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21st century advisor

Sanjay Tolani, FLMI, MBA

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Advisors today need to present complex solutions to appease the multifaceted financial goals of knowledgeable and demanding clients. Tolani explains how combining existing knowledge with new information can lead to high income. He addresses building a universal presentation, handling objections and concerns, and how to answer the question, “Why should I choose you as my advisor?”

"Why choose me?" I have asked this question myself from the day I joined this business. Why should a client choose me over all the other advisors in the business? With so many advisors in the market, what makes me stand out? The day we can answer this question, we find the USP (Unique Selling Point) that we bring to the table in front of our prospects. This business is not about selling a product; everyone can copy that. It is a profession that requires an individual to dedicate his or her time to ensure the well-being of the family of another. This dedication needs to be genuine and honest. It is a profession that manages the lives of families, to continue when the roadblocks of life come in the way. But it all comes down to "Why choose me as your advisor?"

My journey through this profession started when I was just 17 years old. My father, who had a thriving insurance agency in Dubai, asked me to take the new sales staff for training, for which he bought a new car. So I enjoyed driving the new car, but it came with a price . . . sitting through the training with the staff. After six months of boring training and pretty much the same training, it came to a point that I knew more about the products than anyone at my office. I felt that I could give the most basic advice to anyone. Well, my training period and job was over, I started university, and guess what—I did all my presentations on retirement planning. My prospect base was my classmates and my teachers, and the best part of it was, they didn't have a choice but to listen to my presentation.

It was a fantastic start to a career that was quite unexpected. None of my friends liked to save money. They only liked shopping; all the girls in my class loved shopping—Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermès, etc.—it was a secret that the boys liked it too. So I decided to meet with the parents of my friends. I said, "I am going to teach your children to save money." The parents were shocked. They said, "You will teach my daughter to save money?" I said, "It comes with a condition. Whatever your daughter saves, you will match her savings." The father said, "Forget matching. I will double it. So if she saves $500 per month, I will save $1,000 extra for her." So I went to the daughter and said, "I told your father to increase your pocket money by $1,000." She said, "What? How did you get him to give me $1,000 extra? He is so stingy! He wants details of every dollar I spend." I told her, "It comes with a condition. You save $500, and he will add $1,000 on top of it to your account." She said, "Really? Where do I sign for this account?" I closed 60 cases in my first year, and I became an MDRT member at the age of 19. Now, year 1 was easy. How did I repeat the same and qualify for Court of the Table? I went to the father and told him, "Your daughter has a retirement plan. What is your retirement plan?" He said, "I don't have a plan." How hard do you think it was to sell a second retirement plan to the family? And because he is older, he had to save double. That's it. I qualified for Court of the Table by the time I was 21 and had done 180 cases. I qualified for Top of the Table at the age of 23 and became a life member at the age of 28.

I started working harder in this business five years ago because of two incidents that happened in my life.

An hour before my sister's wedding, my father suffered a brain stroke. Yes, just one hour before. That day is still fresh in my memory, because I was sitting in the hospital, while the functions continued back home. It wasn't until after the wedding was over (a typical Indian wedding lasts for four days) that I realized the kind of burden that would fall on my shoulders. You see, my business was built with four pillars in place. My father used to handle the strategy for the company, my sister the administration, and my mother the finance and banking, and I used to head sales and business development. Overnight, I was alone in the office, my sister was married and the family she married moved to India, my mother was going back and forth between home and the hospitals taking care of my father, and I was alone. But there is a silver lining to every dark night: My dad had planned for this event. He knew that someday, if something did hit the family, we would have the right plans in place to keep our head out of water. His key man insurance paid out. It not only kept me afloat, but also gave me the liquidity I needed to run my business. True friends, true and loyal employees—hey, I realized what true means, because in a matter of nine months, between my father's two brain strokes, we lost 254 clients and almost $150,000 in revenue, and I was engaged to be married and have a partner come into my life.

Every person in the world has a Plan A in life that makes sure that his or her business is a success, investments make money, properties provide income, and so on. But what if all this fails? What is Plan B? We are in the business of building the Plan B in the lives of our clients. Who else would spend time building this safety net for these families?

The value of insurance—I truly learned the value; it was the most sacred money I got when I needed it the most. Thanks, Dad. If not for your vision and foresight, I might have been lost and probably out of this beautiful business.

It was after this that I built a presentation.

Did you know that the average life span of a person is roughly 28,000 days? You're going to live till the age of 76.7 years. Which number sounds scarier? Which sounds easier? It doesn't matter, because in the end, they're the same number! But the way the human brain perceives years and days is very different. Days always sound shorter and easier to deal with. If I tell you that it's about 60 days to your big Christmas bonus, you're happily and excitedly ticking the days off your calendar, aren't you? If I tell you that it's more than seven weeks away, you're a little gloomier. Nothing excites us more than instant gratification. That's human nature. We've built a world around it, haven't we?

