The fast track to business growth often comes from developing key relationships, and for life insurance specialist Josh Sterling, there are no better relationships than those he has made in the worlds of accounting, law and financial planning.
These centers of influence have exponentially expanded Sterling’s advanced insurance planning practice within Asset Protection Strategies Group Inc., a wealth management firm based in Windsor, Calif., in the heart of the Sonoma County wine country.
“It’s about building trust and casting a wider net,” according to Sterling. “We can talk to one prospect, or we can talk to somebody who can talk to 500 people. It’s a win for everybody. We win because we get new business, the professional centers of influence win with our advanced planning, and the clients get a win.”
A big opportunity for Sterling lies in the education gap he sees between wealth management and life insurance planning.
Whether working with certified public accountants, attorneys, certified financial planners or insurance professionals in property & casualty and health and wellness, Sterling offers his knowledge about advanced strategies such as executive bonus plans, leveraged benefit planning, tax-free life-insurance retirement plans and key man insurance with “golden handcuffs” that protect against the loss of a key employee.
For example, Sterling may receive a call from a CPA or a CFP seeking a review of a client’s life insurance policies. Asset Protection Strategies Group will then step in and offer its expertise to the accounting or planning firm, which doesn’t employ any insurance professionals. Once APSG has provided a few advanced insurance-planning options, its advisory role is complete.
“In other words, we’re not stealing a financial planner’s clients,” Sterling said in a recent phone interview. “One of the things we tell our centers of influence is that we want them to be the hero. We stay behind the scenes and help them bring value to their client base.”
Of course, this team approach brings business advantages to Sterling and his wealth management firm. After earning his California life insurance license five years ago, Sterling got involved in advanced planning three years ago, and Asset Protection Strategies Group then provided advanced life insurance to all of its existing clients.
Sterling, 41, comes naturally to taking a team approach. Before joining APSG in 2009, he spent eight years as an assistant coach for the men’s soccer program at Sonoma State University, a team he himself had played for while a student. He was on hand in 2002 to help the Seawolves claim their first National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s soccer championship in a 4-3 victory over Southern New Hampshire.
Sterling was busy running Sterling Soccer, his youth soccer program for 2,500 kids ages 8 to 18, when his former Sonoma State teammate and APSG co-owner and president, Dan Ott, got to talking with him about how the wealth-management firm didn’t cover “late stage” college planning for families who don’t have much time to save.
Those discussions led to Sterling’s decision to join APSG, and he passed his certified college planning specialist exams in January 2009. The firm’s college-planning business grew as he started offering workshops all around Sonoma County. As a result of his efforts, APSG gained a raft of new wealth-management clients.
APSG Chief Executive Joe Gass then asked Sterling to help the firm’s clients buy term life policies as part of their overall wealth-management and financial-planning strategies. Sterling found that he enjoyed the insurance side of the business, and so he got licensed in 2010 and found a life-changing career path.
“I hung up everything I was doing in the soccer world and dove in full time into the insurance world,” said the father of 9- and 5-year-old sons who now play soccer instead of their dad. (Sterling’s wife, Kristy, also has roots in soccer and was a collegiate player.)