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9/11 Remembered, 20 Years Later

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What You Need to Know

  • Dave Buckwald could have been in the North Tower on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Six people he was scheduled to meet on Sept. 12 were there.
  • Some of your own clients may be affected by events that are hard to think about.

This September marks 20 years since the 9/11 attacks — the most significant terrorist act on U.S. soil in modern history. For me, it’s a day that I think about often because of the profound and heart-rending impact it had on my life, my family, and my business.

At the time, I was building a family, a business, and truly living the American dream. I was driving that morning when the news broke. Even today, I can still feel my hands clenched to the steering wheel, not knowing what to make of the news; “Was this real? This can’t be happening!”

On the 104th and 105th floor in the North Tower of the World Trade Center was Cantor Fitzgerald, the company that would tragically suffer more casualties than any other tenant of The World Trade Center that day, including 51 of my friends and clients — six of whom I was scheduled to meet the morning of Sept. 12. A matter of 24 hours was the only difference between my wife not becoming a widow 18 days into our marriage. Like all of us, I felt that sense of helplessness and fear that day. My wife and I spent the afternoon contacting loved ones, fearing the worst, but praying for my friends, clients, and the city of New York.

The Aftermath

There’s a saying in this business that we never really understand the work we do until we deliver our first death claim. In the months following, I spent more time than I could have ever imagined attending services and mourning the losses — unthinkable losses to their families. I stood face-to-face with 30 young widows, who among them had 52 children that would never see their dads again, and delivered over $30 million in life insurance benefits. $30 million was nowhere near enough to fill the void created by this tragedy, but it did mean the difference of continuing to live the life their dad would have wanted for them, even when he could no longer be there to make it happen.

In those months, I also faced the consequences of what lapsed coverage, a missed premium payment or simply never getting around to buying life insurance truly can mean and learned the true responsibility of being an advisor to help guide our clients’ families are protected when the worst happens. That’s why we’re in this business. Not just to help people retire comfortably and live happily ever after — but to protect them from life’s unexpected events.

Planning for The Unexpected

I truly believe that a financial plan without proper life insurance at the foundation is just a hope or wish but that is not a plan. It’s a type of risk that we don’t talk about often enough. It’s uncomfortable, but preparing for the unthinkable is necessary and our responsibility as a trusted advisor.

Let me reiterate: No one wants to have these difficult conversations. But without it, we run the risk of failing to protect the ones we care about and we do not live up to our fiduciary responsibilities to our clients. I have learned in the worst way possible the true weight of the moral and ethical responsibility to have straight, honest discussions about my clients’ vulnerabilities. Now, I never let an opportunity to address coverage and planning for life’s unexpected events go by if it needs to be had. Of course, it is always difficult to talk about, but I find if I start with a few basic questions, I can get the client talking about what’s truly important to them, their hopes, dreams, goals, and fears. This in return, creates a natural transition to discuss their life insurance and other financial goals.

If we were sitting here three years from today and we were looking back to today, what would have to happen both personally and professionally for you to be happy with your progress?

This question puts you in a position to listen. This is what I have found to be the key to addressing challenging topics. Through listening, you can avoid being a salesman in their eyes, and get to know them! You want to understand your clients’ hopes, dreams, concerns and get a feel for their values and goals. By having a better understanding of this, you can create a better financial plan.

What have you done thus far to mitigate your fears and concerns?

These answers usually address concerns surrounding family and health – it’s an uncomplicated way to set up the conversation organically. These questions let them feel understood and help establish trust. Let them tell you everything they want because it enables you to create the plan and provide the products that address their goals and concerns. Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

The tough thing is the important thing

Just because conversations like these are difficult, don’t avoid them. I never want to have to ask myself, “What more could I have done?” If God forbid, an unexpected life event hits my clients, I want to know I’ve done everything in my power to help them.

From a global pandemic to social unrest — there is no shortage of recent examples of how quickly life can change. Now, more than ever, we have a tremendous responsibility and profound opportunity to help our clients and have an impact on their families for generations to come. People don’t buy life insurance because someone might die. They buy life insurance so that someone else has the chance to live. You won’t know when the right time to talk about it is. You never can know, but I hope you can learn from and even share my story so that you and your clients never have to experience the feeling of it being too late.

A view of the World Trade Center site on Sept. 19, 2001, from the law offices of Kelner & Kelner. (Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM)


Dave Buckwald (Photo: OneFinancial Team)Dave Buckwald is the CEO and founder of OneTeam Financial.