Smartphones. Instant noodles. Online payments. Emails. We cannot wait. We want it all now. The glitch here is that all these things are possible only with money. Even for the innovation that brought these things into our lives, there was one invention that preceded it all: money. Whether you call it finance or investment or wealth creation or reserves or any fancy term you want, in the end, it's that dollar bill in your hand. It's that one single unit that makes your world go around every single day.

So back to the number 28,000, which is 76.71 years. Let's say it's approximately 80 years. We like to break this into four parts: 0‒20, 20‒40, 40‒60, and 60‒80.

  1. 0‒20: We play, study, and so on.
  2. 20‒40: We get our first job, we buy our first car, we get married, and we have kids.
  3. 40‒60: We might get a second job or have changed our careers or started a business. We would surely have bought a second car and usually a second house as an investment, but, more importantly, our kids would be finishing the first part of their lives.
  4. 60‒80: We would hope to retire.

During 0‒20 and 60‒80, we have no income, which is 14,000 days. We all have 14,000 days to achieve all our dreams, our kids' dreams, our parents' dreams. Whatever we want to achieve, we have 14,000 days to achieve it.

During this period of time, we have four universal fears:

  1. What if I cannot work to 60?
  2. What if I don't reach 60?
  3. How much money should I have to ensure that I can retire? I mean, how much is enough?
  4. How can I ensure that my kids will start life with the right foundation?

Having done this presentation in 53 countries, I haven't found a fifth universal fear.

This simple presentation helps in addressing four products in the financial planning process:

  1. Critical illness or income protection
  2. Life insurance
  3. Retirement planning
  4. Education planning for the kids

This presentation has allowed my closing ratio to almost hit 10/10.

Money is much like driving. Follow the holy trinity of ABC: Accelerate, Brake, Clutch. You decide when to speed up, when to go slow, and when to change gears.

If you lose money, you have the ability to make it again, sure. However, what else do you lose in the process? You lose your friends, your family's faith in you, your self-respect, your credibility in the world, and your peace of mind. Can these be replaced? Probably not.

The second incident, which happened just a few months before my father's brain stroke, that changed me was this: My best friend got married and had two beautiful kids. One day she called me and said, "Sanjay, my husband has no insurance. Please, can I bring him to you so that you can give him some advice?" When was the last time you had clients calling you and saying, "Hey, please sell me some life insurance"? So she brought her husband to the office. We spent a couple of hours together, crashed out options and comfort levels, and made a decision to buy a policy. Well, we started all the paperwork and had things moving. The husband said that he would go home and send the check to my office. After he went home, he called me and said, "Sanjay, my checkbook is empty, and I am traveling tomorrow for 10 days. By then, my new checkbook will be here. Would it be OK to send the check to you when I come back?" "Well," I said, "I guess that would be fine."

After seven days, I got a call from my friend. She said, "Sanjay, we had a car accident. Luckily, both the kids don't even have a scratch, but my jaw, hands, and legs are broken, and my husband is in a coma." I was speechless. I had nothing to say. She then called me the next day and told me that her husband had passed away.

I felt so helpless and so weak for a moment. I was only thinking about what I could do to help and protect her and her kids. But I was helpless. The application was incomplete, the money was not with it, and I could do nothing. If he had paid me only $320, I would have paid out over $700,000 to his wife and kids.

Today, even at 3:00 a.m. if that friend were to call me, I would pick up the phone and do anything for her. I feel so guilty even today. So when a client tells me, "Let me think about it," I say, "You have three weeks to decide . . . no hurry . . . but let me submit your case." At least I will not be having the guilt that he liked the advice but we didn't have enough time to implement it, because none of us knows how much time we really have. We even have a free look period during which we would return 100 percent of the premium. I say, "You have three weeks, so go ask anyone you feel needs to be part of this product—your wife, your family—but if something happened today, I would be guilty." How many of you are ready to live with this guilt? To date, this guilt has absorbed my thoughts, and I still wonder, What could I have done different to have changed the outcome of that event?

We have the power to protect. Please don't live with this guilt. Forget cold calls—take care of your family and friends first.

If you see your friends making a mistake, would you not correct them? So then why are you not correcting their mistake of staying unprotected? Is it purely because you don't believe in your own product and probably don't even have the right amount for yourself? You are the doctor—if doctors do not believe in their own medicine, how do they prescribe the medication to their patients?

When we travel in an aircraft, the flight starts with a safety video, one part of which says, "If the cabin pressure falls, and the oxygen masks are released, help yourself even before you help your own child or someone else." If you are not protected, how do you expect to help others?

First, do your own review and then for your full family. Show this to your clients. They will buy because they like to copy. It is a human tendency, copying. In this business, copying is allowed, so please copy!

