Eric Pyles, owner, Cambridge Financial Services.

It might not have seemed like it at the time, but Eric Pyles made the right career decision.

With a bachelor’s in finance followed by an MBA from Arizona State University, Pyles had some decent job prospects when he was looking to begin his career 14 years ago. He thought about being a financial advisor or going the corporate finance route.

“I couldn’t really find a good company to work for doing financial planning, so I was interviewing more with companies for a position in corporate finance,” Pyles said. “I was then offered what looked like a great job, offering me a lot of money and a lot of benefits for one of the Big 5 tax firms working with one of their biggest accounts, a Fortune 500 company. They took me on a tour of their offices and showed me where my office would be, which was beautiful with windows looking over Tempe Town Lake.”

It met everything he could have ever expected and hoped for in a job. But while he exited the place and was heading down the elevator, Pyles got an uneasy feeling about it and had no idea why. Then, as he left the offices, he got a call from a guy that had taken his name down when he ran into Pyles as he was cutting through a job fair at ASU. “The funny thing is that I was going there to get a copy of my transcript and just was going through the job fair to get to my car quicker,” Pyles recalled. “So I get a call from this person wanting me to come in to talk to him about financial planning. I surprised myself and said I would come in. His offer was totally different than the great offer I just got.”

It was a commission job, and he was told he probably wouldn’t make as much money as he was currently making (Pyles had a full-time job as he went through his seven years of college education to earn the MBA). He would have to work many hours and it would be tough. Easy choice, right? Take the great offer!

Not so fast…

“Here’s the thing: It felt right! It was doing what I really wanted to do deep inside me. I had wanted for years to help people with their money and planning,” Pyles said. “I shocked everyone that knew me and knew the two offers I had and took the financial planning job.”

Just as promised, he didn’t make as much money that first year.

“I worked so, so hard and it wasn’t easy. But I loved it and I was 100 percent dedicated to the business and never looked back at the job I didn’t accept,” Pyles said, ”Then, two-and-a-half years later, that big accounting firm went out of business behind a lot of scandals and problems that were all over the news. So if I would have jumped at the money I would have been out of a job a couple years later. I learned to always go with your heart and your passion and to never let money make your decision. This has really helped me throughout my career in financial services to never consider the commission of a case to be the selling point but to always do what is right for the client and I know I will be paid well over time for doing what is right and best for the client.”

Financial Professional of the Year

Today, Pyles is a financial advisor and partner at Cambridge Financial Services in Chandler, Ariz. He is also the reigning Financial Professional of the Year for the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, an award he earned in 2013 as a producer of both Penn Mutual and Hornor, Townsend & Kent, Inc., Penn Mutual’s wholly owned subsidiary. The award recognizes a producer who has demonstrated the highest standards of continuing education, performance and ethics in helping clients achieve a lifetime of financial well-being. To even qualify for the award, a producer must have earned the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) or Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation, and have qualified for HTK’s Chairman’s Club or Leaders Conference.

Pyles has the designations covered – and then some. In addition to holding the CLU, ChFC and CFP designations, Pyles has earned the Chartered Advisor for Senior Living (CASL), Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF), Registered Employee Benefit Counselor (REBC) and Registered Health Underwriter (RHU) designations.

“Eric is the kind of producer that others should strive to be like,” said Bill Stevens, vice president of Career Agency Distribution for Penn Mutual. “He is a consummate professional who always looks to do right for his clients. He is continually looking at ways to increase his knowledge as can be seen by his numerous designations.”

“First, let me tell you that these designations have been very helpful,” Pyles said. “I knew that I needed some credentials if I wanted to get right into the business market and having these has helped with that. Also, as I reach out to try to form new relationships with more CPAs, it helps because they see that I am dedicated to my field.

“I know some advisors say designations are not needed or a waste of time, but I totally disagree. Even if they don’t help earn more respect with prospects, it for sure helps an advisor stay up on their practice and be educated. The CFP designation was the first one that I got and since it requires continuing education hours anyways, what better way to get those hours while you are working towards another designation? I earned the CASL designation last year and I plan on starting to work on another designation this year.”

