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With Congress in the midst of massive financial regulatory reform, the trade group that represents companies that sell annuities and variable life insurance products, is undergoing a revamping of its own.

After a nearly 11-month transition period, the Association for Insured Retirement Solutions, also known as NAVA, is announcing a complete re-branding today, including changing its name to the Insured Retirement Institute.

The overhaul comes after the trade group made a strategic decision to change its mission to more broadly promote consumer confidence in insured retirement products, which provide a guaranteed retirement income.

The trade group, whose members include Allstate Financial Services, Hartford Life, Nationwide Financial and Wachovia Corp., is also increasing its inside-the-Beltway footprint by expanding its staff and moving its headquarters from Reston, Va., to downtown D.C.

“I thought we needed to have a lot more relevance with Americans and providing greater information and education to help them build better, sounder retirement plans,— said Cathy Weatherford, the group’s recently installed president, explaining the decision to transform the association.

“We needed greater relevance with the federal legislative process as well as the state and federal regulatory process because we are in a time when we all know financial [regulatory overhaul] is one of the top priorities of the administration and the Congress,— she added.

To execute the change in vision, Weatherford announced a complete reorganization of the trade group’s staff and outside consultants.

“I rebuilt and retooled and upgraded every position we had,— Weatherford said.

Only two of the original 10 staff members remain. She also decided to get rid of the group’s outside public relations and law firms, bringing those responsibilities in-house.

The trade association has grown to 17 employees, including former Ohio Insurance Commissioner Lee Covington, who is serving as general counsel and leads the association’s government affairs department.

John Little, former chief of staff to Republican Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), also recently joined the group.

Weatherford acknowledges that the newly named IRI has a long way to go on building relationships and name recognition on Capitol Hill.

“To be honest, they haven’t had a profile before,— said one insurance lobbyist.

NAVA spent nearly $200,000 in 2008 on federal lobbying, according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports.

Weatherford, who served as head of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners for the past 12 years, joined the association in September with the goal of overhauling the group.

Her arrival came almost a year after the group’s board made a decision to shake up the association.

“We just saw a once-in-a-moment chance to shape the organization and do that aggressively,— said Mark Casady, chairman and CEO of LPL Financial and IRI board of directors chairman.

“We need to become a best practices association, adhering to the highest ethical principles,— Weatherford added. “We needed to focus on the consumer and the 75 million Americans that are baby boomers who are planning or beginning to live in retirement.—

The Oklahoma native replaced Mark Mackey, who had led the association for 12 years. Under his direction, the group was largely focused on its regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and regulation of annuities products.

A Democrat, Weatherford has a long history in the insurance industry. She served as an elected insurance commissioner in Oklahoma for four years during the early 1990s.

Although many associations are facing contraction, IRI is looking to grow its membership, while at the same time undergoing an increase in its dues.

“This is an inexpensive association to belong to and there’s nothing wrong with that,— Casady said.

But with the increase in services it is providing, they expect to increase dues and also bring in individual financial advisers from companies as members under the association’s umbrella, according to Casady.

“This changes our profile of advocacy on the Hill … to say we represent this many insurance companies, this many money managers, and it will be north of 100,000 individual advisers within the next couple of years,— Casady said.

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