Quick quiz: Name the two products about which financial advisors field the most unsolicited inquiries from investors. Hint: One requires an insurance license to sell and the other, a securities license.
The products that prompt the most unsolicited inquiries, as reported by the Boston research firm Cerulli Associates in a 2013 study, are annuities, which require at least a state life insurance license (and in the case of variable annuities, a Series 6 securities license) to sell, and Roth IRAs, for which salespeople must have at least a Series 6 license.
The frequency with which advisors get unsolicited inquiries about both insurance products and securities provokes some unsolicited advice from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based wealth manager Anil Vazirani, LUTCF, IAR, QFA, to his advisor peers: If you don’t already have dual licenses to sell both insurance and securities, get them — pronto. Having both “is not a luxury. I think it’s a necessity if you’re looking to stay in business and grow long term,” says Vazirani, president and CEO of Secured Financial Solutions, LLC, who owns a Series 65 securities license along with a state life and health insurance license.
Having the licenses required to recommend and sell both life insurance products and securities is in the best interests of client and advisor alike. “I don’t care which securities license you get,” says Vazirani, “just be sure you get one, and that it’s the right one for you and your clients. It will change how you serve your clients and it will change your business for the better.”
Dual licensing is something “every advisor needs to consider,” asserts Rosemary Caligiuri, president and founder of the Harvest Group Financial Services, a wealth management firm in Langhorne, Pa. “It’s about best serving the client and being able to address all their financial needs. The additional income that dual licenses provide for the advisor is really just secondary.”
Secondary, perhaps, but difficult to ignore. As much as advisors may put their clients’ best interests above their own, in pure financial terms, the ROI associated with being dually licensed to sell both insurance and securities is potentially huge. Just ask Caligiuri, who became insurance licensed in 1989 and securities-licensed shortly thereafter, having quickly “tired of losing annuity sales to stock brokers who were talking my clients out of needed risk-management insurance products, like long-term care insurance and annuities.
“In a nutshell,” says Caligiuri, who holds Series 6, 63,65 Series 7 securities licenses, “[being dually licensed] has rewarded my practice with local recognition, industry respect and a resulting income that I could never have imagined.”
Likewise, Vazirani estimates his firm’s income has doubled since he got his Series 65 in 2008. He and his business partner now manage an annuity portfolio of some $400 million (a large portion of which is tied to fixed-indexed contracts) across some 500 clients, he says, along with another $10 million in assets under management. “When I was an insurance-only advisor, I was just trying to push annuities, and I lost a lot of clients that way,” he recalls. “Now I don’t lose those assets. Having both those licenses allows me to capture funds I would not have captured with just an insurance license.”
The bottom line and beyond
Being dually licensed pays off for advisors and their clients in tangible and intangible ways. Most importantly, says David Schlossberg, AIF, RFC, senior partner at Assured Concepts Group, Ltd., in East Dundee, Ill., it gives an advisor “that experience, that knowledge, to serve more people in an unbiased way. If I didn’t have one license or the other, I might feel the need to sell rather than consult. Now I feel more free to consult. The holistic, consultative approach adds value for the client. That’s added value that we get paid for, directly and indirectly. It’s an approach that helps add and retain clients, and it definitely helps close deals, too.”
As with Caligiuri and Vazirani, Schlossberg started as an advisor with only insurance licenses, but eventually realized having just those wasn’t going to be enough to meet the demands of his clients, and to fulfill his vision of building a multifaceted financial/retirement/estate planning practice with investment management expertise. “I had clients whom I’d built relationships with, business owners who trusted me, and when they started asking me questions related to their 401(k)s, I told them, ‘Let me see what it takes to get the licenses I need to help you with your investments,’ ” he recounts. “I promptly went through the process to get my securities licenses. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the securities side.”
The owner of Series 6, Series 7, Series 63 and Series 66 licenses (the first two administered by FINRA, the latter two by the North American Securities Administrators Association), along with state insurance licenses for life/health, long-term care, property/casualty and variable products, Schlossberg has built a holistic-leaning planning practice with about 110 clients, close to half of which own some type of life insurance product, he estimates.
Besides the roughly $40 million in investment assets he manages personally for clients (the AUM for his practice approaches $75 million), Schlossberg also relies heavily on life insurance (particularly in estate planning and business succession contexts), long-term-care insurance and annuities. The ability to offer one-stop-shopping with a single advisor is something clients appreciate, he notes.
