Self-professed gear head Russell A. Smith began his career as a life insurance agent for a large Midwestern insurance company. He spent his days knocking on doors and his nights serving up hearty helpings of Budweiser and Corona.
“That only lasted for about five months because I recognized that I could do much better with my day job. So I quit the bartending job and concentrated 100 percent on my day job,” Smith explains.
He devoted himself and his time to learning everything about the financial services industry and wound up working in a bank lobby where he sold insurance products to bank customers, which he likens to “shooting fish in barrel.” It was his time spent in the bank – and with the bank’s senior customers – that led him to a practice dedicated to seniors.
So in 1992, Smith kicked open the doors to his practice, Torimax Financial Group Inc. in Canyon Lake, Calif., which has blossomed into a $17 million financial planning company dedicated to serving seniors.
Senior Market Advisor: What attracted you to the senior market?
Russell A. Smith: Well, there are several aspects. No. 1, it’s daytime work. In the regular insurance business, if you are dealing with the average family, you are meeting with them in the evening. That takes away from family time and I didn’t really like that. But seniors are retired, so it is daytime work. More importantly, though, they need the help, they want the help and they appreciate the help. My clientele are also friends of mine.
SMA: How is your business structured?
RAS: There are two aspects to my business. The corporation is Torimax Financial Group, which handles primarily all of the fixed insurance business. I also have R.A.S. Financial Services, which is a sole proprietorship, focused on the registered rep side of the business – mutual funds, variable annuities and the like.
SMA: Are you fee based or commission based?
RAS: Primarily commission based. But I will say that we’re making more of a transition to the managed money fee-based-type planning.
SMA: Do you see that as a trend in the industry?
RAS: If you believe the press, it is a trend, but I think it depends on the situation. I read a statistic that only about 3 percent of the population really needs full on financial planning. I don’t know whether that’s true. We take a financial planning approach with all of our clients. We try to identify their needs, goals and objectives. Then and only then do we offer up a course of action. But more and more, I see that the fee-based approach makes sense for long-term savings.
SMA: How do you attract and retain clients?
RAS: We retain our clients with an exemplary level of service. We’re there for our clients when they need us. We stay in constant contact with them quarterly. We do a monthly newsletter mailing, we do anniversary letters and we do client appreciation events. We really pay attention to maintaining our existing clientele.
That’s how we get referrals.
A large part of our business is personal referrals – but we don’t ask for referrals directly. We promote the concept that we accept referrals through something like this: Every time we talk to a client, at the end, whether it be in person or on the phone, whether it be me or my assistant, we close with something like the following: “By the way, I know you’re not thinking of anybody right now, but if you knew of somebody that could benefit by talking to us, you’d refer them to us, correct?” And we wait for the affirmative response. It’s always, “Well, of course we would.” So we plant that seed that we do indeed accept referrals and, by goodness, we get them.
The other thing we do is some prospect mailings. We definitely market to our prospect list, but the personal referrals are a major part.
SMA: How do you incorporate seminars into your strategy?
RAS: At one time we did them on a regular basis, meaning twice a month. Now we do them as needed – maybe once a quarter or every six months. There are a lot of people doing seminars. Prospective clients have become very circumspect.
Therefore, we’re selective when we do seminars.
The last part of it, and the part I’m really trying to develop, is I’m trying to gain clientele in the areas of my personal interests. I’m a gear head, which means I’m a car nut – actually, a hot rod nut. I build them, I buy them, and I show them. I really like that. It’s really fun for me. I found that I can use my love of hot rods to market my business.
SMA: Can you explain how you market at car shows?
RAS: For example, I will go to a car show with one of my cars. I will have a placard on an easel in front of my car and on top of it, it says ?owned by Torimax Financial Group.’