It takes a special producer to thrive in the high-net-worth market. Chief among the challenges is cracking the affluent market in the first place. I spoke with three top producers who specialize in serving high-net-worth clients to find out how they did it.
This is part one of a three-part Producer Roundtable. For more see:
Part three: How to find the right high-net-worth prospects
Q. Aside from the obvious fact that people in the high-net-worth market have, by definition, a lot of money to spend, what were the driving forces behind your decision to direct your efforts toward the high-net-worth market?
Keith Eck, CLU, ChFC, founder of Keith Eck Financial & Insurance Services: I started in the financial services industry as a career agent with MassMutual life insurance after a career-ending injury in the National Football League. I was working in a district office in Westwood, Calif., and I was driving on Sundays from San Diego, where I had bought a home, up to Los Angeles to the office and returning to San Diego on Fridays. I felt because I played football at UCLA and grew up in the San Fernando Valley, being in L.A. would be my best chance for success.
I remember the early years as just trying to keep my contract validated each month, so I made my list of everyone I knew and I just started calling. I would schedule a meeting whenever and wherever I could, and I had my share of dinner-table meetings at prospective clients’ homes. I also remember having multiple meetings with prospects just to sell a term insurance policy with a premium of a few hundred dollars. The group I worked with was trying to specialize in pension planning, but I needed to work with everyone to have enough activity to survive. I believe this early experience with working at night around the dinner table convinced me that I wanted to work during the day in the business market.
Marvin H. Feldman, CLU, ChFC, RFC, president of Feldman Financial Group and president and CEO of the LIFE Foundation: The high-net-worth market is a challenging market, but I had a unique opportunity to work in an existing agency that specialized with high-net-worth people. It was a natural fit for me, as I had my father as my mentor to guide me through the complicated process of understanding what this market needed. And since I did not like to prospect, I learned the time and effort spent prospecting was better utilized looking for people who had large problems and the financial means to solve them.
Peter R. Magni, LUTCF, financial representative with the Wellesley Financial Group in Wellesley Hills, Mass.: My first decision when I came into this business was to specialize in working with physicians and to help them grow financially as time goes by. I have a great deal of respect for the medical community and wanted to spend my career helping them solve many of their financial problems. Since they generate a great deal of income over the years, they are, by definition, high-net-worth individuals — if they plan properly. Because they have specialized financial needs that require a great deal of planning, I realized that I would be working in the high-net-worth market, which was certainly a wonderful by-product of working with physicians. Then I receive referrals to other physicians facing their own high-net-worth issues.
Q. Can you talk a little about how you made the business migration into the high-net-worth market? What were some of the obstacles you faced, and how did you overcome them? What were some of the surprises that you discovered about the market as you began to focus on it?
Feldman: I transitioned directly from a management position of hiring and training new agents into the high-net-worth market. I had to learn to think and relate to the insurance problems this market has, but most importantly, I had to understand that the problems for this market — replacing income and preserving assets — were the same as for someone in the middle market. The sizes of the problems were larger, and the solutions were more complicated, but the biggest problem was my understanding that the prospect’s ability to write the large premium check was relative to their income and net worth.
Magni: When I started out in this business, I began working with young physicians in training, who were not yet high-net-worth individuals. They had simple needs initially that would grow in complexity as their incomes grew. At that point, their financial issues grew exponentially, and their problems became much more complicated. To maintain these high-quality relationships, I had to continually research complicated financial issues and become an expert at understanding and solving them. Doing so takes a great deal of time, which I had to commit to in order to stay in this high-net-worth market. There are no cookie-cutter solutions in this market; each situation stands on its own, which is why each case takes so long.
Eck: About six months into driving to L.A. every Sunday and not generating significant production, I decided that if I was to fail, it would be in San Diego, where my quality of life would be better. I started looking for a job as a pension consultant, even though I hardly knew anything about the field. I was hired by a pension firm in San Diego that ironically had its main office in the San Fernando Valley. I was trained by individuals in the valley, but I declined an offer to work out of that office and live in L.A. As I look back, that may not have been my best career choice, as the consultants in L.A. who were trained by the owners, who were Top of the Table producers, were all extremely successful.
The main obstacle that I faced was more of an education obstacle because of the amount of information we had to know. Not only did I need to learn about advanced life insurance sales and investments — I passed my Series 7 exam in 1983 — but I also had to learn about the different types of corporate retirement plans.
For more on the high-net-worth market, see: