Christopher Shekell considers himself a “hybrid wholesaler.”
That’s because Shekell, marketing director and registered representative with TransAmerica in Atlanta, has created different business areas, what he calls prongs, out of which he works. It’s a mix that was borne partly of his career path, but even more of his philosophy that you should focus on the relationship first.
Seven years into his career, Shekell has transitioned from college to life insurance to his own brand of business development, which he says came from one smart sales manager who influenced him at the start of his career.
The right beginning
In 2008, Shekell found himself holding a newly earned degree in business management from Springfield College in Massachusetts. In his senior year, he acquired an internship at a small investment firm. Through that firm, Shekell earned his Series 6, Series 63 and life/health licensure.
When he returned home to Rochester, N.Y., Shekell interviewed with a number of companies, one of which was John Hancock. There, he started his career as a registered representative.
It was a rocky start, he says. “It’s funny. You go to college for four years and you get pretty book smart and you think you know everything, and then you start in the industry. It’s tough to get that ramp-up period going.”
However, he had chosen well. After interviewing at a number of places, Shekell was impressed by what he heard from the John Hancock sales manager. “He said, ‘One thing I’m not going to do is make you list a hundred of your closest friends and family members and we’re not going to try to sell them life insurance or start financial planning with them. My goal is to get you educated and comfortable enough in the first couple of years to where your friends and family will see the success you’re having, and they’ll come to you.’”
That sales manager was the reason he chose the company and the reason Shekell says he learned to put the emphasis on more positive relationship building. Still, he needed to make money. “The real question is, if you’re not calling on family or friends or close relationships, how are you going to make it in the industry?”
At John Hancock, there had been a recent turnover of agents, so there were thousands of clients needing a new contact. He and the sales manager went to the clients, introduced themselves, and reviewed policies, educating them on their options. Shekell saw it all — from 15-year term policies to old universal life contracts from the 1980s that were bought based on 12–14 percent returns.
Reinventing the wheel
It was a perfect segue into the industry, he says. And it was a strong foundation for his career, giving him skills he used to reinvent a career in a new city hundreds of miles from Rochester, and then in a new company. For, just as Shekell was developing a strong career, his girlfriend (now his wife) found a job opportunity in Atlanta in her field of occupational therapy. So they moved south in 2010.
Starting over in the industry, he says, is not ideal; he had to grow a new client base from scratch. He started with house accounts and orphaned accounts, and recreated his client base in a year, this time with clear plans in place. “My short-term goal was to at least provide some cash flow,” he says. “My long-term goal was to harvest some of these relationships with the different alliances and centers of influence.”
In that year, Shekell created a network of financial advisors, wealth managers, CPA firms and independent property/casualty firms. “I built up some really good relationships where we started sharing some business back and forth.”