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Zero is the new 10 percent

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Two travelers are on the same road, one heading east and one west. Halfway between two cities sits a wise man. The first traveler asks the wise man, “What is the next city like?” Rather than answering, the wise man asks: “What was the city you are coming from like?” The traveler replies that it was a great place with a terrific sense of community, where everyone helped their neighbor. The wise man happily told him that he would find the same kind of environment in the city down the road.

The second traveler had a similar exchange, but his answer to the wise man was that the city from which he came was terrible; people there were selfish, miserable and unhappy. By now, you have guessed the wise man’s answer. He told the second traveler that he would find the same things in his new city.

This ancient story sums up the results of a completely unscientific survey I have been conducting of the business climate in our industry. I have spoken with everyone from sole practitioners to large national agencies, and to people with multiple specialty focuses. The results of my inquiries breaks right down the middle, with very few stragglers (or “outliers” as those in the survey biz call them).

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One group is energized and finding new opportunities and new markets every day. The other feels that business is — at best — stalled. A frequent comment among the latter group is some variation of, “Well… we will have to wait and see what happens with the Affordable Care Act, and then we will know how to proceed. But for now, things aren’t looking very good.”

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They are happy just to keep their heads above water. As my friend Dave says, for people like this, “Zero is the new 10 percent.”

The advisors and firms that are doing well aren’t waiting for anyone. They are happily finding and integrating new ways to serve their clients — and getting paid for the work they do. I talk with some of these folks on my podcast, and often wonder how in the world that latter group can’t seem to get it. There’s so much opportunity out there, it boggles the mind!

Some of these opportunities are in traditional markets. My friend Bill Dyess, a long-term care expert, believes that the need for that type of planning is stronger than ever. He also feels that the industry, now having figured out how to price the product effectively and with a better understanding of how claims play out, is poised for explosive growth. If interest rates rise, he sees more companies coming into (or returning to) the long-term care insurance market.

The point is, our industry is not changing. Repeat that please: Our industry is not changing. It is transforming, and transformation is a whole different thing from change. It is about disruption. Think about what Uber has done to the taxicab industry.

When transformation happens, you can either get in the Uber or get run over by it. It is your choice. Do you want to be one of those firms for whom zero is the new 10 percent, or do you want to build explosive growth using new tools and techniques to bring broader and greater service to your clients? As my survey revealed, just as those two travelers learned, you will find what you go looking for.

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