As the president of Battaglia Tax Advisory Group Inc. in Largo, Fla., Brenda Battaglia is busy. Really busy. When she’s not calling on her clients, she’s working with her staff to cook up new ways technology can work for her – and her clients. “I’m not tech savvy,” Battaglia says. “I just know what I want technology to do for me.”
Last year, Battaglia’s company (which also boasts a tax advisory arm – U.S. Tax Advisors) generated $20 million in revenue – and it’s on track to exceed that number this year. Battaglia’s Advisory Group does it all: life insurance, long term care, annuities, Medicare supplements, stocks and bonds (through U.S. Tax Advisors).
It’s not all work for this super producer. Balance is a key to her success. On holidays Battaglia can be found trekking across Europe or skiing in Aspen. Or, possibly, dropping from the sky on a hang glider. Battaglia has a wicked case of wanderlust. “My entire family travels. That’s what we do together. It’s how I stay balanced.”
Battaglia is modest about her success and credits her mother (who is never far from Battaglia), her kids and her clients for her success. “They keep me grounded and they keep me real.”
SMA sat down with Battaglia to find out the secrets to her success.
Senior Market Advisor: Seniors make up a large portion of your book of business – 60 percent. What attracted you to the senior segment?
Brenda Battaglia: I started out in the Medicare supplement business, which is a senior business. I liked the industry right off the bat. I liked that market right off the bat. I was very close to my grandparents growing up, so I decided to continue in that industry. I work very well with seniors.
SMA: What segments makes up the other 40 percent of your book of business?
BB: I would say baby boomers and referrals – basically the children of my seniors. I consider my clients to be family members. We get so many referrals from our existing clients to their family members.
SMA: What are you doing to encourage the referral part of your business?
BB: I think it is the presentation of our firm. Consistency. Relationships. Just building relationships with clients is very important. Following through with what you say and treating them with the utmost respect.
SMA: Walk me through your sales process that potential clients go through.
BB: Clients come into our firm for an initial appointment. We try and find out as much about that person as we can. We do what is called a “client fact finding” to learn about their goals or objectives. Then we find out about their financial position, what type of investments they have. What is their risk tolerance, their safety tolerance? Income is very important. Are they on Social Security or do they have pensions? Do they plan on retiring, and do they have a goal set for retirement date? Once we go through the history of the client and find out as much as we can, then we analyze all the information they have given us. We have them come back for a follow-up appointment and we share recommendations with the client at that time.
SMA: You’ve been in the business for 14 years. Over that period of time, how have your clients’ needs changed?
BB: I find that our clients are very concerned with volatility in the market and how our economy has changed. There were a lot more consistencies back in the day when they were investing. Clients want someone who is going to follow up on their accounts. We are very consistent. We are constantly contacting our clients and giving them customer service.
SMA: When you contact your clients, how do you frame your phone calls? Is it a checkup? A follow-up?
BB: We call our clients every two months to say hello and check on them and see how they are doing. It’s a courtesy call. That call every two months is pretty powerful. They really appreciate it. When they come to our Christmas party, one of the more frequent comments they make is, “Brenda, you don’t know how much it means to us that your office calls just to ask us how we are.”
SMA: What are some of your other tactics for retaining clients and keeping them happy?
BB: We educate them in any way we can. We send out brochures that cover different topics relevant to their age groups. We share demographic changes and trends. It’s interesting to them – they get a flier from us every quarter.
SMA: How many clients do you have?
BB: We have thousands and thousands of clients.
SMA: How do you manage a book of business that size?
BB: We manage it by using a computer system. Technology is key to our business.
SMA: Can you describe your system?
BB: It keeps everything current. We’re constantly modifying it to keep it current on a regular basis. That’s the key. There’s no way you could manage that many clients if you didn’t have a database that was consistent. We have a great IT department, which is very important.
SMA: How did you determine that technology would become such a major part of your business?
