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Advisor of the Year Finalists

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The nominations have been reviewed. The selection process has nearly been completed. We have whittled the extensive list down to the final five, a collection of advisors that exemplifies what it takes to succeed in this industry – and to succeed ethically. Each finalist was subjected to a rigorous National Ethics Bureau background check. One of them is fee based; one is a long term care insurance specialist; two focus on annuities; and the other runs a boutique with a mixture of commissions and fees. We will announce the winner at Senior Market Advisor Expo in September, and he will be featured on the October cover.

PROFILE: Steve Delott
Delott & Associates Rolling Meadows, Ill.
2005 production: $22 million, 99 percent in EIAs

Senior Market Advisor: What attracted you to the senior market?
Steve Delott: When I started, I used to do personal production, selling life insurance. Then by accident I was specializing with physicians. A lot of agents said, “Can you teach me how to work the physician market?” So, again by accident, I started agency building. That was not my intention. Then I got so large I couldn’t do personal production. Then they all started asking me, “Steve, this doctor or that one, they want health insurance.” I didn’t know anything about health insurance at the time, or very little. Before I knew it, I had a large health agency. It got so large, I just merged the life agency with the health agency. Then in 2001, the health companies started buying each other out, lowering commissions, doing things that made me think the outlook wasn’t so lucrative as it was in the past. So I thought I should start looking at another opportunity before my income starts to drastically drop, and I was intrigued with the senior market and doing seminars. I thought it was a great way to market yourself. It’s mostly daytime activity. I knew there were a lot of men and women that were successful in it. I thought, I can do this. I did my very first seminar in January 2002 and I started doing business from day one. Right from the beginning. Then I just constantly fine tuned what I was doing and just got more and more successful at it.

SMA: So you like seminars.
SD: Seminars appealed to me because it gave me a chance to share the opportunity with the seniors without putting pressure on them. So if they wanted to take advantage of my services, it was up to them.

SMA: What sets you apart from your competition?
SD: Well, No. 1, I have been in this profession for over 30 years, so I have lots of experience that comes with 30 years in the business. I also [recognized], when I first started getting in the business, the importance of professional designations. That’s what intrigued me about your article with the gentlemen from the American College, Larry Barton. Because basically, when you interviewed him in the magazine, he was emphasizing the importance of true credentials and continuing education and not so much taking an open-book test or going to a school on a Saturday and becoming an expert on Sunday. I thought that was important since I was in my 20s, when I first entered this profession. So when people asked me, “Why are you doing this? Why are you getting your CLU? Why are you getting your ChFC? Why do you need those things Steve?” I just said, “It cannot hurt me. It will only help me.” I think now, when I tell these clients that I have professional designations that maybe 1 or 2 percent of the men and women have, it sets me apart. Those are just a couple of the features. I took something from Sid Friedman, who passed away a few years ago. He was a legend in the insurance business. I bought his books and listened to him speak. He was Top of the Table chairman or president or whatever. He said something that appealed to me. He said promise a lot and deliver more. And that’s what I do. I promise a lot to my clients and I deliver even more.

SMA: What do you see in your crystal ball in the industry in five years?
SD: I’m glad you asked. You know, there is a lot of controversy with the NASD and the SEC and the insurance industry. This needs to be regulated and so on and so forth. Here’s what I see happening. I see a lot of these men and women that are mainly focused on annuities. They are going to have to get a Series 6 or, preferably, a Series 7 securities license. It’s my belief that most of the men and women selling annuities out there are talking securities. They are replacing mutual funds and securities with annuities. You can’t just throw a figure without looking at a portfolio. And, it’s not to be done. Eventually, the insurance industry is going to have to take an aggressive approach instead of acting after something like the NASD attacks. They are going to have to be aggressive. I see the insurance industry eventually making the agents, with each application, sign a form stating that they did not make recommendations to liquidate mutual funds and stocks, assuming they are not licensed, and that they realize that it is a violation of federal laws if they did. I think what that is going to do is force a lot of these men and women [to keep their] securities license because of compliance issues. Not drop it.

