I sat down with Vicki Gunvalson recently to get her thoughts on building a successful practice, being a woman in a male-dominated insurance industry and being the star of a hit TV show. Gunvalson is the owner of Santa Margarita, Calif.-based Coto Insurance & Financial Services. Season 10 of her show, The Real Housewives of Orange County, premieres June 8 on Bravo.
DANIEL WILLIAMS: Few advisors are TV stars and even fewer have catch phrases. What’s the origin of yours?
VICKI GUNVALSON: My “woo-hoo”? I have no idea. About nine years ago, something just struck me, and the next thing you know, I’m saying “woo-hoo!” everywhere I go.
DW: You juggle a TV show and an advisory practice. What’s a typical day like for you?
VG: I try to get to the gym by 6:00 am. I’m home by 7:30 and usually at the office by 9:00. I see clients every two hours. We’re doing either reviews or first or second appointments. Typically, I see clients twice before we go into a close or a recommendation plan. We’re not a quick fix — we’re going to be there for you through your lifetime. I think that’s unusual for many advisors. They want to go in and fix it and then walk away and never talk to their client again. So I consider my agency more of a boutique agency. We’re really specialized to take care of our clients. That means a lot to me.
DW: Your father’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s had a huge effect not only on your family but on you. It led you into this industry.
VG: My father was diagnosed at 59. If you look at life expectancy, he should have lived to 85 or 90. He was robbed. He died at 67, and my parents hadn’t planned for that. They didn’t have long-term care insurance. They had a very small life insurance policy, and my sister and I looked at that and talked to each other and said “Wow, there are a lot of people in a similar retirement situation.” She has her own practice in Illinois, and I have mine here. We’re both really passionate about educating people about what could happen. If it’s not an illness, it could be a death.
DW: And you also speak to groups of people.
VG: My main focus had been selling Internet term-life insurance. You’re talking to one person at a time. Now I talk one time to 30 or 40 people. And we do that through educational seminars. From those workshops, we’re able to set up appointments where we can go over people’s plans in a one-on-one setting. We go over their red flags, find out about their concerns and see how we can help.
DW: According to the latest statistics, only about 15 percent of agents are women. And yet women tend to be better listeners, more empathetic. What advice do you have for women in the field?
VG: Women producers, they’re shy about getting into the industry. They don’t feel confident about entering a male-dominated industry. For me, it’s not gender-specific. I’m out there to do the right thing for the client. And I want to get as many women advisors out there, because I do think we’re more empathetic. I do think we’re more compassionate. I’m not in it for the sale. I’m in it to earn the client’s trust, and I think that’s what’s different sometimes.
DW: Social Security is another big issue for people. How do you help with that?
VG: Social Security is one of those deposits that you can rely on, whether you’re working or not. My mom lived on Social Security alone. She depended on it. The problem is people don’t know when to turn it on. There are more than 400 different options you can take when you claim Social Security. Should you claim it on your spouse? Should you claim it on your ex-spouse? Should you claim it on yourself? When you’re 62? When you’re 66? We have a software program that can show the client the best option. After age 66, there’s an 8 percent increase. Where can you make an 8 percent return on your money right now? So we sometimes encourage people to access money from another bucket first and then turn on Social Security later.