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
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.