AEs Share Their Biggest Successes and Challenges

The RAE Editorial Board asked AEs: What has been your biggest success this year and what issues still keep you up at night? Answers were as diverse as the associations themselves. From small associations to state associations, nationwide, AEs not only face a variety of challenges but also count an abundance of successes.

Challenge: Local Mergers

"I look at the big picture as a concern. That is, if associations continue to merge, I fear the individualization of the membership could be in jeopardy. I understand that too small is a problem; we all can think of some examples of that. But when is large too large? At what point does the member become just a number or just another payment? How large an area of coverage can an association realistically manage from an advocacy perspective or even just a local cultural feel? The industry needs to consolidate; that's not a question in my mind. But there are also examples of when tiny associations need to exist. MLSs, however, are in a different category. Although the human element is always important, an MLS's role can be handled better in larger segments because, to a certain degree, they are all about data and numbers. As an example, for the most part, state laws don't really impact the services an MLS provides but they do impact those that an association performs."  

— Jim Haisler, RCE, CEO, Heartland REALTOR® Organization, Ill., 850 members

Success: Distance Education

"Last year we implemented our distance-learning simulcast training initiative, and this year we will simulcast 400 education programs from our central Dallas office to our five service center locations throughout Dallas/Fort Worth with high-definition audio and video and unilateral communication between all six locations. The end result is a high-definition learning experience regardless of location. All students share the same user experience with only one instructor teaching the class on camera. The instructor and all attendees can see each other on screen and be able to have an in-classroom user experience. The value of this hybrid platform is convenience. Our members have a quality experience without dealing with high travel times from suburban areas to our central Dallas location."

— Rich Thomas, CEO, MetroTex Association of REALTORS®, Texas, 15,700 members 

Success: New Headquarters

"Our biggest success was purchasing a new headquarters building that is more centrally located in our jurisdiction. The new building provides more staff office space, a classroom, and more rental space. I learned that members are excited for the move and that they are looking forward to being better served."

— Nicole Banbor, RCE, AE, Middlesex County Association of REALTORS®, N.J., 2,500 members

Challenge: Relevancy

"The biggest issue that we all face is the downward pressure, or disruption—or whatever hipster word of the day you want to use—when it comes to the future of real estate associations. It seems that our future is being dictated to us by external forces: consumerism, connectivity, mobility, new generation models, broadband, portals. These external forces have access to megacapital and each one is causing transformational and fundamental shifts in every industry, real estate especially. So if we consider these forces to be warning signs and add in the dissatisfaction of the real estate status quo from the very top to the very bottom, then we have a recipe for some very interesting times. Consolidation of associations and MLSs may not be a panacea to the larger problem of relevance for local associations, no matter the size. NAR is doing a great job going head-to-head with some of these external forces, which will certainly delay things, but I think it's vitally incumbent upon us locals to create additional revenue streams well outside of our industry.

— Andrew Cooper, CIPS, CEO, Arcadia Association of REALTORS®, Calif., 2,200 members

Challenge: Core Standards

"The first year of Core Standards was definitely the issue that kept me awake. We would forget to photograph an event or we couldn't get enough board members to take on a chunk of the standards and work on them independently. For months, Core Standards was the entire focus of  every board meeting. The second time around, we knew more of what to expect, and I asked more of the board and committees. The moment I pressed ‘Submit Core Standards,' I immediately felt tremendous relief."

— Pamela Bouldin, AE, Westmoreland West REALTOR® Board, Pa., 500 members

Challenge: Small Staff

"The issue that I struggle with is having a small staff. Our membership count is at 2,500 and we have three staff members, including me as executive officer. I plan to increase the number of employees when we move into our new headquarters building later this year so staff can work efficiently and our association can better promote our products and services."

— Nicole Banbor, RCE, AE, Middlesex County Association of REALTORS®, N.J., 2,500 members

Success: Commercial Exchange

"The biggest success for me this year has been the creation and rollout of the Tri-State Commercial Properties Information Exchange. The exchange is the culmination of an almost two-year journey in which we have looked for ways to better connect with those commercial practitioners who choose not to join an association. We are the first and only commercial information exchange in the New York metropolitan area, and our growth in the number of commercial practitioners has been steady. What I've taken away from this experience is that when an association thinks outside the box, options often emerge that give the association the means to provide relevant services to its members and in so doing, create benefits. For my association, TSCPIX is a prime example of such thinking."

