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Lessons for U.S. advisors from points far afield

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One of the refreshing aspects of the Million Dollar Round Table, an annual meeting of top-producing life insurance and financial service professionals, is its global orientation. Held in Vancouver, B.C., June 12-15, the gathering brought together a record crowd of 11,500 agents and advisors from around the world.

About half of them are non-U.S. based. And they have much to share.

Take your blinders off

There is, I’ve observed, a tendency among the association’s American members to discount the experiences and insights of their international counterparts. At first glance, this might seem for good reason. Why spend time exchanging tips and best practices with advisors from South Korea, Brazil or Mexico when their markets, products, tax and regulatory regimes are so different those of the U.S.?

But as I learned at this year’s meeting, U.S. members can learn much from their global colleagues; Nowhere more so than in the area of regulation. Advisors are only now starting to grapple with a DOL fiduciary rule governing qualified retirement plans. Many are questioning whether then can continue to do business in the space.

They needn’t look far for reassurance and encouragement. As I discovered in one-one-on-one interviews at the conference, members from several western countries — including those doing business in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the U.K. — have for several years been bound by comparable regulatory requirements. Yet all are doing well: their businesses are growing.

Take the U.K., which has perhaps the most draconian of regulatory regimes: the Retail Distribution Review. Instituted in January of 2013, the RDR imposed rules that significantly increased disclosure, standards of care, professional development and other requirements. The most momentous change was the ban of commissions; henceforward, financial professionals could only charge fees.

The RDR did prompt some 9,000 advisors to leave the business, many of them unable or unwilling to adapt their practices to the new requirements. But those remaining in the business (I’ve interview more than a few) express a new found confidence: in their enhanced skills sets, professionalism, compliance-savvy and, not least, ability to win over prospects more inclined to do business with an advisor whose product recommendations are not tied to compensation.

That confidence was evident in my half-hour conversation with a U.K. MDRT member, Alessandro Forte, an advisor and principal of London-based Forte Financial Group. It shone forth as well in my meetings with members whose industries are dealing with a ratcheting up of rules (comparable to the U.K.’s) governing retirement investment advice: Tracey Devonport and Pravin Thakur of South Africa; Aurora Tancock of Canada; and Peter Chote of New Zealand.

Related: Jefferson National prez: Expect fee-based variable annuities to surge

Clarifying what sets you apart

In a world where commissions are increasingly being restricted (if not eliminated), it’s more critical than ever that agents and advisors define their value proposition: the services, expertise, products and planning tools that clients can expect not just at the point-of-sale, but year in and year out. That value proposition also embraces a way to discuss solutions that will prove compelling in client discussions.

One advisor who clearly has distinguished himself is Bruce Etherington, founder and principal Bruce Etherington & Associates. Based in Ontario, Canada, Etherington specializes in estate, wealth transfer and charitable planning for high net worth clients.

The components of the firm’s value proposition — helping clients preserve capital, enhance investment yields, reduce and/or eliminate taxes and make the world a better place through philanthropy — has achieved eye-popping results. From 2000 to 2010, the firm leveraged this package to secure C$1 billion in capital for charities, about 80 percent of the total funded with whole life insurance.

The moneys raised are impressive by any measure. They offer proof positive that a well-articulated mission and strategy, buttressed by the right skills and tools, can achieve great things — for clients, one’s practice and the communities it serves.

More do than few U.S. MDRT members would do to well emulate Etherington’s accomplishment — and, yes, to learn from him.

See also:

Here are 4 steps to help you market like a rock star

Million Dollar Round Table gets a multilingual makeover

Confused about the DOL rule? Here are answers to 15 questions

DOL rule could slow insurance sales for independent channel


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