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The life coach

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Senior Market Advisor is proud to announce that Rosemary Caligiuri is the 2008 SMA Advisor of the Year.
Caligiuri took an interesting road to success as an advisor. She spent her first decade out of college as a nurse. Attending a financial seminar got her interested in her current field. Fast-forward to the present and the Langhorne, Pa.-based advisor is a $15-million-plus producer at Harvest Group Financial, which has more than 1,000 customers and an annuity AUM of more than $160 million. Caligiuri is a strong believer in remaining educated on the industry and its products. In addition to the continuing education programs she’s involved in, she’s received her Series 6, 7 and 63 licenses, and to stretch her wings she’s also had a radio show for the past eight years. Following are highlights of our in-depth conversation with her.

SMA: First off, let’s talk about your philosophy on the advisor/client relationship.
The backbone of our practice is the relationship that we have with our clients. Our first appointments, our data-gathering appointments, take an hour to two hours. I truly believe that we can’t do a full plan — we can’t be as effective as we need to be to our clients — unless we have all that information. Certainly, I will respect if a client has a relationship with another broker or another bank. So the client then trusts us accordingly. We’re very open with our clients and I think that gives them the ability to let their guard down and share information. I think all of these little things build trust for the consumer. So, if it is appropriate, sometimes a client says, “Take it all over.” Then you’ve got a very strong relationship.

SMA: It’s no secret that the economy has slowed down quite a bit. What are some of the strategies or techniques you use to sell in a down market?
First and foremost, it’s got to meet the client’s needs. Whether it is a down market or an up market, the client’s situation dictates where we put the money and how we position assets. In a down market, I think it is important for us to buy the client time. Market conditions are always cyclical. I don’t sell something just to sell something. It’s never, ever that. In bear markets like we are in now, we can buy portfolios when there is time and mitigate the effective taxes, etc. It all comes back to being educated and translating what is in the world out there to your conference room or kitchen table or wherever you meet your client.

SMA: I read a quote attributed to you that you see yourself as a life coach and a financial planner. Could you expand on that?
I say it with a broad stroke. When clients come in, we talk about many different questions. Wherever they go in retirement, we encourage them to look at different housing communities or different types of communities. So we’re coaching, completely outside of dollars and cents, to the emotional aspects; they’re hand in hand. Should they move closer to their children? We don’t tell them yea or nay, but we open up lines of communication between family members and decision makers and things like that. When I say “life coach,” it’s more of a facilitator of communication, someone to bring up concepts that they might not have thought about. What we’re not giving them is advice. I would never give a client advice on personal issues, but we’ll throw them on the table. We just help them think through things.

SMA: You’re a woman in a male-dominated industry, but studies show that, more and more, women are making the financial decisions for their families. What type of advantage do you see being a woman in this industry?
From the functionality of being a planner, I find it an amazing benefit being a woman because I can listen between the lines, have empathy, have the ability to kind of see through things. One of the things that has been interesting is that in the World War II generation, if the husband is the financial decision maker, oftentimes, he wants to know that there’s somebody there that his wife can go to in the event that he passes away. So, oftentimes, it’s because the husband wants me to relate to the wife. I love working with women in the boomer generation; we speak the same language.

SMA: I want to talk to you about the education side of being an advisor, the different programs that you’ve undertaken to make you an expert in certain areas.
Well, I think one of the best programs is the CASL program, Chartered Advisor for Senior Living, or any of the other very good programs through The American College. You want to have really good in-depth training. I’ve become recently trained with the Ed Slott program and become one of his elite advisors. I also advocate any and every type of training with MDRT — they’ve got phenomenal training and Webinars. You put two or three or four hours a month into formal training, you’re going to learn something. That’s going to translate to your clients, which then builds trust.