SMA: How do you demonstrate your commitment to ethics?
SD: No. 1, every year I receive the Better Business Bureau Complaint Free award, which I distribute to my prospects and post on my front door. I’m particularly proud of it because I do so much volume that you would think that somebody is going to complain, even if it is not a legitimate complaint. But they don’t complain because I make sure I do the right thing for them. Once I first learned about the National Ethics Bureau, I thought, “What a great idea.” Give them a few hundred dollars, let them check you out, make sure you are clean. I show my clients my background check that’s public through the NASD. I subscribe to the code of ethics of the CLU and the CHFC and my Series 7 and 63 securities license and the industry professional organizations.

PROFILE: Steve Elliott
Vice president minority owner
Capstone Financial Assurance Del Mar, Calif.
2005 production: $450,000 long term care insurance placed business

Senior Market Advisor: Why LTCI?
Steve Elliott: I sat down with [a friend of mine] in San Francisco to catch up with him. I didn’t think in a million years that I wanted to sell long term care insurance. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know it was an up-and-coming product. I sat down with Tom, and I was asking him about what he was doing. I was a little surprised that he was in insurance. He started telling me about it. The more he talked, the more enthralled I became with a product that you could really believe in. I had decided to pursue sales. One of my first criteria was something I could really believe in and become really passionate about. The more he talked, the more I realized that this wasn’t just like any old insurance that everybody owns already. This is essentially something that nobody has and everybody needs. The more he talked about it, the more I became interested. Within a few months I was in the business.

SMA: Why have you been so successful with a product that seems particularly difficult to sell sometimes?
SE: I did struggle for about my first six months. Then I took it upon myself to really get out there and learn the business from the people who were being successful. That’s when my career turned around. In the beginning of 1996, my sales just took off and in 1996 I became No. 1 at Long Term Preferred Care, which, at the time had about 150 agents. For the most part, I think I had some inherent skill to do this job and I certainly enjoyed the challenge. And learning their product was very challenging because it is not a commodity. It needs to be sold. There is the gatekeeper that people need to overcome: the client’s denial that they would hopefully never need care. And they have an inner denial that they hate to put money into something that they are never going to need. But I went out there and I was working in the neighborhood of 75 to 80 hours a week. For three years, I really worked as hard as I possibly could. Going into my fourth year, I was really getting pretty burned out. I went to a mentor at the company, a gentleman by the name of Dirk Whitaker. He had been in the business about six years, and he was very consistent in producing at a high level. I asked Dirk, “What keeps you producing consistently for so long?” He told me something that really impacted my future career. He said, “This is what I do, but it is not who I am.” And that really set the stage for my next great challenge: to essentially keep my production level the same – I want to go ahead and continue to place between $400,000 to $500,000 a year – but do it in half the time.

SMA: What’s your best prospecting tool?
SE: One of the things I identified early on in my career is that one of the keys to always being successful, where a lot of people fail in this business, is having a steady flow of leads. Obviously, I analyze all the different ways that people can get leads, from seminars to direct mail. The conclusion I came to is that to really have a consistent, steady supply of leads, you need to be endorsed by an optimal organization as their long term care specialist. What I chose to do is to pursue credit unions. I have three credit unions here in San Diego that endorse me as their long term care specialist, and they allow me to market to their members through mailings and seminars. I can tell you that it’s one of the smartest things I ever did early in my career, because a lot of people today are struggling with how to get consistent leads. I’m sitting here as I speak to you with about 200 leads on my desk, all from credit unions, credit union members.

SMA: What sets you apart from other LTCI specialists?
SE: I think it is a combination. First is always being teachable. Even to this day, I try not to be arrogant that my way is the best way. I’m always looking to find new ways to do the business. I’m willing to listen to people who are fairly new in the business and ideas that they have of doing the job or a part of the job better. Working extremely effective is another. I take a lot of pride in working no more than a 40-hour week but being able to produce at an extremely high level in the business. In my mind, discipline isn’t so much a lifestyle as it is a moment in my day. It’s the moment when you’ve agreed to yourself that what you want to do is identify what it is going to take to hit your goals – specifically, identify how many dials you need to do a week, how many appointments you need to run. Then, when you set those goals, you need to make the commitment to pick up the phone at a certain time and you need to run a certain number of appointments per week.

