Virginia A. McNeil is somewhat of an anomaly in the insurance industry: She knew from a young age that insurance was her dream career. Perhaps it’s that focus and drive that have made her so successful: She made partner just two years after launching her career. Today she directs case design for a family of clients, and also makes it her mission to ensure her firm stays competitive when it comes to technology and customer service.
We sat down with Virginia to find out what a day in her life looks like, what opportunities she sees ahead, and the one piece of advice she would give to new advisors entering the industry.
LHP: Why did you choose a career in insurance or financial services?
VM: I grew up in the industry. I’m the fourth generation to join the firm. When we were teenagers, our parents always made us have jobs in the summer once we turned 15. When I started coming in, I realized very soon that this is what I wanted to do. I started to see how people were coming in with their problems and my father and grandfather would help them.
Then, I went to college and studied financial planning. After that, I worked for an insurance company for about a year and then joined the firm.
LHP: Describe what you do.
VM: I am the director of case design. When we have new clients come in, I’m the one who analyzes everything and puts it all together. Then, when we go to present in the second meeting, I’m the one presenting. I do a lot of the case work and designing financial plans.
The best part of what I do is that I don’t have to come to work every day and do the same thing. Creating a plan that fits the client’s unique needs is the core of what we do.
The other thing is that some days I do things that I’ve never done before. We treat our clients like family and I feel like when it comes down to it … if a client is going through a death or tragedy we are going to do everything we can to help them and make it easier for them.
LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.
VM: When I joined the firm in May 2012, I was the youngest by a long stretch. The partners are all in their late 50s and up. When I joined as an associate, I was very adamant about changing some things, implementing some efficiency in the office, updating the CRM system, going paperless, and things that they were not thrilled at all about doing. But after we really were able to accomplish a lot more efficiency in the office, I feel like we were able to do a lot more business and serve our clients better.
Fast forward to two years later, I made partner in 2014. Now, in 2015, we are on track to double our production from last year, so I feel like that has a lot to do with the changes that we made and implemented. These changes have really helped the efficiency of the business, and have made us able to do more.
LHP: What is the biggest challenge that you see in the industry, or what is the one thing you would change?
When a new or prospective client has been burned by another advisor. I think that is the biggest challenge to overcome because you have to make up for lost time. We’ve had people come to us and their previous advisor has either misled them or put them in investments they don’t understand. That is the biggest challenge: trying to gain their trust back.
What we really do is, when we sit down with our prospective and existing clients on an annual or semi-annual basis, we take things very slowly. We’re not trying to push and sell. We are very slow and thorough. We are doing things very clearly in their best interests. We really take the fiduciary approach, whereas it might not pay off right then, in the end it will because we’re going to keep those clients for longer and they’re going to refer clients to us. We have a lot of referrals.
LHP: What is the biggest opportunity that you see in the industry?
VM: The biggest opportunity is marketing to women. Just being the only woman in the firm that is a partner, all the other partners pointed out that when I was in meetings with clients, I was able to connect with the wives. A lot of times it’s the woman who makes all the decisions; she usually has the final say on which way they’re going to lean.
It used to be that the women weren’t making the money, but they were controlling it. Now, that’s not true. Now, women are making just as much if not more than men, and they are underestimated.
LHP: What do you think millennials are looking for in an insurance advisor? How can advisors best serve this market?
VM: I think millennials are looking for an independent advisor whether they know it or not. A lot of times, millennials don’t really know the value of life insurance. I think that they’re looking for an independent advisor because, really, it’s the unbiased opinion that you need. It is what fits in your plan, how much do you need, what can you afford. I think it’s really important for them to take all of these things into consideration.
Advisors can best serve this market by educating their clients early. A lot of times we focus on retirement planning with our clients because they are older, but sometimes our client will send in their kids or grandkids, and so we’re dealing with that next generation. And one thing that we do is that we’re educating our clients early so that they can prepare for retirement, even if it’s 30 or 40 years down the road.
LHP: What is the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to a young person looking to enter this industry?
VM: My No. 1 piece of advice would be to find a mentor. I am lucky enough to have my dad as my mentor. I know that most people aren’t that lucky to get into the family business and not be forced into it, but to actually have a mentor that cares and you know that they really have your best interests at heart.
I think that finding a mentor is the most important thing because you really can’t be an advisor just by reading a book. It’s so much more than that. You have to be able to really immerse yourself in it and be able to witness it firsthand, witness it by somebody else doing it and witness it over and over, the best way to do it.
My advice to young women entering the industry is to have the confidence in yourself. That doesn’t mean that you necessarily know more than the other person in the room. It is not how much you know. It is having the confidence, having the know-how and the resources available to find out what you need.
Editor’s Note: This interview originally published in September 2015 as part of LifeHealthPro’s list, 30 under 30: Meet the millennials who are transforming the industry. Dates and other data points have remained unchanged from the original piece.