Versatility in demand
But convenience is only a small part of the service proposition an advisor who’s dually licensed to sell both insurance products and securities can deliver to clients and prospects. Earning and maintaining (through continuing education) dual licenses gives advisors the versatile skillset and product mix that clients today demand, observes Caligiuri. “The knowledge base we need to have is extensive. [Being dual-licensed for insurance and securities] demands that we know more, and since you know more, you can do more for a client. The competitive edge to help the client achieve their goals is huge.”
Nowadays, clients—and baby boomers in particular—are more sophisticated in their financial and insurance needs, and more diligent in researching ways to fill those needs, she says. “They search for advisors [who are licensed to handle both securities and insurance]. They want to know what my designations are, and they want to know somebody can handle all the issues they need addressed.”
Having those dual licenses on the wall gives an advisor more credibility in the eyes of clients and prospects, maintains Vazirani. “I think people take my recommendations more seriously now with a securities license. Having a Series 65 puts an advisor in a strong position to sit with a consumer and offer them complete, unbiased advice. They perceive your credibility and your service as stronger.”
As much as having a securities license has stoked the growth of his practice and his passion for investment management, Schlossberg says his insurance aptitude (he’s been insurance-licensed since 1980 and securities-licensed since the late 1990s) still proves invaluable. “Just telling people we can review their portfolio of insurance contracts adds value. Today lots of my clients are calling me for advice about Obamacare. If I weren’t able to help them with that, somebody else would be giving them advice, and I’m not going to know if that advice is good, bad or indifferent.”
For a securities-focused advisor, the ability to review client insurance portfolios is valuable—to the client, and potentially, to the advisor, as a competitive differentiator and a gateway to discuss commissioned products such as life insurance and fixed annuities.
Having dual licenses also protects advisors should new policies change the regulatory status of a bread-and-butter product, such as a fixed-indexed annuity, which someday could be deemed a security and thus require a securities license to sell, notes Vazirani.
There is a cost attached to securing and maintaining dual licenses, says Caligiuri. “You need extra staff to help process the myriad of paperwork. Training for you and your staff, and continuing education, take time and money, and compliance approval can be an issue. So yes, there is more responsibility. But I don’t see it as a burden.”
Indeed, having built a modest insurance practice into a flourishing five-star wealth management firm with upward of 1,000 clients, $300 million in annuity contracts under management and $150 million in other assets under management, Caligiuri says all she and her practice have invested to secure and maintain dual licenses for insurance and securities has been “time and money well spent.”
“First and foremost, it is an investment for our clients. It’s also an investment in our expertise as advisors, and an investment in the expertise of our staff.”
From pure, bottom-line ROI potential to the intangibles of client service and competitive differentiation, it’s hard to argue against the wisdom of such as investment.
How to get licensed
Curious what it takes to get dually licensed to sell insurance and securities? Here’s a rundown of the key licenses:
Series 6: A Series 6 securities license authorizes an advisor to solicit, purchase and/or sell “packaged” investment products such as mutual funds, variable annuities and other premium-funded variable insurance contracts. Earning one requires passing a FINRA-administered, 135-minute test consisting of 100 multiple-choice questions. Visit http://www.finra.org/Industry/Compliance/Registration/ for more information.
Series 7: Also known as the general securities representative (GS) license, the Series 7 authorizes advisors to solicit, purchase and/or sell virtually any type of individual security, plus packaged products. The FINRA-administered exam includes two three-hour test segments of 125 questions each. Visit http://www.finra.org/Industry/Compliance/Registration/ for more info.
The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) oversees three key securities licenses:
• Series 63: Also known as the Uniform Securities Agent license, this license is required of all Series 6 and Series 7 licensees. To earn one, candidates must pass a 75-minute exam with questions that pertain to the Uniform Securities Act. For more info, visit http://www.nasaa.org/industry-resources/exams/exam-faqs/.
• Series 65: Anyone who intends to offer financial advice or service on a non-commission basis, or who works with managed accounts, needs a Series 65 license. To earn one, candidates must pass a 180-minute exam. Check out http://www.nasaa.org/industry-resources/exams/exam-faqs/ for additional info.
• Series 66: Available only to advisors who already have a Series 7, the newest NASAA securities exam essentially combines the Series 63 and 65 exams into one 150-minute test. Visit http://www.nasaa.org/industry-resources/exams/exam-faqs/ for more info.
On the insurance side, licenses are issued by individual state agencies for a range of product segments, among them life (including annuities), life and health, accident and health, property and casualty, and personal lines. License requirements vary, so be sure to check sites such as the National Insurance Producer Registry (https://pdb.nipr.com/html/erlStates.html) and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (http://naic.org/index_industry.htm) for state-specific info.