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How to approach an unapproachable market

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Chantel Bonneau quotes a Northwestern Mutual study of millennials that she says sums up her own beliefs: “One-third of millennials think that lack of having a plan was going to be the biggest obstacle for them when it comes to financial planning.”

She should know — she’s 27 years old herself.

Bonneau, a wealth management advisor with Northwestern Mutual in Los Angeles, says she’s made it her job to reach the millennial market and help them get that plan. She does it by getting inside her own head.

Just five years into her career — one she says is “my first job out of college and hopefully my only” — Chantel has learned quite a bit about the market, and also about how to approach what other agents may consider the unapproachable market: the 25–35 age range. While millennials are not the only client base she serves, she enjoys getting her generation excited about financial planning.

This enthusiasm has propelled her to win a number of accolades in her short career. Her early success in building a client base earned her Northwestern Mutual’s Top Financial Advisor for the Western Region and Top College Unit Director for her recruitment activity. More recently, her impact in the market secured a spot on LifeHealthPro’s “30 under 30” list.

Strategic beginnings

Bonneau’s career was borne of the desire to unite her academic interests into one job. While studying economics and accounting at UCLA, Bonneau was drawn to the idea of combining those areas of concentration into a career. She interviewed with investment firms, insurance companies and other companies that were looking for those attributes. Yet they had to provide something, too. She wanted a career that would allow her to “work with clients on both sides of the table.”

One of those companies was Northwestern Mutual. She interviewed with them in her senior year and began working for them after graduation.

Like most new agents and advisors, Bonneau knew her first objective was to get clients. In an area where many new agents founder, Bonneau thrived. She describes her client base as “all over the board,” but says she enjoys most working with millennials. “I love that group of people who have not even touched their potential yet but are working hard toward it. I’m excited to build that relationship and hopefully work with them for the next 35 years.”

Simply being millennials doesn’t make them her perfect clients, however. In fact, Bonneau has a snapshot of her ideal client, and she asks her current clients for referrals based on that image. “I ask for people who love what they do. I don’t want someone who hates their job — they’re not going to be excited about anything we talk about. I want people who are forward-thinking, who care about what they’re trying to accomplish, who love what they do and see a vision for their future. People who can connect to a bigger purpose than just today.”

That approach is working well for her; Bonneau says the majority of her clients are found through referrals. She says that’s just as rewarding as the referral; she puts effort and time into presenting her process to her clients. Equally impressive is how well millennials — that market that many agents are unable to reach — are responding to Bonneau’s approach. She says it’s the excitement she brings to the conversation that makes the difference. “I knew that if I could get passionate about financial planning, including risk management, I thought I could try to communicate that to other millennials.”

A winning strategy

Yet it takes more than passion to gain client trust. That’s where Bonneau has the advantage over her more senior colleagues. She says she gets inside the heads of her clients by examining her own needs and relating to the client sitting in front of her. “I try to ask questions to see what’s important to them. They will let me know. If your career is extremely important to you, hands down you probably need disability insurance.”

Her approach is simple: Learn about the client first, make relevant recommendations second. Ask the right questions she says, then connect back to what’s important to them. It can be different for every client.

“The old mantra of buy life insurance when you get married, have kids or buy a house — we don’t all do that when we’re 21 anymore. The majority of my clients under the age of 30 don’t have kids and aren’t married yet. Those things may still be important to them, but we have to help them realize that insurability is not something to be taken for granted.”

That’s where many veteran agents can find opportunities with millennials, but it takes more listening than assuming the answers. “I would not assume anything. Don’t assume they want to have kids. Don’t assume that they’re interested in buying a home. Don’t assume they’re going to stay in their career.” Instead, she advocates open-ended questions that make no presuppositions. Millennials, she says have different views than those espoused by traditional sales techniques. “They don’t want to be pigeonholed into some belief that they have to follow.”

Addressing the challenges

Nor do they want to go it alone. Bonneau says all clients, young or otherwise, are facing a huge amount of information, and not all of it relevant or necessarily true. “Information is great, but sometimes I think it paralyzes people. They feel like they need to do infinite research. And if you try hard enough, you’re going to find every opinion across the spectrum.” As a result, she says, people get stuck and do nothing.

That paralysis results in attempts that aren’t going to cut in for the long haul, she says. “People try to piecemeal their financial future together — they maybe sign up for a 401(k) here, maybe they’ve checked the box for supplemental insurance through work — but they need to execute on a holistic plan that looks at them and what they’re trying to accomplish.”

That’s where she believes advisors can help. Plus, Bonneau thinks one challenge presents “wild opportunity” for advisors: the risk has changed for those putting together retirement and life insurance plans. “The biggest risk we all faced 100 years ago was dying too soon. The biggest risk we all face now is living too long. There are things we can be doing as advisors to help.”

For Bonneau, that means showing commitment to her clients and career. That’s why she made earning her CFP and CLU designations a priority early on. She now combines her personal client role with that of a management leadership position. In her leadership role, she’s recruited and developed millennials, females, and groups that are underrepresented in the insurance industry, a move she says will change the face of insurance and finance dramatically as agents begin to share the same agendas as their clients.

Plus, she believes it means committing energy toward building a solid career over time. “Just like we expect our clients to focus on the long term ramifications in a good way, we have to focus on them, also. Not everything is instant gratification. It’s a long-term career that provides so many wonderful opportunities, but it takes diligent work over a long period of time.”

See also:

Here’s how you sell life insurance to millennials

The $200B generation: Millennials reveal challenges and opportunities in insurance

30 under 30: Meet the millennials who are transforming the industry