Recently, Senior Market Advisor editor Daniel D. Williams had the opportunity to talk with Angela Sloan and learn what makes her business, with annual production of nearly $10 million, a success. While that number is impressive in its own right, it’s made all the more impressive by Sloan’s geographical location: the one-stoplight town of Clover, South Carolina. Against the odds (and often against the grain), Sloan has managed to carve out an enviable practice, where doing right by the client is of chief importance.
Senior Market Advisor: How did your business evolve from a home business to where it is today?
Sloan: I started working out of my kitchen. Within five to seven years I had rented an office and I added taxes to my repertoire. Eventually, I bought a building. We outgrew that, so we’ve built a 10,000 square foot space and are up to 15 employees.
SMA: What is your business model?
Sloan: I try to get an expert in each field so no one person is a connoisseur of everything. We believe that way the client is better served. I more or less serve as the quarterback.
SMA: What are the different departments?
Sloan: We have a securities department, a life insurance department, plus a property and casualty department. If it’s a legal issue or requires estate planning issues or advanced tax issues, we have a law firm located within our office. We have three people here who can handle annuity questions and another expert whose specialty is long term care and Medicare supplement.
SMA: With a full-service business, how do your departments work together?
Sloan: Everybody is working together for the common good of the client. It wouldn’t make sense for us to sit here and try to sway the client one way or the other if it is not in his best interest.
SMA: Talk about your client education program.
Sloan: We put our [clients] through a two- to six-hour learning process before any paperwork is done. We have a lengthy learning process. We don’t dive in and try to get everything done in one week. We study a client’s situation and will tell them, “This is the biggest hole in your pocket. We’re going to take care of this first and then we’re going to move on. We’re going to take this slow and easy and you’re going to get an education in the process and you’re going to understand everything that is going on here.”
SMA: What would you say is your most popular class?
Sloan: We run two to three a week on how to get out of debt. One of our No.1 goals is to get our clients out of debt. Sometimes that’s a slow process. We also have tax classes and two or three different classes on estate planning. And we have classes on personal finance. You might think that’s a no-brainer, but when you have a client base as diverse as ours, where our youngest client might be 16 and our oldest is 90-plus, you’ve got to be able to service the whole range of people.
SMA: What trends, if any, are you finding in the classes?
Sloan: One thing we see is that people are way underinsured, especially people with children. The other trend we see is on the property and casualty side. People don’t have umbrella policies, which is simple. Nine times out of 10, they walk in here and they have $25,000 in bodily injury coverage on their car policy. We see crazy stuff. We ask them, “Did you know that you only have $25,000 in bodily injury? If you hurt somebody, the maximum this policy is going to pay is $25,000. What will $25,000 cover?” Probably not even a broken arm.
SMA: You live in a small town, so where are the clients coming from? What are your best prospecting tools for getting clients in there with so few people to go around?
Sloan: A lot of clients come to us through our classrooms. And a lot of clients come to us through word of mouth.
SMA: How broad is your geographical area?
Sloan: Texas is the furthest away. On average, though, I’d say most live within a 50-mile radius. If you are doing the right thing, these people will walk to you backwards to get to you.
SMA: With your varied practice, I’m curious about your philosophy on products?
Sloan: I can give you an example of that. This morning, I had a lady call me. She has $33,000. She didn’t want to go any further than five years. She wanted it guaranteed. I go out and I research. When I did my research, it came up with 179 different options based on the amount and the criteria that she gave me. I want who is going to give my client the biggest bang for the buck. I don’t get hung up on company names. I do get hung up on company ratings. So when I go out and do my inquiry, I tell them I want an A rating or better. I’m loyal to my client.
SMA: What do you attribute as being the secret to your success?
Sloan: You may not want to hear it, but this is a faith-based business. This business tithes 10 percent off the top of every deposit that comes in. Period. We also support a lot of local ministries, such as the homeless shelters, God’s Kitchen, the Jesus Film Project, which is a national ministry and others. I attribute all of our success to the tithe and in doing the right thing for the client.
