Sometimes the most valuable professional lessons come from the unlikeliest places. Dave Vick learned some of his not in business school, a training program or a mentoring relationship, but on an automobile sales lot of all places.

Perhaps the most important thing Vick learned about himself during his brief stint as a Toyota salesman in the early 1990s was that as much success as he had in a short period of time—he was top salesperson the only year he worked at the dealership — he didn’t want to sell cars. But he also discovered that he had “that sales gene,” and that he could succeed in sales by telling the truth, not bending it.

See the 2012 Advisor of the Year Finalists

“They lie everyday on the car lot, but I found out that I didn’t have to lie to succeed,” explains Vick, whose success as a senior-focused advisor at Vick & Associates, the Wheaton, Ill., firm he founded in 2001, led him to launch a new field marketing organization just this year. “I found out I had the ability to move people from Point A to Point B because I could relate to them really well. But I also realized I wasn’t so much interested in pushing people from A to B as I was in thinking along with them and leading them to a decision.”

The decision Vick, 58, made in 1992 to pursue a career in financial services after stints as a youth pastor, house painter and car salesman is paying off, not only for he and his firm, but for the clients he serves—largely seniors and baby boomers.

Whether working with clients or other advisors, Vick says a conservative approach to investing has been key to gaining a foothold in the senior market. “All I’ve done,” he explains, “is try to simplify concepts so people can better understand the amount of risk, the amount of liquidity and the amount of protection they have and they need.”

A conservative, gimmick-free, keep-it-simple approach has also served Vick well in building his firm. “There was a time when I tried to be everything to everybody, and that didn’t work for me. So I decided to focus on annuities, with some life insurance and securities — vehicles seniors tend to need.”

But Vick makes clear that his practice wasn’t built on products but rather on relationships that go beyond the transactional. “My approach is to think through things with people to a logical conclusion,” he says. “The relational stuff is part of my DNA — being able to ask questions, read people and leading them rather than pushing them.”

That approach resonates especially well with seniors, he says. “The biggest challenge we have as an industry is that it’s transactional. We tend to deliver an annuity and move on to the next one. But I think what seniors want is someone they can relate to, someone who’s willing to earn their trust. They don’t want to be part of a numbers game.

“I’ve been serving seniors since 1992 and I really enjoy the relationships I have developed with people in that age group. They have a great need for what I do and they just get it.”

Vick says these days he’s busy helping his clients address what he perceives as their most pressing financial issue: ensuring enough liquidity to last through retirement. It’s exactly the type of challenge that attracted him to the financial services business in the first place. “Helping seniors with their planning is just so rewarding. When I help someone solve a problem, I feel like I’m doing something really significant with my life.”

Dave Vick

Vick & Associates

Wheaton, Ill.

Number of years in the industry: 20+

On regulatory changes: “With all the concern about ‘source of funds’ in the annuity industry, it does help to have the license and ability to facilitate financial advice on securities with the proper credentials and methods. I think that the age of the insurance–licensed-only annuity salesperson is ending. They are the dinosaurs of our industry and over the next 10 years will slowly fade into the sunset. Being a risk and fixed money advisor is and has been the trend for some years and we’ve been doing it since 1998.”

On leading rather than selling: “We function in a highly transactional, one-and-done industry. I’m passionate about helping agents develop a process to lead clients to a better financial decision, rather than sell them on what the planner thinks is best. I believe we as financial planners need to think with people, not for them. In fact, I’m writing a book now titled, The Shepherd and the Wolf: Leading People to Better Financial Decisions. It’s all about the difference between selling and leading. Just comparing the two words in the dictionary is insightful. Selling comes with such negative connotations, but leading is what good planners are drawn to.”

See also: