There’s never been anything like it in the lives of most Americans. The wealth millions counted on to fund their lifestyles and fulfill their hopes for the future has been severely diminished. The fears and emotional state of every client mirror the unprecedented gyrations of the financial markets.

Some are shaking off the shock and coming to terms with what the new economy holds for them. Everything — from their work to their portfolios, retirement plans, financial goals, and their estates — is up for grabs. For the first time, security seems elusive to many.

Indeed, it has all happened so quickly that it’s more than some can cope with in such a short time. Looking back over the past year, we have gone through the most violent and wrenching changes in the economy most of us will ever experience.

Many have watched as their retirement plans and financial security evaporate with plunging stock and mutual fund valuations, not to mention the depressed real estate valuations.

When you add in very real employment concerns and the uncertainty surrounding personal business interests, the picture appears problematic at best. Although not cataclysmic, it is almost impossible to deny that a major shift throughout the world will affect us for a protracted period.

In this deeply troubling situation, what should our clients expect from us? What can we do to be of help to them? These are important questions for every advisor. And it’s a responsibility we dare not put off or shirk.

Whether we like it or not, the current state of the economy brings us face-to-face with what it means to be an advisor. Fortunately, we have much to offer.

While clients vary in their ability to adapt to change, the need for flexibility is more critical than ever. This is why an objective advisor can bring understanding to clients as they assess their situation and position themselves to consider strategies for regaining a successful outcome for financial security.

Accepting change
As difficult as it may be for clients to accept, we can point out what they already know but seem to forget in very good times: “There is nothing permanent but change.” Second-guessing is useless; blaming others is counterproductive; and self-blaming for making what, in retrospect, may have been less-than-prudent decisions is pointless.

Embracing change assists in recognizing the steps clients need to make to get back on track, along with a specific timetable for successful implementation. This realization helps clients avoid further paralyzing thoughts and can lead them in developing a more positive approach to their situation. While there is more than enough personal financial wreckage, the fact is that all has not been lost. This can be coupled with a commitment to an ongoing plan of action for meeting the client’s goals and financial objectives. It is a commitment to a detailed plan that allows them to see that they are making progress. In the end, this is the turnaround that counts.

At the same time, the focused and positive advisor may need to lead some clients in re-evaluating their expressed needs and refocus their goals based on today’s realities.

Understandably, many advisors are equally distraught and preoccupied with their personal situation, making it difficult to provide the guidance and direction clients need. Yet, the challenge is to offer hope by emphasizing the need for a thorough review, moving the process through the various steps of fact finding to implementation. It’s a task requiring all the skill and perseverance a producer can muster.

Clients need skilled leadership to assist them with a plan, reviewing the impact alternative strategies can have on the financial security of their family, and, in many instances, their business.

Without question, this is a demanding task, but it is what clients should expect from us if we see ourselves as trusted advisors.

The U.S. economy and the free enterprise system have always been a beacon of light around the world. Clients need to be confident that the markets and economy will ultimately be regenerated, even when there is currently sufficient turmoil to shake the confidence of even the shrewdest businessperson. On top of all that, there are more than enough uncertainties to contend with in the interest markets, future tax laws and rates, and inflation possibilities.

The test for both client and advisor is to embrace today’s challenges with a realization that our true values are affirmed during times such as these. We need to maintain a long-term view in our planning and perspective, while still thriving and accepting these challenging moments.

There is a sense of urgency in all this. Our clients cannot wait. We dare not put them off or delay in seeing each and every one as soon as possible.

The long view
Moving forward, we need to resolve to check in more often than before, always bringing value to the discussion. This is a demanding task, requiring, in many cases, that we hone our skills, re-educate ourselves, and pass on what we learn to our clients.

This isn’t for those in our profession who are more interested in the rewards than they are in meeting the needs of those they serve. There’s more at stake than we realize. Be assured that many long-term client relationships will disappear if we fail to deliver value at this critical time.

At the same time, longstanding relationships can be strengthened through carefully structured, worthwhile financial reviews. This is the time to evaluate the client’s needs and suggest appropriate and qualified alternatives before implementing the plan.

It is also true that those clients who are dissatisfied with their current advisors will be looking for others who are willing to take the time to demonstrate a professional and caring approach.

Positive thinking, embracing change, continuous action, displaying your competency, and accepting the challenge of performing as expected are all critical to success for the agent and client in this new economy. As always, wonderful things can and will happen to advisors who take their responsibilities seriously.

In spite of all that’s negative, troublesome, and challenging, we are experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Our clients have never needed us more than today. This is a chance to show our worth as advisors.

Unfortunately, there are advisors who view it differently. Instead of opportunity, they see their little worlds disrupted and turned upside down. Now, they are preoccupied with finding new prospects for life insurance sales.

A hundred years ago, in times not too different from our own, Russell Conwell, a lawyer from Lexington, MA, traveled the country giving one of the most famous speeches of all times. He called it “Acres of Diamonds,” and over the course of 25 years, he delivered it 5,000 times, earning more than $6 million, with which he founded Temple University.

His message was simple: “Your wealth is too near to you. You are looking right over it.”

Because selling life insurance is more demanding than ever right now, it’s easy to look far and wide for our acres of diamonds. Yet, our wealth is in our BlackBerries and computers — in the clients who need us more than ever.

Allan D. Gersten is chairman of First American Insurance Underwriters, a brokerage firm based in Needham, MA. He has been in life insurance sales since 1969. He can be reached at 800-444-8715 or agersten@faiu.com.