— Mary Cano, RCE, CEO, North Central Jersey Association of REALTORS®, N.J., 8,500 members

Success & Challenge: Core Standards

"Success and challenge go hand in hand. For us this past year, our biggest challenge has also led to some of our best successes." [Kansas experienced a lot of change as a result of the Core Standards; the number of local associations dropped from 34 to 14. This move nearly doubled MAR's territory.] "The expansion of our territory, changes in staff, and Core Standards have all resulted in our needing to focus on the priorities that really matter. We've done membership surveys and held open discussions to determine what really matters to our members and have committed to doing those things and letting go of others. The success from this has been that we are more confident we are providing the benefits our members truly desire. It's important to me that we keep the personalized experience that being a small association allows us to offer. Determining our top priorities has helped us do this.

— Margaret Pendleton, AE, Manhattan Association of REALTORS®, Kan., 230 members

Success: Member Service

"My biggest success in my first year here  was changing the dynamic of our relationship with our members, making sure they know that they come first. Although I've been an association executive for more than 30 years, this is the first time I've worked for a small, local association and the first time in the real estate field. We're a small board compared with our New Jersey neighbors, so we focus on individualized member services—a boutique operation—where customer service is our primary focus. I believe our members value that specialized attention and commitment."

— Jill Berman Levy, CEO, West Essex Board of REALTORS®, Montclair, N.J., 530 members

Success: Hiring Experience

"Human resource issues in any organization can be challenging, and, frankly, hiring someone new can amount to a flip of a coin as to whether they will be effective, work well with others, and be really as qualified as they appear on paper. Rarely do you have an opportunity to hire someone who has already proven themselves in the eyes of your membership and has ability, knowledge, and resources. Fortunately, I was able convince Dave Bert, former CEO of the Iowa Association of REALTORS®, to work for our local association in community advocacy and broker involvement after his retirement from IAR. Since his arrival at the beginning of this year, he has initiated a program with our REALTOR® Party committee to get 100 percent of our members registered to vote, has written numerous grants, gotten our association involved in the NAR Consumer Advocacy program, and met with many of our mayors and city officials on local real estate issues."

— Sharon R. Carlson, RCE, CEO, Quad City Area REALTOR® Association, Iowa, 860 members

Success: Advocacy

"Our biggest success was hiring a third-party government relations firm to help us with our local advocacy efforts. Our staff wear many hats but no one person can really devote the time needed or truly have the skills required to fulfill this role well. Using this firm has given us the ability to get a seat at the table, often when the discussion on issues is just getting started, which is what we want. It has allowed us to be more proactive in our advocacy instead of reactive. Our director of events and government affairs coordinator still handle much of the communication between GNAR and our elected officials and between us and Hall Strategies. At the end of the day, the firm can only truly do the legwork of informing us on issues and giving us advice, and then we need our members to take whatever action is needed. And REALTOR® organizations are always in a good position to do that with all the connections we have in the community."

— Jarron Springer, CEO, Greater Nashville Association of REALTORS®, Tenn., 3,900 members

Success: Earning My RCE

"Achieving my RCE designation in March was both a personal and a professional commitment I made to myself and to establish a stronger foundation for my organization. It strengthened the core association management skills that I had and provided refreshers on information in areas that I don't deal with on a daily basis, so expanding those skills was important, too. Meeting with Donna Garcia from NAR [during the free, 30-minute session with human resources advisers that are offered at all NAR meetings] was one of the best things I could have done, as I felt I had an advocate on my side. She helped me to recognize the value having my RCE brings to my association, and she helped me work on how I communicate that value to my board."

— Denise Schultz, RCE, CEO, Lakes Area REALTORS® Association, Wis., 500 members

Success: Merger

"My biggest success in the last year is also the thing that keeps me up at night. Last year we merged with two other associations, increasing our jurisdiction from three to 11 counties. One association was contiguous while the other larger one was approximately 120 miles away. We also merged MLS systems with the larger association. The MLS merger went very smooth but we are still working out the kinks in the association merger. To help compensate for the distance between the two, a chapter was established to allow for some discretion as to the conduct of local charitable, political and networking activities and the allocation of chapter reserves. The chapter has an elected president who is a member of our board of directors, as well as a president-elect, and is guided by an advisory committee. We are looking to close the distance via the use of technology, such as webinars, live webcasts, and teleconferencing."

