Sometimes it takes a little nudge to get started. That’s what happened with Tony Walker, CLU, owner of Tony Walker Financial in Bowling Green, Ky. and author of The WorryFree Retirement. In 1984 Walker, a recent college grad, was trying to break into broadcasting but not having much luck. When his father-in-law asked him if he’d like to join his property-casualty insurance agency; Walker jumped at the chance. “I started out at $11,000 a year and had no clue what I was doing,” says Walker. “But I kind of enjoyed that. I enjoyed meeting people. I enjoyed marketing.”
Two years later Walker’s brother-in-law suggested Walker obtain his life insurance license to handle client requests for that service. Walker enjoyed the life insurance business and subsequently earned his Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) certificate. In 1989 he opened his own firm to concentrate on financial and estate planning. “At the time, it was a very scary thing,” he admits. “I went out on my own and I had a little help from them (family), but other than that I didn’t really have a clue how to run a business or do anything.”
He obviously figured out what to do. His focus since the early 2000s has been on retirement planning and today his firm serves roughly 1,000 clients, 80 percent of whom are age 55 and older. He characterizes most clients as “savers” versus investors or speculators, based on a financial personality profiling system he developed. Walker’s business matches well with savers’ conservative nature: he estimates that about 90 percent of his current business comes from annuities. Despite the controversies surrounding indexed annuities, Walker has had good results with the products. “I think we’ve had only nine contracts hit a surrender charge in over 1,500 contracts (sold),” he says. “I just think that’s an outgrowth of being very diligent and making sure the clients, to the best of our ability, understand these products.”
Walker uses multiple marketing channels, including writing books and hosting a television show. He started on local television in the late 1990s with a pre-recorded show. About five-and-a-half years ago, he began appearing as a retirement planning specialist on a weekly live show with WAVE 3, the NBC affiliate in Louisville, Ky. He now has a new live, half-hour show weekly on WAVE, “The WorryFree Retirement with Tony Walker,” that is being rebroadcast by other stations around the country.
Walker realizes that there are numerous financial-advice shows competing for viewers’ attention but he believes his will appeal to his target market. “We all know that there’s a myriad of shows out there that are great quality shows,” he says. “But I believe for the most part they’re geared toward investors; they’re not geared toward savers.”
When he surveys his business environment, Walker admits that the annuity-sales market is becoming much more crowded. Every advisor is talking about annuities, he notes. While that marketing emphasis helps build product awareness, it also increases competition for sales. That effect shows up in declining attendance at his annuity seminars, says Walker. “I used to average 50 to 100 people at those (workshops),” he says. “I’d just get a hotel room and people would show up. That’s getting harder and harder to get people there. (Maybe) I’ve just kind of worn out that particular market or maybe the people are getting information from other people. I’m not sure on that. We’re trying to study that.”
One way Walker is meeting that challenge is to generate more referrals from existing clients by giving them consistent, high-level service. He takes the innovative approach of having a four-day workweek to ensure that his staff stays fresh and delivers outstanding service. “We’ve been able to maintain this volume of business with me as the only advisor and three full-time staff and closed on Fridays,” he says. “I feel that I owe it to my staff to give them a good work environment, pay them well and then when they come in on Monday mornings, they’re very efficient.”