in making the cynics become believers in the process, rules governing and who it is that stand in judgement.


The large grey head office of insurance is no longer the bastion of all the underwriters and perhaps not even it’s brightest as many have fled for areas of our vast domain that encourage radical thinking and action. Hank has said enough in his assertion that where you hang your hat as an underwriter need not be those omnipresent head offices that rarely are the nurturing birthplace of change.


Hank did an admirable and sufficiently eloquent bit of prose to describe the nurturing nature of local associations and how they fit. Right on.


Transparency took on a greater importance in light of the edition of On The Risk also publishing both Krinik and Dolan’s articles on underwriters and underwriting. We should call for open nominees for all roles and leadership of AHOU. We should have a real vote not a banana republic’s rubber stamp for those who may have just known the right person. I never know in advance what the leadership stands for nor why they want the position. But perhaps it is like all politics the majority of the constituents just do not give a tinker’s ___. If indeed the candidates before us are all who aspired to the roles then state that along the lines “Before you stand the only underwriters willing to stand for office so we have to put them in their roles.” I criticize as one who has been part of the charade and in fact stood speechless as one candidate was not even given a chance because some ancients said “he never wears a tie and suit!” Sounds like a good reason to me for telling him he will not even get a chance to participate with his skill set which indeed may not have included tying a Windsor knot. I was weak in that I did not resign in protest and that still haunts my memory.


LOMA’s role to me is to do the heavy lifting of association and annual meeting logistics taking the burden off those who should not have to either take on the burden themselves in an ever busy world or the spare staff contingent to handle those same logistics. They are experts at it. It is called outsourcing.


Hank concluded in a way to somewhat take the edge off the article but to me he missed the rare opportunity to say AHOU mission is the professionalism of its members and education is a means to an end. Medical associations do not get mired in the academic world. Accountants do see their purpose as education. Lawyers use their education to lead to their professional status to help others (okay there are exceptions and everyone knows the lawyer jokes).  I would rather Hank have said it is time to take another run at true professional recognition beyond our peers.


Thanks Hank you made me write for the magazine again and perhaps they will even publish it and thus spur more debate and lively interaction amongst all factions be they the select few or the engaged minions.