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How the Military Creates Successful Financial Advisors

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People join the military for a wide variety of reasons and with many goals. Some finish their service quickly while others stay for years and make the military their career.

By the time they have completed their service, most veterans come away with ample time to build a second career, along with valuable knowledge and skills learned during their service that can help them become successful in the civilian world. Veterans are often drawn to a career in financial services because the skills they have learned in the military directly correlate with the skills they need to be successful insurance and financial advisors.

Military-taught skills such as clear communication, discipline and a strong work ethic often pay dividends for veterans who venture into financial services after their time in the military. A strong desire to help people and having the tools to figure out how to do so can help veterans become trusted allies to clients in their financial planning process.

That trust is already established and especially strong among fellow military members, and veterans working in financial services often find a natural connection with active military members and other veterans who seek them out for financial advice.

Continue reading to learn more about four veterans who have transitioned into financial services careers, what they learned in the military that has contributed to their success, and their perspectives on how best to work with military members and veterans as clients:

U.S. Army

After serving in the U.S. Army for five years, Lucila Williams transitioned into financial services and eventually founded her own firm. (Photo: iStock)

Lucila WilliamsLucila Williams 

Military background: U.S. Army, 1996-2001.

Current role: Founder and president of Lotus Financial Partners and a registered representative of Lincoln Financial Securities.

On her transition from military to civilian work: I got out of military and went to school on the GI bill. Once I was done with my bachelor’s degree, I went to work for a company I had invested with that recruited me. Going from a stable paycheck to self-employed is never easy. It’s a really tough thing to do, and takes fortitude and the ability to keep moving under pressure. Sometimes it takes years. The first three years for me were ugly in terms of cash flow. In this industry, if you make it past three years, the chance of success goes up. At five years you are probably making money and at 10 years it really flows to you because of your reputation in the community. It was not graceful, but it was worth it.

One of hardest things to deal with when you get out of the military is that the world is wide open. Now I can do anything and I don’t have a pathway, so transitioning out is hard and financial services is a way to get on the ground doing something fast after you’ve already given up so many years.

On what the military taught her that have contributed to her success:

Communication. One of the things that comes from the military world is the ability to tell the raw and honest truth to people when it’s in their best interest. In the military, you can’t pad the truth, and as an advisor it’s helpful to be able to tell clients that what they are doing isn’t going to get them where they want to go.

Stress management. Military service members deal with incredible amounts of stress, and being a financial advisor and insurance producer also involves dealing with stress. The military trains you well for that. You learn to keep moving forward in times of high stress and to follow through for the sake of the people depending on you.

Responsibility. Military people naturally look after their own, whether their spouses or families left behind, or even their battle buddies. The idea of “no soldier left behind” is engrained. Clients become part of that unit of people you feel responsible for.

On working with soldiers and veterans: 

Everything has to be done with the idea that the military member isn’t going to be around. The number of deployments is at a record high. Being married at a young age is common. Often you are actually working with the spouse and making sure a plan and budgeting is taken care of. In the civilian world, you are still depending on the male to be a big part of the process. In the military, it’s more often the wife or woman you are working with. It’s a trend you would not necessarily expect.

There has also been a lot of change in the military over the past few years. The system I grew up with has changed, and we’ve moved further away from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. Future military members may not have as much guaranteed income. We can help them navigate that.

Financial literacy is also important. If you’ve ever lived in a city with military base, you see a lot of car lots, a lot of payday loans and pawn shops. Military members, especially when they are young, don’t necessarily have basic financial literacy skills. They get a decent paycheck and some liquid income and they may not know how to handle that, so debt management and awareness is huge in working with young military members.

Life insurance is a big part of the military community. There’s always a reality of mortality in this community and the need to take care of family left behind. Life insurance planning and discussion always going to be part of the discussion with active military members and retirees. In addition, military spouses often don’t have good career paths because they are bouncing around following their military member, so it’s important to make sure spouses are taken care of.