PROFILE: David Scranton
Owner Scranton Financial Group
Westbrook, Conn.
2005 production: $23 million in annuity premium, municipal bonds and brokerage CDs

Senior Market Advisor: What brought you to the senior market?
David Scranton: I did a lot of life insurance in my earlier years and did some mutual funds and so on, but I was always pretty conservative philosophically. I got very frustrated because I was more conservative, but in the 1990s, everyone wanted to be aggressive. I’d be working with a 40-year-old who would be saying, “I want this high-tech fund” or “I want this other fund.” I’d say, “You know, that’s great, but the bubble is going to burst someday and I don’t necessarily believe that you should be quite that aggressive.” I found myself just butting heads with too many people because they would want to be so aggressive. I finally realized that if I work with retirees, I don’t have to butt heads quite so often because they are more amenable to the conservative philosophies. That was right around 1995 or 1996 that I came to that realization and started making that big shift toward the retirement markets. We did some seminars starting back in 1995 and 1996. I really ramped up the seminars in the year 2000.

SMA: Are seminars your big prospecting tool?
DS: We do a lot of seminars, adult education programs. I’ve taught a lot of local adult ed programs at the local university, University of Connecticut.

SMA: What is the key to your success?
DS: I think there are two. I think I am conservative philosophically. Too many advisors try to be everything to everyone. They don’t have enough people to sit in front of, so if someone is aggressive, all of a sudden they claim they are aggressive. They can satisfy that potential client. If the prospect is conservative, they can satisfy that client, also. They become a chameleon. I think that is unfortunate because the reality is you can only be good at so many things. What I love about seminars is it gives me the ability to not be forced to fit the square peg in the round hole. Basically, if I’m the square peg, then I’ve got to find the square holes so I can talk to enough people, so I can find the people who are conservatively geared who are a good match for my style. That’s why seminars are such a big key for me. I can stay conservative. The second key is what we talked about a minute ago. I believe my philosophy is to do the right thing and you will personally get rewarded beyond your wildest dreams. When someone says, “I want to put that whole thing in the annuity.” I tell the person, “You shouldn’t put all your eggs in the annuity. I know that sounds great, but you should put some in a brokerage CD and some in tax-free bonds.” The more often I do that, the more business I get back.

SMA: Why do you feel that making an ethical stand and wearing your ethics on your sleeve is important?
DS: Everyone who is going to do a seminar or who is going to be meeting a prospect is going to claim that they are the most ethical, honest person. Everyone is going to say that. But how does a prospect really differentiate? I looked at the National Ethics Bureau as one way where actions speak louder than words. We put it in writing on some of our marketing pieces or our company brochure. They look at it and I don’t have to toot my own horn. They just see it. It’s kind of like a Better Business Bureau for our industry. Anyone can claim that they have their client’s best interest in mind, but this is one way to show where actions do speak louder than words.

SMA: What do you feel sets you apart from other advisors?
DS: No. 1, credentials. Like I said, CFP, CFA. You don’t see a lot of CFAs even as retail stock brokers or investment managers. Most of the CFAs are on Wall Street managing institutional money. I’ve got offers. I just haven’t done it because I like the one-on-one contact with the client. I don’t want to be in some back room doing research to manage a mutual fund. I think the credentials are a big part of it because they know I know what I’m talking about. I think my undying conviction toward a conservative approach makes sense. I told clients in the late ’90s that the bubble was going to burst in the stock market and the party is going to be over at some point. I have not wavered. The thing that sets me apart is that I’ve actually researched market history extensively. I’ve really got a pretty good handle on interpreting some of the secular long-term market trends. I talk to people about that. I talk to clients about that and it’s funny, because every time I tell people that I think something is going to happen and why, 90 percent of the time I am right. It’s because I’ve done extensive research. My clients are getting more and more comfortable with that. I think the other thing is doing the right thing. I don’t provide lip service to doing the right thing.

PROFILE: Mark J. Snyder
President Mark J. Snyder Financial Services Inc. Managing executive
Long Island office of Royal Alliance Medford, N.Y.
2005 production: $2.5 million in annuity premium, $23 million in assets under management ($140 million overall)

Senior Market Advisor: What is the attraction to the retirement market?
Mark Snyder: Let’s put it this way. I’ve been around a long time and I guess I found what was working for me. Seniors were comfortable with me. I was comfortable with them. I came to the realization that they have money. So I said, “OK, I will become a retirement investment specialist.” This was 10 or 15 years ago, and I concentrated on working with seniors who have money. It was sort of a no brainier to me.