— Dan Sale, RCE, CAE, CEO, Capital Area REALTORS®, Ill., 630 members

Challenge: Provide Value

"As quickly as the real estate industry changes, it is always a challenge to show value to our members and MLS participants relative to their dues and fees. We strive to provide quality resources and tools, but more third parties or even brokerages are providing similar services. Identifying member needs and how we can provide better service to meet those needs is important, and in 2016 we will make better use of available data to identify our member needs. Quality customer service is also a high priority. We will be holding quarterly customer service workshops for our staff to ensure that we take ownership of our members' needs and work diligently to solve any problems they might be facing."

— Rich Thomas, CEO, MetroTex Association of REALTORS®, Texas, 15,700 members

Success: ADA Compliance

"Our greatest success here has been a remodeling project to move our classroom space to a dedicated location that is ADA compliant. Some inventive shuffling of staff to other areas of our building has netted us a classroom that does not double as the board of directors room."

— Mary Ann Wissel, RCE, e-PRO, CEO, Ocean County Board of REALTORS®, N.J., 1,660 members

Success: Commercial

"In May, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our Commercial Alliance of REALTORS®. I have been with the association from the start and my appreciation for the commitment of the commercial brokerage community in West Michigan continues to grow. The board's directors chose to invite the entire membership, at no cost, to an anniversary party complete with a great appetizer hour for networking and a full sit-down dinner. Nearly 150 members attended and shared in the celebration of the growth and success of the association. We have learned much in the past decade and we can apply those lessons into growing benefits for the membership."

— Shari Veldman, RCE, AE, Commercial Alliance of REALTORS®, Mich., 320 members

Success: Raising Professionalism

"One of our biggest success stories is our member professionalism program, the Gold Key Certification, which focuses on professionalism in the industry, customer service, risk management, consumer behavior, and best practices. We launched it last year, and we already have 1,100 certified members, who receive a pin and certificate and recognition on ORRA's website, as well as the ability to use the Gold Key logo. When all members in an office are certified, the office can then be certified and use the logo in its marketing as well. We budget for this training and offer it free to all members."

— Jacque Stanly, RCE, CIPS, EVP, Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association, Fla., 12,716 members

Challenge: Member Engagement

"Trying to communicate the value of membership and how to engage the members to be a part of the association is a continual challenge. Our members' time is valuable, and trying to increase their engagement with the association while they balance life and work is challenging. We are always trying to find new ways to communicate with our members. Currently, we're working to expand our social media presence."

— Larry W. Johnson, RCE, AE, Arlington Board of REALTORS®, Texas, 1,740 members

Success: Member Service

"The past year has been like adding another story to a skyscraper in that we continue to build and grow while offering more programs and services for less money to a very diverse membership. Today members pay $132 less in combined dues and MLS fees than they did 16 years ago—a rather remarkable achievement while we remained debt-free. Other successes this year included a expansion of the REALTORS® Who Care Program, our 501(c)3 charitable arm; investment in RPAC at the Platinum level for the third year in a row; and a new program, the "100 for $100" program, in which rebates of $100 are made available to each of the first 100 members registering for the state convention. Plus, we bought an association vehicle we call a rolling billboard. With it we deliver the message at major parades and highly visible places along the Lakeshore that "West Michigan is a Great Place to Call Home."

— Dale Zahn, RCE, CEO, West Michigan Lakeshore Association of REALTORS®, Mich., 922 members

Success: Governance Structure Redo

"Our largest and most successful initiative to date was overhauling our governing structure in 2015. It was humorously referred to as the ‘New World Order' and it was a big change. We knew that efficiency didn't come from an executive team of 23 and a board of directors of 58 when our full state membership count was around 2,000. Although there was an overwhelming sense and need for change, it was important to begin with conversations and then work toward getting leadership ‘buy-in' so they could see the true benefits. After weeks of phone calls, meetings, and presentations from skilled consultants, the leadership voted   to move forward with a much-reduced executive team of four along with 17 board members. Working under the new structure and making changes took patience, understanding, and extensive leadership training."