BB: I’m not technology savvy. I just came up with some basic ideas and I was able to develop a database. It’s not that sophisticated, but it works for us. It does the things I need it to do – making sure that the clients are called and that we remember birthdays and anniversaries. It’s a basic tool, but it also creates an amazing report so that we can follow up with clients. One of the reasons my database is so effective is because I have a staff that is very creative. They are a big help with developing new ideas.
SMA: With a $20 million year last year, you must have some secret to overcoming objections. What is it?
BB: We give clients a road map. The road map shows them where they are from a personal and financial perspective. The road map is how we show them, “This is where you are now. This is where you possibly need to be if that is where you feel you should go based upon our recommendations.” We give them that option and let them make that decision. That’s how we get over the objections. It’s for the client to make the final decision. Giving clients choices is how you overcome objections.
SMA: Tell me how your approach differs with boomer clients vs. senior clients.
BB: Baby boomers have more of a risk tolerance. Boomers live a different lifestyle than their parents. It’s a totally different generation. You have to give them balance. Many of them have carefully watched what has happened over the years with our economy and they want to make sure that they have somewhat of a balance. A majority of boomers I see like to take a little bit more risk than their parents.
SMA: Is it more difficult working with boomer clients than it is working with senior clients?
BB: It is more difficult because your baby boomers have no idea about the position and situation their assets are in. They just put money in and they haven’t looked at it for five or six years. So they are not planning for retirement. They don’t even have a set date. I ask them specifically, “When would you like to retire? Do you have a date and a year set?’ They really don’t know. They don’t even know if they can retire. Many of them don’t even have a budget.
SMA: Why are boomers so ill prepared?
BB: Boomers today are so busy raising families and working that they don’t take the time to sit down with a financial planner and say, “Hey, these are my goals. Let’s just kind of go with the goals year in and year out.” Then I think it kind of hits them like, “Wait a minute, we don’t have a lot of money in the bank. We need to start planning.” The problem is that you used to be able to look at the rule of 72 and you would be able to double your money. Today, you can’t do that all the time.
SMA: About 60 percent of your business comes from annuities. Annuity products have taken some lumps in the press lately. How do you handle feedback from your clients based on this sort of media coverage?
BB: We do get feedback from our clients – they see a lot of articles. The problem is that these articles are kind of like a cookbook writer writing about financial products. The writers are not writing the exact story. They are elaborating on things that apply to other types of annuities like variable products. They relate those to fixed index products. What we do is clarify the difference to the client. We go through the articles with them. Clients are very comfortable with that. Fixed annuities are good products. They are very safe. If you look at the vehicle itself compared to a variable annuity, it is not as complex. It is simple to understand. On the other hand, a variable annuity has up to 60 accounts – a much more complex product.
SMA: Is a variable annuity ever appropriate in a senior portfolio?
BB: It just depends on the tolerance level of the client.
SMA: So as you get more and more boomer clients, do you think you will sell more variable products?
BB: I think each client is different. You cannot earmark how you can set someone’s portfolio. Each client that walks in my firm is different. I have to look at them in a different light.
SMA: You have a long-term strategy of targeting female boomer clients. How do you plan to execute and what are your goals?
BB: The women’s market is in an interesting market. I decided to start educating myself more and more. I decided I would start marketing just to women because I am a woman business owner. I have an all-woman firm. We enjoy working with women and they bring their families and they are bringing their husbands and they are bringing their kids in. Statistics show that women only spend about 38 percent of their time investing.
SMA: How do you plan to attract female clients?
BB: Well, we attract them by being an all-woman firm. We have a designated marketing product that is earmarked just for women, certain phrases and logos that we use, educational workshops. It’s going to be word of mouth. Women like to talk. If you ask a woman a question, she’ll continue it by telling you a little bit about her life.
SMA: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
BB: I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is to make sure you are dealing with companies that represent you and that have a very strong ethical background. Go with your gut. Building relationships is the No. 1 reason you are successful. You have to have good relationships behind you, good companies. You have to have a great staff. That is the key to success. You can’t do it by yourself.