T.J. Pool, president of Arlington Senior Alliance, is speaking today at Senior Market Advisor Expo on how producers can exceed their annual sales goals by doing the right thing.

Pool says it’s vital to “know your client and make sure your client knows exactly what he or she is getting.”

I spoke to Pool earlier this year to find out how he became an ethical advisor and what advice he would give to other producers on how they can incorporate high ethical standards into sales success:

SMA: What led you to your role as an advisor?

Pool: I started in the insurance business in the 1980s, but as a captive agent. I soon realized I couldn’t recommend the best solutions; I could only offer what the company offered. I needed to move out on my own and become an independent to be a true advisor. The term “advisor” is used very loosely in today’s world, and there are so many types of advisors, but what people are actually looking for is a trusted advisor. If everyone would do everything they can for their client and prospects by taking on a fiduciary responsibility, we would be a whole lot better off. So many advisors go into a meeting to push a specific product instead of what is really needed by that client or prospect.

SMA: What is it about seniors that led you to make them a focus of your practice?

Pool: I worked with IBM for 20 years, and with my specialization in state, federal and local governments, I kept running across all of these programs that were geared towards seniors, but so many of the services never got into the hands of the people they were designed for. I saw a niche I could fill, and I could be someone who could bring programs to seniors. I feel like my business is set up to answer any questions seniors have, or at least be a resource to get them the right information.

SMA: We hear a lot about suitability in this industry, but in your mind what is it that makes one an “ethical advisor?”

Pool: People are looking for a trusted advisor. Ethics is more than a word; it’s a work in progress. If your clients’ needs are not put first, you have missed your goal. Early in 2002, we happened upon a veteran who had dealt with three other advisors over the last five years. They’d each taken him to various paralegals to try to establish a living trust, but all they’d really done was sell him numerous different annuities from different companies. When I heard how he’d been treated, we took it upon ourselves to get this gentleman in touch with an attorney and we paid to have a trust done for him. We felt that he had been mistreated by people in our industry and the only way to make it right was to accomplish for him what others had been unwilling to do. Happily, several years later, he became a client.

SMA: What do you do in meetings with clients to put them at ease and to show them you’re looking out for them and not your own pocketbook?

Pool: I tell them up front, from the first call, that no decisions are to be made today. The only thing on the agenda is for us to get to know each other. And for me to learn what they really want and what their timetable is. The biggest question everyone has is, “Will my money last me?” But most people have not put those details on paper. They have money, but they don’t know where it’s located. I just met with a client who had a pile of papers eight inches thick. Her family had a cattle farm and when they needed money, they’d sell a cow, and whatever was left over after paying their bills, they’d buy a CD. But they were all over the place and the banks would just keep renewing them, so she wasn’t even keeping up with the cost of inflation. Over the last 22 years, we’ve helped her build more than she could ever know what to do with.

SMA: What kind of plan did you set in place for her?

Pool: I set up four different plans simply because I needed to determine what her goals were. She had lots of land, and she wanted to make sure this land was set up to stay in her family.

SMA: What advice would you give other advisors on how to conduct themselves in the right way and to do right by their clients?

Pool: Don’t prejudge your prospects. And don’t prejudge what your clients need. Keep the client involved at all times. One key is communication. We have meetings with our clients, many of them monthly, some annually, depending on their needs. They want to feel secure, and if they don’t get the chance to talk with someone, they don’t feel secure. Someone needs to talk with them and let them know what’s going on. From an ethical standpoint, most people in sales only have one or two items in their briefcase– that’s what they sell. But this is not a world of one-answer-fits-all, one-hat-fits-all. Everybody’s needs are different. You need something that will fit each client.