— Guyla Greenly, RCE, e-PRO®, CEO, Wyoming Association of REALTORS®, 2,000 members

Success: Affordable Housing

"Hosting an affordable housing program in our distressed city was our greatest success this year. Many potential buyers didn't realize they could afford and qualify to buy a home. They didn't even try because they didn't think it was a possibility until they came to our event. It is hard to get local officials to support you in these types of programs even though the area would greatly benefit."

— Della Csehoski, RCE, CEO, Cambria Somerset Association of REALTORS®, Pa., 169 members

Challenge: Legal Education

"Getting members to listen and understand the legal issues and threats to their business and the real estate industry is a huge challenge. Patent trolls, wire fraud, ADA websites—you have to get the brokers to acknowledge the issues, then help them reduce their risk. It feels like you are beating your head against the wall because they feel insulated from these issues in their small areas. We are constantly brainstorming to get members to take these things seriously. Fortunately, my elected leaders are very supportive and do recognize the issues, and brokers trust me to alert them to hot issues so they can try to reach out to the rest of the membership."

— Della Csehoski, RCE, CEO, Cambria Somerset Association of REALTORS®, Pa., 169 members

Success: Branding

"Sometimes the little things matter a lot. When I arrived at DAR last fall, it was apparent that the association needed an updated and more polished look, so we immediately took to creating a new logo that accurately reflected the activities of a REALTOR® state association. We chose to feature the iconic Delaware Legislative Hall. A graphic designer created an updated version with contemporary colors. As a state association, we needed our materials to have more gravitas. So with no planned budget, we took advantage of an economical online printing company, and received stationery and business cards in just two weeks. It was quick and cheap but not really the quality we were looking for, so my advice: When you buy on the fly, don't buy in bulk!"

— Anne Rendle, RCE, CEO, Delaware Association of REALTORS®, 3,819 members

Success: Housing Affordability

"We've had success recently in boosting our profile as champions of housing affordability. As Fort Collins has grown, it has attracted many young professionals, but this is making it difficult for average wage earners to maintain their current lifestyles and culture in the city. To become known as the voice for real estate, we've worked diligently to gain the community's trust. We distribute copies of NAR's On Common Ground magazine, we provide valuable resources on our website and social media about affordability, and we author a monthly column in the local newspaper. This all has made a huge impact."

— Clint Skutchan, RCE, CEO, Fort Collins Board of REALTORS®, Colo., 1,050 members

Success: Corporate Ally Program

"We've recently become involved in growing the REALTOR® Party's Corporate Ally Program, where we tap MLSs, broker members, and corporate partners to back REALTOR® champions and issues that impact our industry. I'm grateful to have this program as another tool in our arsenal that allows us to be a key player in this political environment and navigate key real estate issues now and in the future. For every contribution we get to the program, half goes to supporting federal campaigns and the other half supports local and state campaigns…it's really a win-win for all involved."

— Norman Morris, CEO, Louisiana REALTORS® Association, 12,760 members

Success & Challenge: Core Standards

"My biggest success and challenge was the Core Standards. I'm a part-time AE for two boards, and there was a lot of work that had to be done by me and the elected leaders to get their paperwork submitted on time, but we did it. Even now, keeping up with both boards' paperwork and Core Standard requirements is a challenge because the membership pool is so small and attracting volunteers is not easy, along with not having big budgets. It's frustrating that even though I'm part-time, I get calls all day and sometimes on the weekend. Yet, the bright spot is that my directors on both boards appreciate and support me and try to help out by keeping Facebook up-to-date and other things." 

— CheryI Devereaux, AE, Warren County and Allegheny Valley boards of REALTORS®, Pa., 150 members

Success: RPAC

"One of our biggest successes this past year was launching a culture change concerning advocacy and fundraising for RPAC. We had our most successful year in recruiting LDC investors; we created an internship to use the talents of political science students to help in advocacy efforts.  We hosted our first-ever RPAC auction, participated in face-to-face office visits, and created more membership education opportunities to learn why investing in RPAC is an investment in your business. Also, our GAD, Bruce King, is constantly embracing my "crazy out-of-the-box ideas" and has the willingness to try most anything when it comes to advocacy. Not only are we changing our culture, we are having fun doing it!"