SMA: Your list of designations is quite exhaustive. After all these years, why is the education component still important to you?
MS: I got my CLU in 1976 and here I am an unsuccessful insurance salesperson. I’m waiting for the world to beat down my door now that I’m a CLU. But that didn’t happen. So I said OK, I have the education, I just don’t have the prospects. So in 1981, I decided to switch gears. I bought every book or tape I could on marketing and learned how to market. At the same time, I changed what I was doing, from insurance to financial planning. I went back to school to get the ChFC. So, then in getting my second designation and learning how to market, I said to myself, “Dummy, people will view you a certain way if you have more designations.” So I just went back to school and picked up more designations. Some are useful and some are not. But, a string of eight after my name is impressive.

SMA: How do you go about keeping up with trends and changes in the marketplace?
MS: I read. I get God knows how many magazines. I read e-mails from horses’ mouths and other sources, and I get input from all the mutual funds and the different companies. I take different programs periodically. I have nine people on staff and some of them keep me updated on different things.

SMA: I’m sure most prospects are used to the commission-based practitioners. How do you explain how you are different and how you can better serve their needs?
MS: By the time the prospect sits down here, they already understand that I am fee based. What happens is, a phone call comes in either from someone who has met me somewhere or from someone who has seen my advertising or from a referral. If it is from a referral, they already know that I’m fee based from the client. We have what we call our package that we send out in advance. Before they come in, we send them a package. Included in the package is articles that I’ve written and where I’ve been quoted in the press, some information about what we do and how we get paid, and a CD from when I did a radio show. On my first radio show, I had Peter, my portfolio manager, interview me and we recorded that and put it on a CD and it goes into everything: how we do what we do, what we charge, etc. So, they already know. They don’t know exactly how much it is, but they know that we are fee based. When I first went into fee based in the mid- to early 1990s, I was concerned. I was not comfortable, but I knew it was the way to go. Now, it’s just like everybody loves the idea. They know exactly what they are paying for, what they are getting. And, it is just so crystal clear. It works so well.

SMA: What sets you apart from your competition?
MS: Being fee based, the eight designations, being listed in Bloomberg Wealth Manager, Worth Magazine, this magazine, that magazine, etc., as someone who knows what he is doing. That sets me apart. There’s nobody out here that is doing all that. When I say out here, I’m about 60 or 70 miles outside New York City. I’ve been president of the local Estate Planning Council, of the Registered Financial Planning Association of Long Island. I head up a group called the Metro New York Society of Certified Funds Specialists. I’m a founder and past president of that. So I’ve been active, I’ve been involved.

SMA: What advice would you give to someone just starting in the industry?
MS: I would tell them to try to work for someone. A great opportunity for someone young coming into the business is work with someone who is eventually going to retire and buy their practice, but that’s not easy to find. But the idea is to work for someone and get your feet wet. It’s real tough. Especially with the do not call lists. I remember starting out in the insurance business. Here I am a 20-, 22-, 23-year-old kid. What do I know and who do I call? It was awful. Starting out now, find someone who needs help, a planner who needs help, who has his clients segmented – A clients, B clients and C clients. If I had the right person come in here, I’d give him the C clients to work with. PROFILE: David Scranton, Owner Scranton Financial Group Westbrook, Conn. 2005 production: $23 million in annuity premium, municipal bonds and brokerage CDs Senior Market Advisor: What brought you to the senior market? David Scranton: I did a lot of life insurance in my earlier years and did some mutual funds and so on, but I was always pretty conservative philosophically. I got very frustrated because I was more conservative, but in the 1990s, everyone wanted to be aggressive. I’d be working with a 40-year-old who would be saying, “I want this high-tech fund” or “I want this other fund.” I’d say, “You know, that’s great, but the bubble is going to burst someday and I don’t necessarily believe that you should be quite that aggressive.” I found myself just butting heads with too many people because they would want to be so aggressive. I finally realized that if I work with retirees, I don’t have to butt heads quite so often because they are more amenable to the conservative philosophies. That was right around 1995 or 1996 that I came to that realization and started making that big shift toward the retirement markets. We did some seminars starting back in 1995 and 1996. I really ramped up the seminars in the year 2000.