SMA: What are the best ways to gain the client’s trust?
Sloan: Educate them. You have to let them know that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
SMA: You’ve explained to me previously that you have a diverse age group. How do you connect to each of them? What are the trends you’re seeing, your clients’ biggest needs that you are seeing?
Sloan: It depends on the age group.
SMA: What about with the seniors?
Sloan: For the seniors, the biggest hole I see is long term care insurance or some type of long term care planning as well as estate planning. I also see them taking too much risk with their money. Like when I see somebody walk in here who’s 70 years old, but still has 100 percent in the stock market.
SMA: What about the underwriting?
Sloan: There is nothing you can do about that. If they already have health issues that an underwriter is not going to buy into, then it’s very tough to clear that hurdle.
SMA: How do you address that problem?
Sloan: We get out there and we research. We talk to underwriters.
SMA: Do you get to a point where you’re stuck?
Sloan: Yeah. You get to a point where no underwriter is going to touch them. For instance, yesterday I sat down with a couple. The wife has Type I diabetes from childhood. In that case, coverage is extremely difficult to get and very expensive.
SMA: What are the biggest issues you’re seeing with boomer clients?
Sloan: The amount of debt that they’ve incurred. I also see them as being underinsured and overtaxed. So we’re trying to solve those problems for them. Even if they have a 401(k), they’re spinning their wheels, because usually the 401(k) has market exposure and most don’t know how to handle it.
SMA: You had mentioned you have a big tax practice. And you just said boomers are overtaxed.
Sloan: Right. The problem is they have good income, which means they have a good tax bracket.
Sloan: They also have a lot of debt. So we’re trying to get those things in line. We want our clients set free, including their mortgage.
SMA: Their mortgage?
Sloan: Including their mortgage. We are trying to get people out of debt and trying to get them to understand that debt is not the way to go. I know there are some concepts out there that you never pay off your house and so on and so forth.
SMA: So it’s a reality check for the boomers?
Sloan: Yes, it’s more like turning the lights on so they can see reality. The reality is you’re up to your eyeballs in debt. You haven’t saved enough, even with your company match.
SMA: So there’s some tough love with the boomers?
Sloan: Right. You can’t be afraid to tell them, “You’re living in la-la land.”
SMA: Do you get into reverse mortgages? Is that a product that you deal with?
Sloan: As a rule, no. I will only suggest a reverse mortgage as an absolute last resort. I do know that some states are going to start requiring reverse mortgages prior to going on Medicaid.
SMA: Wow. That’s an interesting curveball.
Sloan: Oh yeah, it’s coming. It’s out of necessity. The taxpayers can’t take on the burden of long term care. The boomers are just now starting to reach this market. It’s going to be supply and demand. The government is going to have to do something. Medicaid was never designed or intended to pay for long term care.
SMA: What do you see happening?
Sloan: The system is going to have to do something. I try to explain to people that it’s going to boil down to the ones who can afford to pay are the ones that can afford to get the care.
SMA: What trends are you seeing in long term care insurance?
Sloan: People think long term care insurance is expensive? Wait until they face the care. I try to get them to put that in perspective. Yeah, $3,000 a year, that’s a lot of money. You pay on that for 20 years, you’ve paid $60,000. Twenty years from now, it’ll take you six months to make that back. If one person in that couple goes into long term care, your premium stops; it’ll be a whole lot harder to make that money back. To put it into perspective: Would you rather pay $3,000 a year or $5,000 to $7,000 a month?
SMA: What are the biggest challenges with long term care as far as educating the client?
Sloan: The cost and the underwriting. The cost might initially scare them, but that can usually be solved. You can explain how the money side of it works.
SMA: Express your philosophy and how that differs from many advisors.
Sloan: No. 1, it’s not about the money. If you’re doing the right thing, the money is going to be there. No. 2, it’s not about me. I’ve got 15 employees that have been very loyal and they believe in what we’re doing; they deserve to get paid. So it’s not about me and it’s not about the money. It’s about the client and it’s about my employees.