— Brenda J. Barnhardt, e-PRO®, EVP, REALTORS® Association of Northwestern Wisconsin, 750 members

Success: Member Service

"My biggest priority is in helping keep the REALTOR® vital to the transaction. Because we have our own MLS, we generate a lot of data, and I have interactions with many data vendors, including the big syndication sites and various other vendors who provide custom IDX solutions and other technology services for my members. Every one of those vendors needs that data both to provide services and make a profit, but with so many hands on the data, it's critical to the mission of the association that we make sure those tools and services serve the best interests of members and don't overshadow the critical role played by the REALTOR®. To address this, I look at everything we do to see if it meets at least one of two tests: Does it make our members more profitable and professional, or does it keep them out of trouble? If we focus on those two areas, our goals will always work toward keeping the REALTOR® vital to the transaction."

— Marty Manion, RCE, CAE, CEO, Naples Area Board of REALTORS®, Fla., 5,470 members

Challenge: Attracting Leaders

"An aging leadership and a lack of young members showing desire to get involved in leading the association are concerns for us, like for so many other associations. One indication of this continuing trend is the lack of company leadership turnover, leaving the association without ideas for new prospects. We had hoped that our YPN would be an avenue to identify and groom future leadership, but the young professionals kept gravitating toward social events over philanthropic or advocacy-based activities. Plus, it's a challenge to keep a young professionals network exclusive to the group for whom it was intended. Consequently, it's a fully inclusive group of long-standing volunteers, which ultimately alienates the younger members back into the masses. We plan to support members who show interest in the state association's leadership development program so we can guide them on to the path of local leadership."

— Mike Cotrill, RCE, Greater Tulsa Association of REALTORS®, 3,500 members

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Challenge: Raising the Bar

"What keeps me up at night? Trying to please all members all the time. It's a constant challenge to be at the top of our game, offering exceptional service since that's what we are all about. We've built a culture of excitement and service—selling the ‘sizzle' and not just the steak can be challenging. We have nearly 65 percent RPAC participation when our mind set is that it should be 100 percent."

— Dale Zahn, RCE, CEO, West Michigan Lakeshore Association of REALTORS, Mich., 922 members

Success & Challenge: Core Standards

"My biggest success and challenge was the Core Standards. I'm a part-time AE for two boards and there was a lot of work that had to be done by me and the elected leaders to get their paperwork submitted on time, but we did it. Even now, keeping up with both boards' paperwork and Core Standard requirements is a challenge because the membership pool is so small and attracting volunteers is not easy, along with not having big budgets. It's frustrating that even though I'm part-time, I get calls all day and sometimes on the weekend. Yet, the bright spot is that my directors on both boards appreciate and support me and try to help out by keeping Facebook up to date and other things." 

— CheryI Devereaux, AE, Warren County and Allegheny Valley boards of REALTORS, Pa., 150 members

Challenge: Keeping Up with Technology

"Modernizing our technology is currently a big challenge. Like many associations, we have a lot of antiquated technology. At my previous association, I had a staff of 10, including an IT director who was always in the know about the latest gadgets and apps. At the state association, we don't have a dedicated IT professional. Yet, luckily, I've been able to convince a local association IT director to help us out and get DAR headed in the right direction."

— Anne Rendle, CEO, RCE, Delaware Association of REALTORS®, 3,819 members

Challenge: Technology

"In late 2015 I returned to the REALTOR® family after several years as CEO of an association in a different industry. The biggest success in my first six months has been working with staff and vendors to upgrade our technology and enhance how we communicate with members. We are almost finished upgrading all internal technology; everything from upgrading aging desktops to enhanced streaming and recording capabilities in our conference center, along with removing many internal servers and making use of Amazon Web Services cloud computing. These efficiencies will make better use of staff time and enable us to do more for our members. These technology upgrades naturally lead to upgrades in member communications. We are currently revamping our association website, our Member Guide Book and our various e-newsletters in an attempt to give our members concise information and not overwhelm them with multiple messages on the same topic. Staff buy-in has been extremely positive and their input is so valuable to the process."

