After months of pouring over nominations, Retirement Advisor rolls out the annual Advisor of the Year finalists.
In making our selections, we looked at multiple categories.
Among those are production, community involvement, an ability to connect with clients, a passion for working with seniors and an exemplary compliance and suitability record.
In the following pages, find out this year’s final five picks.
You’ll also learn about their journeys to the insurance and financial services world and how they grow their business.
Name: William L. Danner
Years in industry: 17
Company: Security First Asset Management
Location: Dublin, Ga.
2013 Total Sales: $10,991,000
Licenses/designations: LUTCF, CSA, NSSA, Series 6, 7, 63 and 65
Before becoming an advisor, William Danner worked in the wholesale and retail home furnishing industry. As an executive VP, one of his responsibilities was managing human resources, including the development of employees’ 401(k)s and retirement plans. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is kind of fun,” he recalls with a laugh. When a change in senior leadership led to a pink slip for Danner and several other employees, “I walked out the door with my severance and started my licensing classes and never looked back. I wonder why I didn’t do it before.”
In the early 2000s, Danner gravitated toward seminar marketing. “I’ve built my practice doing two or three mailers a month ever since then,” he says. Over time, he has also built up a strong referral base while developing a series of educational events for clients conducted at Learning Centers within the company’s two offices. “Anybody who is in this business knows that the majority of the folks they meet with know little or nothing about money, let alone investing,” he says. ”Over time, many of them have relied on others to invest their money, and frankly, I believe many of those decisions were made without a full understanding on the recipient’s part and probably not a full disclosure or training education on the advisor side. I believe that an informed prospect or client is a better client.”
Danner notes that too often, advisors worry about how much money they’ll make when they sit down with their clients. “I know people in this business who are one-call closers or two-call closers — this is what I have to offer and you take it or you don’t. Whether it’s in the best interest of the client or not, who knows? I don’t want that path,” he says.
Following the 2001-2002 stock market crash, Danner began to focus on helping his clients rebuild their wealth. “The more I worked with seniors, the more I wanted to help educate them on the risks associated with retirement,” he says. “I wanted them to know how to plan to thrive and not just survive during their well-earned retirement years.”
At the age of 38, his wife was diagnosed with Lupus. Over the next few years, she underwent dialysis and was bedridden for months at a time, before receiving a kidney from her sister. “The emotional stress of her illness was a challenge for our entire family, but the experience has brought lasting love and an appreciation for life, family and faith and has given greater appreciation for the clients that I serve,” Danner says.
Danner decided early on to put his family ahead of his career, which “led to tough choices at times. But we’ve all seen professionals who chose differently, and there’s a big price for that.”
This family approach carries over to his relationships with clients. Danner works with an elderly widow and her two sons on legacy and generational planning to help protect the family’s wealth. “She has been so pleased with our relationship that she will sometimes call me her son. These days, she can no longer drive so I am more than happy to go to her home. I always leave with jars of her homemade preserves to take home to my family. Gratitude comes in many forms.”
Name: Greg Hammer
Years in industry: 22
Company: Hammer Financial Group, Inc.
Location: Schererville, Ind.
2013 Total Sales: $25 million
Licenses/designations: Series 6, 63 and 65 securities licenses.
In 2004, shortly after he opened the doors to Hammer Financial Group in the Chicago, Ill. metropolitan area, Greg Hammer met with a senior couple who came to his office for assistance with their financial planning. They were in their early 70s, running out of money and debating whether they should go back to work. After reviewing their financial situation, Hammer came to the realization that it was too late to undo the poor planning and bad advice they had received earlier in their retirement. “When they told me the amount of assets they started retirement with, I was shocked!” he says. “Had they had proper planning, they would have never been put in that position —and that resonated with me. It was then that I decided to focus my business on seniors and those moving into retirement.”
Hammer, who graduated from Yale with a degree in Applied Mathematics, describes his practice as “holistic,” and stresses the importance of educating clients and prospects, rather than simply talking to them about products. “That’s something I’ve learned,” he says. “I was a very transactional person at the beginning of my career. I did a lot of life insurance, but it was never really about planning. It was about, here’s your niche, go sell this product to people. Eventually, you’ll find people who want to buy this product. But why not make every product available and help them make informed decisions about which is the best fit for them?”
A key pillar of Hammer’s practice is tax planning. His company offers $79 tax returns for community members over the age of 50. “I’ve grown up to the point where I realize you give and then you receive, not the other way around,” he says. His jam-packed calendar provides further evidence of this philosophy. He volunteers his time and money with numerous organizations, including Toys for Tots and Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit organization focused on the conservation of wetlands. “If you don’t get involved, then who will?” he asks. “I grew up as a hunter. I hope my kids enjoy it as they grow up. If you just continue to take and not give, [the things you care about will] gradually be phased out.”
While at Yale, Hammer played linebacker for four years, including the team’s 1990 Ivy League Championship year. His time there taught him another valuable lesson: “If you don’t plan and organize and work together, it doesn’t matter how good you are. You can create individual statistics, but if you’re not in synch on any given play, it leaves a gap. You hear it mentioned all the time in professional sports: Responsibility, responsibility. Just do your job. And it’s so true.”