Steven Horvath veteran

Steven Horvath learned many skills as an anti-submarine warfare operator in the Navy that he has been able to apply to his post-military career in financial services. (Photo: Steven Horvath)

Steven HorvathSteven Horvath 

Military background: Steven Horvath began his military career in the Air Force ROTC. He enlisted in the Navy after college and was fast tracked into an enlisted flight program. He served as an anti-submarine warfare operator during five years of active service and five years in the reserves. He was activated during the Gulf War and sent on high-altitude probing and bombing runs and other missions.

Transition to civilian life: While in the reserves, Horvath worked for an import/export business and found himself at a crossroads when his reserve service was complete. He decided he wanted a clear change so he considered a career in real estate but decided on financial services after a friend talked to him about it.

“What I liked about financial services compared to real estate is you can only sell a house to a person once, but in the financial services business, you have many opportunities,” he says. “You can actually truly develop a client, have a relationship with them and help them throughout their lifetime.”

Current role: Horvath is with Professional Economic Growth Group, affiliated with the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co., and he is a member of the Million Dollar Round Table (Court of the Table), National Association Of Insurance And Financial Advisors, American Legion and consecutive conference qualifier. 

On what the military taught him that has helped him be a successful advisor:

Confidence. Because of my training as an aviator we were always given a mission, part of the bigger puzzle, but your mission is important. So I understood how to motivate myself without constant supervision and work without instruction. I had to make command decisions on the spot. That really helped me in the sense that in this business you need confidence. There isn’t anything out here in the civilian world I can’t do.

Persistence. People will come into this business and they see the upside but they don’t understand, you have to go through boot camp, and you have to get trained and develop your skillset. The military always taught us on-the-job training so you’d sit in a classroom for a couple hours in the beginning of the day but the rest of the day you’d be working side by side with quality people learning the different nuances of your job so you could do it on your own. I took that same approach in this business. I started out working at MetLife, and I looked at who the top guys in the office were and I surrounded myself with them. What are their habits? What do they do? I asked to watch how they operated and that’s how I got good experience early on.

Efficiency. I’ve learned that the most successful people in the business do not waste time on the stuff that doesn’t make them money. We have a saying: revenue-producing activity. Talking about sports doesn’t make you money, doing paperwork does not make you money. So I’ve learned unless you are on the phone setting up the next appointment or sitting in front of client discussing potential business, you’re wasting your time.

Decision making. The military teaches you how to process information rapidly, throw out the garbage, and get to the nuts and bolts. That also helps me in my question process, because I look for obvious clues.  When you are flying over the ocean, you’re listening for sound signatures to track a submarine because you can’t see them. There’s a certain way to hunt that submarine. That training has taught me when I sit with a client how to ask questions and present the facts that lead to a decision.

Leadership. I practice what I preach. I’m never going to trust someone about flying a military aircraft unless they’ve worn wings on their chest and they flew that aircraft themselves. A mechanic can tell you a lot, but unless you are in the air, you don’t know. So I own the products I offer my clients. I show them my statement and my contracts, and I can tell them the same reasons I’m doing this is why I’m telling you to do this. That holds a lot of weight with clients.

On working with soldiers and veterans:

When I get a military client, right away it’s an instant bond. We relate about our experience, so the credibility and trust is instantly there. Then they often introduce me to family members and other military friends. A lot of those guys refer to friends who are in law enforcement and fire fighters. I get along great with uniformed personnel because we all have one thing in common and that is that we are willing to do something that one day we might not come home from, but it’s a job we accept. I’d say half my clients used to be in the military, law enforcement or firefighters.

Air Force

Scott Wolf was in the U.S. Air Force before transitioning to a career in insurance and financial services. (Photo: iStock)

Scott WolfScott Wolf 

Military background: U.S. Air Force.

Current role: Wolf entered the financial services industry in May 1987. He is currently an associate general agent with Foster Klima & Co. in Minneapolis and is the president of the Minnesota state association of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. 

On skills the military taught him that have contributed to his success as an advisor:

Leadership. You have leadership roles in the military, either in small units or large ones. When you are working with somebody on personal planning, you can use those leadership skills. They don’t know what to do, and you have to lead them through this process.