— Marty Manion, CAE, RCE, CEO, Naples Area Board of Realtors, Fla., 5471 members

Success: Outsourcing Government Affairs

"We outsourced our government affairs involvement and it's been very successful. Due to the lack of local government activity, a full-time staff member in that role simply did not make sense for Tulsa. It's an area that deserves concentrated expertise in its area, so combining it with another position could leave one or the other underserved. Therefore, outsourcing the job turned out to be a good fit."

— Mike Cotrill, RCE, Greater Tulsa Association of REALTORS®, 3507 members

Challenge: Getting More Out of Volunteers

"The issue that keeps me up at night is the workload, since the implementation of the Core Standards the concern of doing enough to remain certified is high. However it is more about developing a system that will streamline processes and creating a schedule that will work for the association as a whole. Part of that streamline process will involve a change in committee focus. Committees can no longer be idea bound; meaning they can no longer come up with the idea or event and then expect staff to implement it. Committees will need to be part of the implementation process as well. I don't feel this will be an issue at our association because our members are very involved and feel this would be a way for them to take more ownership in the association."

— Paula Hall, EO, Central Wisconsin Board of REALTORS

Success: Community Outreach

"Our members truly see the value in community outreach. In the last year alone, we participated in our area home show, helped paint a local home for a needy family, and held a food drive where our goal was to raise 2,000 pounds of food—and we were only 40 pounds short of doubling that."

— Margaret Pendleton, AE, Manhattan Association of Realtors®, Kan., 234 members

Success: Legislative Priorities

"There have been a few legislative hot issues in our area, and we have some members who are strongly in favor of our local association taking a position and others who strongly feel that we should not. Yet identifying our priorities has helped us to focus on those issues that are most important to the industry."

— Margaret Pendleton, AE, Manhattan Association of Realtors®, Kan., 234 members

Challenge: Core Standards

"Although the National Association of Realtors considers us—with 529 primary and 64 secondary Realtor members—a midsize association, we are small compared to neighboring boards, one of which has an office just two miles away. We are competing for membership with boards with nearly 20 times our membership, whose dues are lower, whose staffs are larger, whose educational offerings are broader and whose social events are less expensive. And yet the Core Standards hold us to the same level of service to our members and outreach to our communities, making it hard to achieve the Core Standards and frustrating to compete with other local boards."

— Jill Berman Levy, CEO, West Essex Board of Realtors®, Montclair, N.J., 530 members

Challenge: Relevancy

"Our focus right now as part of our strategic planning process is identifying and rebranding who we are as an association and determining what is our diverse value proposition." [Springer says his biggest concern is the future of associations and the branding he believes is needed to stay current.] "We need to be relevant to all our members, and members have different reasons for engaging. I believe associations need to ask themselves, ‘Are we providing value as though it is a truly competitive marketplace for members?' "

— Jarron Springer, CEO, Greater Nashville Association of Realtors®, Tenn., 3,900 members

Challenge: Leadership Training

"The issue that keeps me up at night is the need for effective leadership training that turns Realtors® into strong, effective volunteer leaders in association management. Realtors® can be very successful in their careers but not have a clear and defined understanding of their role as a volunteer leader. This and recruiting new faces into leadership are among our biggest challenges."

— Denise Schultz, RCE, CEO, Lakes Area Realtors® Association, Wis., 500 members

Success: Expanding Staff

"Not long ago, our organization was forced to reduce its staff by laying off a valuable employee. This past year, our membership numbers had rebounded well enough that we were able to hire two part-time employees to help fill the role of that previous staff person. By hiring two part-time people, we gained some much-needed flexibility. These two staff people each have different roles–one handles education while the other manages our lockbox system. Although they are cross-trained among all ‘front-end' duties, their specialization has helped us perform each of those duties better."

— Jim Haisler, RCE, CEO, Heartland REALTOR Organization, Ill., 850 members

"Our greatest success has been our membership growth and involvement. Our numbers have quadrupled without a merger. We took the time to distribute surveys and called the members and asked what they wanted from us, and the results were surprising. We eliminated general membership meetings and instead focused on educational events and training scattered through the year. We send regular membership emails with important information several times a month, and I'm available to the members seven days and week and evenings to better fit their schedules. Between me and other board members, we try and meet every agent through offices visits, and we pay attention to the budget and our dues. By actually asking what the members wanted and making those changes, we've had great success."

— Pamela Bouldin, CEO, AE, Westmoreland West Realtor Board, Pa., 500 members

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