As the major television networks interrupted regular programming in March 2003 to cover the beginning of the war in Iraq, Americans watched the battles unfold. Dave Much saw the action, too – as a participant on his way to Baghdad.

When most advisors say they have war stories, they’re talking about closing a tough sale or facing a skeptical seminar crowd. Much, CSA, owner of Much Financial Services in El Segundo, Calif., has actual war stories, something he says is a plus with seniors, who tend to be very patriotic. Now a lieutenant colonel in the Marine reserve, Much is a senior financial advisor who doesn’t mind standing in front of a crowd presenting seminars, even though his first one was a disaster.

“I didn’t write one piece of business,” he says, but at least no one was shooting at him. He stuck with it and claims seminars are now his main tool to attract new business. The combat veteran says his best sales job ever may have been convincing his wife, Tamberley that seminars were the way to go, especially after the first disaster and with two new mouths to feed – twins, Maximilian and Alexandra (Max and Lexi), born while he was at war. So which was scarier: coming home to kids or being in a war zone? “I think I was probably more scared having left with no kids and coming back with two kids” he says. “There’s a little more permanency to coming home to kids than running around dodging bullets.”

One weekend a month and two weeks a year are still dedicated to the Marines, training to protect his country. His work days are spent protecting the retirement assets of seniors in the Los Angeles area. His fall Saturdays are spent rooting for his beloved University of Southern California football team, a dedication that led to 12 members of the USC marching band playing at his wedding. (His wife is also a USC alum.) Glad to be home and running a business in an industry he loves, Much told me a bit of his war experience.

Senior Market Advisor: How long were you in Iraq?
Dave Much: I was there from the kickoff of the war. I went from the border all the way to Baghdad. We secured the U.N. compound in Baghdad and I lived there for about five days. Then, the regiment came over and saw that we got the power, the water, the electricity, the Internet and the phones back working, so they decided they wanted to move in there and us to move somewhere else.

SMA: So you left the country before your children were born?
DM: Yes, almost exactly a month prior to the start of the war, we left about February 20. We spent about a month out there in the desert in Kuwait and then we were there with the 1st Marine Division when the war kicked off. My battalion was the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, 1st Marine Division. We were the only reserve infantry battalion in the war.

SMA: How old were your twins before you finally got to see them?
DM: About three months. My wife went into labor the Tuesday after I left for the war. I think they were going to be early anyway, but I think with all the stress and running around and last-minute preparations, we went ahead and had them a little early. I was a little surprised when I got the Red Cross message announcing their birth. I was expecting it to be about two weeks later than it ended up being. So I was a little concerned at first whether they were all right with them coming that early, but they spent three weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and came home the day the war started.

SMA: What did you learn from that whole experience?
DM: Well, like everyone says, it’s pretty cliche: You appreciate the little things a lot more. It’s funny being one of those guys that comes back from a deployment and sees the kids for the first time. You see that on the news all the time and you never think it’s going to be you, but that was really neat. We’ve got some wonderful pictures of the event. Actually, I have one in my office just as a reminder of where I’ve been and what I’m doing. It’s a lot of fun.

SMA: Out of all that, what led you to a career as an advisor in the senior market?
DM: Well, I had been in the business for some time before I was activated. I was already in the business. I had been pursuing, for the most part, long term care and securities for a large property/casualty company. I was briefly a captive agent for them. My best friend was a district manager for them. He needed somebody to come in and start marketing the long term care and securities. I was never one of these guys who wanted to go and take pictures of Hondas and make sure that somebody had bars on the windows of their house.

I have never been interested in the property/casualty side of the business. So when they came up with this new position and this opportunity to market the long term care and securities, I felt that was a better fit for me. I went over and did that for some time. While I was activated [February 2002 until summer 2003] and I was away, they stopped offering their long term care product and my buddy left the company. So I came back and there really wasn’t a big need for me or a big magnet holding me there.

SMA: When did you start your business?
DM: I did a seminar, I want to say October or November 2003. It didn’t work at all well. The general agency, or the FMO, that I was using sort of gave me a system that they had come up with in-house. It was horrible. I didn’t sell a single piece of business. It’s tough to put on a seminar and not sell a single piece of business. I just got out of the Marine Corps and I needed to make an immediate impact on my bottom line. I’ve got two mouths to feed. That wasn’t a great way to start off. I knew the right venue for me was getting in front of as many people as possible because I knew I could sell myself. That’s really what people buy when they come to your seminar. They’re not really buying a product, they’re buying you. I always knew that it was the right venue for me, but finding the right system and the right people to show me how to do it was the important thing. About six months later, I happened upon another guy who is quite accomplished in the industry and he said, “Well, you seem to be pretty sharp. If you want to go out and get to know my guy in Arizona and if he says he likes you, I’ll teach you everything I know.” And I said OK. So then the big sales job came. I had to convince my wife I wanted to do some more seminars.

SMA: So seminars are working for you now?
DM: It was a night and day difference for me once I started doing seminars with this group. It made an immediate impact on our lives. Within two months, I told my wife to quit her job that was bringing in more than $100,000 a year.

SMA: What is it about seminars that makes them successful?
DM: There are so many things that go into it, starting with the kind of venue you choose, your invitation, whether or not you contact them before the event. All these things build credibility. If you don’t hit the mark on all of the steps along the line, you are fighting an uphill battle. When you get involved with people who, first of all, know what they are doing and, second of all, are willing to impart that information to you, it takes most of the trial and error out of it. Now, certainly you are going to eventually tailor things to your own personality or something along those lines, but you have to have the foundation. It really starts with that.

