AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
A COMMON AGENDA
Southgate Jones Jr., president of the Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA) and president of J. Southgate & Son Inc., Durham, N.C., was sitting in a hotel lobby waiting to testify before congressional leaders when he got the news.
"I was dumbfounded," Jones says slowly in a Carolina drawl. "Headquarters had been getting calls from the media even before we received the letter."
The letter to which Jones refers arrived later that afternoon. Dated July 16 and only four paragraphs long, the letter from Richard Yingling, president of IIAA's longtime rival, the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) and president of Yingling-Mauzy Agency, Kalamazoo, Mich., asked to "set aside . . . traditional differences and competition" and to meet with the PIA within 30 days to examine how the two giant trade groups could be "combined under one organizational structure."
The idea of merger negotiations with the PIA was dizzying to IIAA officials. For 10 years the "Big I"--as it likes to refer to itself--had extended the olive branch to the PIA for such discussions. Approximately a half-dozen times, merger talks had taken place between the two organizations. Each time the PIA board of directors had demurred, claiming that competition between the two groups best served the needs of independent agents. This impasse prompted IIAA to decline overtures from PIA for joint association activities until recently, when both groups worked as a team to support the efforts of the Alliance for Separation of Banking and Insurance.
PIA's anti-merger philosophy was accentuated by the board's passage of a resolution in 1983 that prohibited PIA from conducting merger discussions with any other groups. In 1988, when a large insurance company attempted to broker a meeting between IIAA and PIA to discuss a merger, PIA said it was constrained by its 1983 resolution.
But at its July board meeting this year in Vancouver, B.C., PIA revoked the restrictive 1983 resolution by a two-thirds board majority. In his letter to Jones, Yingling states: "PIA believes the issues of the day and the immediate future are of such magnitude to independent insurance agents and the property/casualty insurance marketplace that they demand our collective efforts."
In a subsequent interview, Yingling elaborated further. "Quite frankly, I have been uncomfortable with the '83 …