In April 14, 1928, representatives from eight life insurance companies and the Illinois Insurance Department met in Peoria, Ill., to discuss the uses of the John Hollerith’s tabulating machine. The group toured the Peoria Life Insurance Company and had lunch. And so began the Insurance Accounting and Systems Association.

From those eight founding firms, the IASA has grown to become the world’s largest organization of its kind, with over 1,500 member companies in all lines of insurance. Yet despite the many changes that have taken place over 83 years of growth at the IASA, one thing has stayed the same.

“Simply put, the IASA is focused  on how to do things better,” says David Skup,  controller, Guarantee Insurance Company, who served as IASA president the last time its conference was held in Nashville in 1998.

“We’ve also continued to target that objective the same way,” Skup adds. “We bring people together who deal with the same issues, problems, and systems in their daily work. They talk about how they do things in their own shops so that others can learn from them.”

Changes and Challenges

Unquestionably, much has changed in the insurance industry since Skup served as IASA president from 1997 to 1998. Consolidations have shrunk the number of carriers, while economic and market conditions have constricted their budgets. Technology has become a truly transformative force, and social media has exploded on the IT scene. Insurers also contend with an increasingly globalized market and with an ever-growing amount of regulation.

These developments have impacted the operations of the IASA over the past 13 years. Consider social media. “When I was president, use of the Web by insurers was in its infancy and social media was something that hadn’t even been envisioned,” Skup says. “Today, the IASA offers e-learning seminars and is using a wide variety of social media to keep members connected and to get our message to the marketplace.”

The IASA has also expanded its educational offerings over the past decade, Skup observes. “In 1998, we essentially had two textbooks—one for life and one for property-casualty—a quarterly magazine, and an annual conference,” he says.

Today, the organization has added educational offerings for life and health insurance accounting, a knowledge exchange for members, and several financial reporting software solutions. The IASA has also partnered with RR Donnelley to provide statutory financial accounting seminars.

The content of the IASA’s annual conference has also evolved to keep pace with current concerns and has expanded in scope to target members of the C-suite by adding an executive education series. This includes roundtables for chief financial, investment, operations, and information technology officers. And it has added an Executive Edge conference, separate from the annual conference, as well.

“Our roundtables have been immensely popular,” Skup says. “We essentially carved topics out of the technical sessions that attendees told us would be of interest to executives, then partnered with experts in the field to provide no-nonsense information that people could immediately put to use.”

The success of this effort has been undeniable. “We’ve gone from about 15 percent of our attendance coming from the C-suite to about 50 percent in the past 13 years,” Skup says.

Volunteer Power

Growth in attendance has coincided with an expansion in the scope of the conference itself, defying an industry trend where other organizations have seen their annual conventions shrink.

“I attribute our growth to the enthusiasm and ability of our volunteers, an energized and reorganized board of directors, and extremely capable professional staff,” Skup says.

That reorganization included splitting the board into two groups: one that focuses on strategic direction, and one that focuses on operations. Skup says that the volunteer base has also grown considerably over the past decade.

“Despite consolidation in the insurance industry, we’ve been able to increase the voluntarism that powers the IASA,” he says. “We’ve also added more volunteers from vendors and outside partners that have more resources available for working with the industry and detailed domain expertise.”

The IASA’s professional staff has increased from four to eight since Skup was president. “Even though we are a volunteer-driven organization, there came a point at which the operational demands were too much to expect volunteers to handle,” Skup says. “This is especially true for the annual conference, where professionals who can devote full-time resources to marketing can help propel interest and exposure beyond what volunteers can do.”

Yet despite the increase in professional staff and the expansion of educational offerings, membership costs have remained relatively unchanged over the past 13 years. “One of the things the IASA is most proud of over all these years is that the cost of providing the educational opportunities to our members hasn’t changed significantly,” Skup says.

“We’ve kept our costs down by increasing volunteers, getting additional advertising commitments, and looking to nontraditional areas of fundraising and revenue generation so we don’t have to burden our members with hefty fee increases,” he adds.

In the coming years, Skup expects to see the IASA expand its educational offerings even more into new products and new delivery methods.

“We’ll see the association continuing to move into new areas of education. We will continue to increase our electronic offerings to members, using the Web, social media, and other channels to provide education in a convenient format and at a low cost,” he says. “I also expect to see the IASA continue to partner with more organizations where we can lend our expertise and name recognition, and they can provide resources to help us expand the scope of what we offer,” Skup adds.

But no matter what tactical changes come, the strategic focus of the IASA will remain unchanged. “We will always remember why we were founded and why we exist today,” Skup says. “We are here to provide a forum for insurance professionals to discover how to do things better, to learn from each other and, ultimately, to put that education to use in our own careers.”