SMA: More than ever, the industry has been in the news this year, first, with “Dateline” back in the spring and more recently with the SEC getting involved in its attempts to securitize annuities. What do you think about the public perception of this industry?
The bottom line is perception is reality to the consumer. In many ways, “Dateline” did a disservice. But I have seen lousy sales techniques and I have seen appropriate sales techniques. When talking with clients or prospects, I use “Dateline” as a reason to talk about the reality that there are planners out there that maybe don’t do a perfect job, but that doesn’t mean the product is bad. As far as Capitol Hill goes and trying to securitize EIAs or FIAs, I don’t think we need more regulation — we need planners that really do think about the clients. How does that happen? It’s like trying to regulate any industry. There are used car salesmen that do great jobs and there are used car salesmen that are going to sell you a used car that was flooded a month ago, but has a new paint job. I think it is up to each and every one of us, and magazines like yours, to get good articles out there to say, “Hey, there are good planners.” That’s why I do a radio show. That’s why I do public works. The good apples need to be out there and shining.

SMA: In an earlier interview, you mentioned something about working with the Pennsylvania attorney general. What is the story behind that?
An attorney friend and myself do the radio show back to back on the weekend. We had said a couple of times that we should really get out there and start to educate the consumer about credit card fraud and identity theft. So we approached the attorney general and said we wanted to do an educational series and would you like to do it with us? We did a series of three of them in the area. They had their fraud division come in and it was wonderful to give something back.

SMA: I’d like you to talk about the use of seminars. What are your philosophy and thoughts on seminars and how they impact your own practice?
I think seminars are probably one of the best ways to immediately bond with a prospective client, especially if you are a good seminar presenter. If you communicate with them and make a connection, they start to trust you right there. It helped build my practice, absolutely. I did a seminar a month for over 10 years. My seminars are all educational. There’s nothing ever sold. I never fed people meals. I never had “plate-lickers.” Because they would come to learn, I would give them cookies, brownies, sugar-free candy, coffee, tea and water. But that’s it.

SMA: Tell me about the prospecting side of the business. How important is prospecting in your practice? What’s your strategy?
First and foremost, get out there and network with other professionals. We have quite a few professionals from over 55 communities, from realtors to accountants, and of course, attorneys, who just love us. You can buy a mailing list for your seminar. Then, of course, we get tons of referrals from existing clients. Don’t be afraid to ask your existing clients for referrals. My clients would enjoy and trust what we do so they would send their cousins and sisters and brothers. There’s a new magazine in the county that I live in that is geared towards women. I approached them and said, “Listen, I would love to be your financial writer. I think you could use a financial column. I would love to write that for you.” Getting your name out there and branding yourself — that’s a key. I write question-and-answer columns for another little local newspaper. There’s a difference between being a salesman and being in business. If you want to be in business, it takes effort, time and money. If you want to be a salesman and just be in the industry for two to three years and make a ton of money and leave, it doesn’t take that much. But what you want out of your career and position in life is going to dictate how much you are going to put your name out there.

SMA: You’ve got the radio show, the seminars, the prospecting and do all sorts of different things. Is there any stone you’ve not unturned already? Are there TV or web seminars, or some other thing that you eventually will branch into?
Well, I haven’t done cable TV yet and I’m not sure I will, but apparently, it’s a pretty good market. We could do a 10 or 20 minute educational show. The thing to think about is the amount of energy that I would need to put into it to get it rolling. Right now, I don’t know if I have that energy. But I’m always keeping my eyes and ears open in marketing. Always, always. It’s one of the things I love. Not just being a planner, but being creative and thinking outside the box, as I look for that new idea, so that when I see it, I’ll be prepared and I’ll jump on it.

SMA: You’re obviously extremely busy. How do you maintain a balanced life while still being a successful advisor?
I think anybody who wants a balanced life needs to have an avacation. I sing in a classical choir. Music is a phenomenal stress releaser. When I work, I work. On my weekends, I don’t do any work. I don’t come in; I don’t make plans; I don’t take home any work. I’ll pop over to my physical therapist and get a therapeutic massage. I love to cook and I love to entertain friends and family. I’m very balanced. My husband is my best friend. We do travel a lot, maybe four or five company trips a year and then two or three of our own vacations.

For more from the 2008 Advisor of the Year, Rosemary Caligiuri, check out this exclusive video interview.