Small business owners right from the start

Pyles has built his highly successful practice at Cambridge Financial by specializing in working with small businesses and their owners on business succession planning strategies, developing employee benefit packages and personal planning. “His ability to provide comprehensive financial advice to these clients through his extensive knowledge base and sound ethical principles makes Eric one of Penn Mutual and HTK’s most successful advisors,” Stevens says.

Pyles says he knew when he first started that he wanted to work with business owners for a couple of reasons. First, they thought like he did, as he has always thought of himself like a CEO of his own company and ran his practice that way.

“One of the biggest mistakes I have seen from many new advisors that have failed in this business is they came in with an employee attitude and not with an employer attitude,” Pyles says, noting that with an employer attitude you had to be willing to spend money in the beginning years of your practice just as you would starting up any other type of company. “Those agents that were not willing to do this never made it.”

The second reason he wanted to target small business owners is because he needed to stop working evenings so he could be home with his family. Pyles had one child and another on the way when he started this business, and now he and his wife Kim have six children. “I knew working with business owners they would want to meet with me during the day,” he says.

To accomplish this, Pyles started by researching companies within 20 miles of his home that met different criteria he was looking for, including owners he thought he could relate with and had the demographics he was looking for. “I came up with a couple hundred of these. I put 120 of them on a spreadsheet and committed to visiting 40 of them each month, so I would stop in each company at least once a quarter,” Pyles says. “Of course I had many rejections, but unless they told me not to come back I kept on going every three months. If they told me not to come back or if I knew there was no chance of doing business with them I would take them off the list and replace it with another company on my original master list.”

He still needed an idea to get the owners to want to see him, so he began doing a monthly golf outing – pretty easy to do in Arizona. “I would come in with an invite to this as I visited each company. I would pay for their golf and breakfast, and during the breakfast I would speak for 20 to 30 minutes or I would have another professional, such as a CPA, attorney or real estate agent, speak.”

This idea did not become an overnight success, but within about six months Pyles says he started seeing some great results. Another key to building the practice? Partnering with those other professionals.

“The best thing we have ever done with our practice is to align ourselves with CPAs and other professionals, and this is now where we get the majority of our new clients,” Pyles says. But it wasn’t easy.

“My partner and I would go lease space for months and even years from a CPA. We have done this with several CPAs until we found a few that we really worked well with and believed in what we did, too,” Pyles says. “We have even bought office buildings together now with some of these CPAs and house together or put other agents in some of the CPAs offices. This long-term approach really has paid off and has allowed the CPAs to get to know me and to know of my ethics and high morals that I have, and thus have the confidence to refer any client to me.”

Natural migration to employee benefits

Moving into employee benefits was only natural for Pyles after developing a client roster full of small business owners. He now does employee benefit plans for a majority of his clients.

“I have since hired a staff to focus just on that,” Pyles said. “My partner and I have also started a totally independent property and casualty company with access to over 30 companies, and have staff in place to do this. So this allows us to also offer our owners their business insurance, workers comp, etc., from us.”

He says employers today are really looking for plans that can help reduce their taxes. “As our current government believes in taking from those that work hard and are successful to support others, the business owners I have been working with are feeling this pinch and are very interested in strategies to reduce that burden,” Pyles added.

Meeting with clients

Pyles goes into every meeting trying his best to get to know the person and their business. He doesn’t have a formal process, and while he has a short questionnaire, he usually doesn’t follow it. “I just try to talk to them and get to know them, and through the process I understand their concerns and things that I can assist them with.

“Before I have even talked about what I do, I have walked and toured their plants. As I show an interest in what they do, it will gradually come out what their concerns are and then I know how I can come in and help them, be it with business succession, tax savings, awarding key employees, etc.”

It’s safe to say it’s working for Eric Pyles.