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Insurance association celebrates 100th birthday

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by Ruth Scott

SBJ Contributing Writer

"Making a Difference Since 1899" is the theme of the Missouri Association of Insurance Agents as it celebrates its centennial year.

The MAIA was established in 1899 in St. Louis as an outgrowth of a local organization, according to Judy Bish, MAIA director of public relations. Now located in Jefferson City, the association represents more than 670 independent insurance agencies.

In honor of its 100th year, MAIA is sponsoring a national art competition, Bish said. "We've asked artists from all over to submit works of art featuring the theme 'Independence,' since the members of the association are independent insurance agents," she said.

The winning work of art will be reproduced as a print and given to each member of the association.

The annual convention, which will be held July 29-31 at Tan-Tar-A Resort, will be the "grand finale of the month-long observance of our centennial," Bish said. The three-day event will include social events, education sessions, a trade show and a centennial exhibition featuring photos and historic insurance memorabilia.

Dick Jackson, president and chief executive officer of Barker Phillips Jackson Insurance Agency, is gathering memorabilia to be displayed at the convention. Jackson's father joined the association in 1935. "We have lots of old pictures, articles and plaques," he said.

MAIA's history will be published in a booklet, which will be available this summer.

"It has been hard to hang on to records, especially since the organization has moved around the state," Bish said. An intern from the University of Missouri spent a summer researching and collecting the documentation to complete the project.

The organization changed names several times over the course of 100 years and consolidated with the Professional Independent Insurance Agents of Missouri in 1992. But its name is not the only thing that has changed.

"Automation has become very prevalent," said Ron Ollis, president of Ollis & Company Insurors. "That's been a tremendous change."

According to Jackson, technology has enabled the association to become more effective.

"Information didn't used to flow as quickly. (The association) was more reactive, but now it has become more proactive. They see things in advance, so they are able to prohibit actions that could have a negative effect," he said.

Ollis & Company, founded in 1885, has been a long-time member of the association.

According to Ron Ollis, "The association in the last 30 years has become a lot more active in the political scene, primarily to protect the insuring public."

One of MAIA's main goals is to be involved in the political arena, primarily to protect consumers and to promote good insurance laws, Ollis said.

The MAIA is not a sales-oriented organization, Jackson said, but rather a coverage- or regulation-oriented association.

"It is primarily a consumer-driven organization," he said. "The better trained and informed insurance agents are, the better informed choices they can give the customer."

An important goal of the association, Ollis said, is the education of the insurance community.

"They are very instrumental in the education of new agents, as well as in continuing education for agents."

He added that continuing education is required for anyone in the insurance business.

According to Ollis, some of this education takes place at the annual convention for all members, as well as at two other conventions focused on young agents and small agencies, respectively.

According to Bish, a lot of consolidation has taken place, and there are fewer small, independent insurance agencies. "Still, 75 percent of our members are small agencies," she said.

"The association also does a nice job in playing its part to keep good relationships between insurance agencies and companies," Ollis said. "Hopefully it's a win-win situation, as agents work together for the betterment of themselves and the industry."

Bish said she foresees the organization growing in the future.

She said it is often difficult for agents to stay on top of everything going on in the industry, but MAIA helps them do just that.

Jackson agreed. "Insurance is a highly regulated industry, and the association can put current information together and get it to me much more quickly than I could get it on my own," he said, adding that MAIA also provides a chance to network with other agencies and companies. "The more I saw the value of it, the more I got involved."

Because of the centennial celebration, Bish said, "We anticipate a larger crowd this year," with attendance projected to be more than 1,000.

"It's kind of exciting to be a member of an association that is 100 years old," Ollis said. "There are a lot of organizations around that don't have that kind of longevity."

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