PROFILE: Dean Zayed
Prizm Financial Advisors
Wheaton, Ill.
2005 production: $12.5 million in annuity premium and $12.5 million in mutual funds and fee-based money management

Senior Market Advisor: What attracted you to the senior market?
Dean Zayed: Well, I came into the senior market through estate planning part of the industry as an attorney. It was something I had wanted to do coming out of law school. I thought estate planning really gave me the ability to provide solutions to people to see the immediate gratification and most people doing estate planning are either boomers or the seniors. I really got involved with the seniors through my legal background as an estate planner. Then, I saw the great synergy between that and financial services and directly linked the two by getting involved with my own firm.

SMA: What sets you apart from other financial advisors and other estate planners?
DZ: I’d say there’s a couple answers to that. One would be the credentials both of myself and the people that are involved in my firm. My background, again, is an attorney. I have a JD. I have an LLM degree, which is a master’s degree in law, with a concentration in taxation. I’m also a CFP, a Certified Financial Planner. So in terms of credentials, I think that is a unique combination background that most people don’t have. On top of that, we built this multidisciplinary practice that involves a combination of attorneys, financial advisors and accountants in the same office. So our firm is very much set apart from the competition by having CPAs involved. We have an MBA that is part of the staff. Of course, lawyers, and my background as a CFP. That in itself, in terms of the credentials and what we can offer to the client, I think is unique. I would follow that up by saying our approach is comprehensive and holistic financial planning. Many firms are very specialized. They’re really just trying to go after some annuity sales or maybe some fee-based money management. We bring to the table a deep expertise in all areas.

SMA: How long did it take you to get to that point where you could depend upon referrals, and what do you think you offer that leads so many people to give you leads and referrals?
DZ: It took us about five years to really mature to the point where we could start tapping into our clients. They saw the light and were very happy with the results and began referring on their own. I tell my clients a couple things. One, I’ve never lost a client. Even through the bad bear markets of 2000 and 2003. I’m very proud of that fact. No. 2, I say just about all of our new clients come from referrals, which is a testament to the work we’ve done in terms of advice. They realize that we are clearly doing good work, we are serious about the business. We don’t necessarily directly ask our clients for referrals. It’s the way we treat them. We do a number of client-oriented activities – newsletters, Christmas party, birthday type events – and we feel like the relationship is strong enough where they do want people that they know and care about, whether it’s family or friends, to get involved with our firm because they see that we are going to be able to provide value.

SMA: How important is ethics in the environment in which advisors must work?
DZ: I think ethics are very important, especially in today’s regulatory environment. Compliance is not going to get any easier for anybody who is licensed in this business. I’ve witnessed first hand, frankly, some abuse from other advisors. It really pains me. If you are going to get in this business and make a commitment, trust that ethics has got to be the building block at the cornerstone of your practice. We are extremely straightforward with our clients. From the very first meeting, we are extremely honest and we tell them how we operate and how we are compensated, what the process is going to look like. We feel like that is the most important thing.

SMA: How do you give back, either to the community you are in or to your industry?
DZ: A couple of different ways. One is, we don’t really advertise this, we take on a number of pro bono cases every year. We do work for clients and don’t charge them. This transcends both the estate planning and the financial planning practice. It happens because clients are many times referred to us that are in a bad situation, be it in a nursing home, a Medicaid situation or be it with abuse they have suffered from other advisors. I would say on average we do a half dozen pro bono cases per year where we are spending a good chunk of our time working with clients, helping them through whatever issues they are dealing with and not charging a fee for that person.

SMA: And the other way?
DZ: The second thing we do locally here at the bar association level as estate planners. We are frequently asked to speak to other attorneys about relevant issues, write articles for local journals and publications. We’re always trying to get the word out. We’re big believers in education. Whether it is through speaking engagements or writing, we believe that education will lead people to make the right decision with regard to their personal finances.