Adaptability. The military teaches you to organize and improvise. Adapt your speech and language to the person sitting across from you.

Resourcefulness. A lot of times in the military, you are put in a position where you have to make do with what you have. You also have to be resourceful with clients, often on the spot.

Discipline. Basic training teaches you to pay attention to detail but also to know when to ask for help. After spending time in the military, you probably have confidence, but don’t make the mistake of feeling like you have to go it alone.

On working with soldiers and veterans:

You must first do excellent fact finding to determine what a client wants to do in their life and what’s important to them. It may be to supplement retirement income or it may be education funding, and usually there’s a story behind that. For example, someone may want to have enough liquidity to put her children through school because she had to work three jobs to put herself through school.

You find those things out through fact finding. Don’t lead with product, lead with questions. Understand the scope of the job as it relates to the person in front of you. What’s important to them? Who do they love? What do they care about?

Once you are clear on that, it’s really quite easy to begin connecting living benefits of insurance into that equation. Our job is to educate, and the client’s job is to make a decision, so educate them on how these tools can help them do what they said they wanted to do.

U.S. Air Force Academy

MaRico Tippett, a 1997 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, will retire next year after 16 years of active service and transition to a full-time career in financial services. (Photo: iStock)

MaRico TippettMaRico Tippett 

Military background: MaRico Tippett is a 1997 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He completed pilot training in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1999 and went on to fly EC130 helicopters. He is currently a lieutenant colonel in the Arizona Air National Guard, retiring next year.

Current role: Along with his continuing military service, Tippet has been building a business as a financial services advisor.

On his transition to civilian life: In 2003, I went back to Columbus, Mississippi, to be an instructor pilot, it was after 9/11 and there were a lot of airline pilots coming back into the military because of what was happening at the airlines. Many pilots that were getting ready to retire were talking to me about what they were going to do because the airlines weren’t hiring and all they’d done was flown airplanes. So I saw the writing on the wall and I went home and talked to my wife and told her we need a Plan B. I wanted to be something that I love. I’ve always wanted to have my own business. I’ve always loved money and numbers and doing my own financial planning, so my wife suggested that I look into financial planning as a career.

I got my life and health license, and then my series 63 and 65 licenses, and then I got my master’s degree. I started out just doing things for family and then every time I moved I had to start over. It’s just been in the last few years that I’ve really started to build a business.

On skills the military has taught him that contribute to success as an advisor:

Discipline. Most of the people don’t have the time, inclination or knowledge to do what I do. They could do it themselves but they don’t want to. So being disciplined, following the script, following the playbook. This is what needs to be done at this time and in this place. I get it done.

Communication. As a pilot, talking on the radio, you need to be clear, concise and correct. Being able to present complicated topics in a clear and concise way is important. When we are doing presentations or briefings, colonels and generals don’t want to read a 10-page report. They want a brief synopsis. I’m able to take a client’s situation and put it in a format that they can understand.

Attention to detail. As a financial advisor I must pay attention to the nuances of our personal finances. 

On working with soldiers and veterans:

In the early part of my career that was very difficult because they would move and go all over the world. But now being in the Guard has made that a lot easier because they are here in Arizona.

There are different needs because the military provides benefits and life insurance and a person starting in the military as a young airman officer, gets used to the benefits they have. When they get ready to retire, they are in a different ballgame and often they haven’t prepared themselves.

I understand those military programs. I can explain how they are supposed to set them up and where to go on the website. I can walk them through that. I have several young airmen I’ve worked with to help them get started, and figure out how much they should contribute. I know what they make so I can plot out what their growth should look like.

As a veteran, it’s kind of a brotherhood and veterans trust veterans. We’ve walked the walk. We’ve been there and done the things they’re doing. We understand the implications for their families. We understand the deployments they go through. We understand the financial implications that come with being deployed. I think having that intimate knowledge helps us to better relate and helps to better convey the direction they should go and why.

Related on ThinkAdvisor: Honoring Advisors Who Serve(d): Veterans Day, 2016


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