SMA: What makes you such a good salesperson?
DM: I think there are elements of everything that I have done to this point that help me make the sale. First of all, we are dealing with a segment of the population that is very patriotic. Most of the retirees that are out there today have military service. For me, that is a tremendous benefit. My market down here in the south bay in Los Angeles has a lot of retirees from the aircraft and aerospace industry. They have been in the military industrial complex for years. So there is a certain level of respect for what I do as, what I would call, my part-time job and what I do here, because the Marine Corps has forged somewhat of a reputation that is a positive one with most people in the community. When they hear that I’m a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps reserve, I get a lot of instant credibility.

SMA: I’m sure. Is there anything else?
DM: Then I do a number of other things that help build that. Being members of certain organizations like NPRT or doing the Ethics Check or the Better Business Bureau, all of these kinds of things. I put these things right out there because if there is any question, I want them to go check it out so that by the time they get to my office, I’m not fighting an uphill battle of “Who is Dave Much?” I’m just talking about what their interests are and how I can solve their problems.’

SMA: Once you get the client, what do you do? What do you do to make clients feel special and appreciated once they are in your book of business?
DM: We have client appreciation events. We have an annual event. We had one recently at the Ritz Carlton in the marina, not too far from here. I am fortunate to have some clients that have some great talents. I hired one of my clients with her band to play at the event. They were wonderful. One of my clients came and had taken drum lessons from the drummer in the band. It was just a great time to say thank you and make them feel like they are the most important thing in the business, in my business, because they are. And so we have the client appreciation events.

When they become a new client, I send them a subscription to Harry and David’s for the year. So three times during the year, they are going to get something from me. We have newsletters. All of my clients are invited to any seminar they want to come to because information changes from time to time. I have an open door policy. Obviously, that encourages referrals.

SMA: What has been the best way for you to get referrals?
DM: The first thing is just offering to let them come to any seminar. Because I don’t sell anything at the seminars. There are no products mentioned. Again, it is informational. If they want to follow up, they can follow up and come in for a consultation.

SMA: So your seminar is basically information and ideas, no sales pitch at all.
DM: No, there’s no company materials. I don’t accept money from any company or broker/dealer. There’s no end to the amount of people who will help you fund your seminars – as long as you write their business – but I don’t want to be held or tied to one company, so I don’t take any money from anybody.

SMA: What are your biggest concerns right now about the industry?
DM: Well, with the success of any product, there are people who abuse the system. My own parents received a postcard not too long ago with some fairly misleading information on it. So I followed that up with reporting it to the State Insurance Commission because you are out there trying to do the right thing and if people are out there trying to mislead seniors and retirees into surrendering products or putting money into products that aren’t suitable, it’s going to swing the pendulum too far to the other side. You have the easy way of doing business and then when people abuse it, it swings the other way and then you end up with a lot of the things we are seeing today – the securities side of the industry putting pressure on making equity-index products securities. At the end of the day, as long as your principal is always guaranteed and there is no risk to that principal, I don’t see how they can make it a security, but if there’s enough money involved, there must be enough pressure involved.

SMA: What are seniors’ biggest concerns right now with their retirements?
DM: There has been a number of studies that say the No. 1 fear for retirees is outliving their money, more than death or anything else. That’s the truth. When you come across people that have hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in money market accounts or checking accounts because they are so afraid of where the market is and which way it is going to go, they are earning 1 and 2 percent. The banks are happy to just leave it there. So I see it on a regular basis, just lots of money sitting in cash because people are just concerned about the direction of the market. They are sitting on the sidelines, you know? If that’s the case, then you’ve got to get them security because I don’t see where somebody’s got their entire portfolio positioned in cash is ever going to be ready to jump back into stuff like tech stocks. You’ve got to have something there that is going to service that need. I think equity-index annuity products work very well with that.

SMA: What’s your position on one vs. two calls for a close?
DM: I don’t do a one-call close. I’m the guy giving two calls. They’re not just coming in here to sign anything on the first day anyway.

SMA: What advantages does that have?
DM: I don’t want anybody calling me up the day after saying, “Oh, my gosh, what did I sign?” Because then I’ve wasted a lot of time and a lot of effort to fill out all the paperwork and maybe even more money with a FedEx back to whatever company it is with. I’d rather have them totally comfortable with the process by the time we do business. So unless they are begging me to roll it over, I’m not going to touch it unless we’ve had adequate time to go over it.

SMA: What’s different about the seminar and that first meeting?
DM: The seminar is a broad-brush approach to touching on as many things as you can. Different things are going to speak to different people. But when they come in, I’ve got a seminar evaluation form that tells me what their specific interests are. They maybe want me to expand on a number of issues that I’ve given them some information about. When they come in, we can go specifically to what their interest is and why it pertains to them. They’re bringing in all their statements and those kind of things.

SMA: Are there any good products that have you excited to be in the industry right now?
DM: Well, I think the products are getting better in little increments. Companies are looking at what has been successful. When you look at Allianz’s success in the marketplace and their market share, you are seeing more and more companies trying to mimic what they are doing and improve on some of the things that are in their products. I see it basically as holding steady. There is still some indecision in the market. So annuities continue to be a great place to shelter investments.