We are in the business of life insurance, not death insurance. We protect lives, not afterlives.

One of the key things to remember during the twenty-first century—and I cannot emphasize this enough—is that clients have access to information that sometimes we might also not be aware of. How do you continue to be competent as an advisor in a market where clients are better informed? That is where being a member of MDRT helps. MDRT gave me that cutting edge. When we get to meet the best of the profession from all over the world, we get ideas of how people do things differently and what makes them unique in their own market.

People today have access to knowledge but many times do not have the commitment. Insurance is not a priority for your clients. It is our job to help them understand this priority.

I had a client who asked me, "Sanjay, how do I know your company will pay the claim?" The simple test is to die and check, or to see from other people's experiences.

How many of you drive a car? When was the last time you checked to see if your airbag saved your life?

If you want to test it, crash your car, and we shall know the outcome. Or we can see other people's examples. Our product is the airbag in the lives of our clients' families. The airbag should protect them in the time of a sudden crash. The driver and the front-seat passenger also should wear seatbelts to protect them in case of sudden halts or jolts in life. We call that "income protection" or "critical illness." These sudden stops can be very dangerous, and hence the seatbelt protects us.

My dream is to be the best in this profession, and it is the belief that I am the best that makes me the best. It is inside us, which tells us that we are the best. There is no one better than you because there is no one like you. No one is like you. Everyone is different and unique. So how do you compare to others? You need to compare yourself to yourself and become a better you.

This is the best profession in the world. I have enough qualifications to do any business in the world. Why am I in insurance? It is only because it is the best profession—not the second best, but the best. There are only two professions in the world that help families: insurance and charity. Which one would you like your family to depend on?

Every one of us has the duty to spread this information. But we cannot do it alone. Our time is limited to 24 hours, and we only have two hands. We need the right people with us to help spread the wisdom of what our business does for society. This is where a team plays the role; representing and making copies of yourself is key to spreading the goodwill our profession does for society. Consider having seminars at universities, even at high schools. They are also a very good ground for building a recruiting drive, getting young, energetic students to understand what our profession is truly about.

Every team leader wants his or her team to have Top of the Table members. But building a Top of the Table team needs commitment, clarity in purpose, and, most importantly, quality advice given to clients.

Building a Top of the Table team also needs a continuous sharpening of skills, such as staying updated on our profession globally, trends in our business model, and products available to clients.

Can you imagine going to a doctor and the only medicine the doctor gives everyone is Panadol: for a headache, Panadol; for a stomachache, Panadol; even for liver damage, Panadol. How long do you think this doctor will stay in business? In our profession, we have to get training on a regular basis to ensure that we are not becoming Panadol salespeople. Panadol is not the cure for every disease. So as doctors of our profession, we need to focus on advice and what the best cure is for our clients' financial symptoms.

So stop selling products and start fulfilling dreams. Dream bigger for yourself and for your families, and sometimes even teach your clients to dream.

As you guide a team, keeping the motivation of your team guided in the right direction is one more important factor. Imagine your team facing objections, excuses of why not to be in this profession. As a team leader, knowing and reconfirming the reasons for being in this profession is key.

Every day, knowing why we get up, why we are in this business, and why we have chosen to be one of the best in this profession is key to staying focused.

It is very important, as managers, to continue training on products and how products can be designed to help the clients of our team members. Managers today are life coaches, helping advisors to build life in the value systems of this profession. Every day, our team will be engulfed in a negativity of rejections. As managers, we need to help our team understand that rejection is not toward them but is toward the priorities our clients and prospects might not find as priorities.

We all know that 85 percent of decisions are made by emotion and 15 percent by logic. Every company says that we have the best customer service. How many say that we have the best customer understanding? How many of us spend time understanding our customers? And the only people you can really understand are people around you—your family and friends, not random strangers on the road. If each one of us takes care of our family and friends, a majority of the people in the world would be secured. We cannot make everyone happy, but we can surly protect the ones who are nearest to us.

As advisors and team leaders or managers in this century, we need to be aware of what the new competitive trends evolving are. We all know bancassurance is becoming a big distribution channel, markets are converging, and products are becoming global.

Many clients have started expanding businesses, sourcing from different countries, banking in multiple jurisdictions, and having access to financial products in those different countries. How do we compete on a global scale as individual advisors in our local markets?

I have had a very interesting case, a client who is not a resident of any particular country because he travels so much, so finding his true residence becomes an issue. How would an underwriter price such a policy? How many documents and compliance issues would need to be cleared? As the world becomes smaller, such cases will become more popular. Are you geared as a team, as an advisor, to service such clients?

Today, I work with clients in 53 countries and am specialized in understanding the needs of this unique market. We all have to identify our own unique skills. "Why choose me as an advisor?" is becoming a big question today. We need to build our teams and guide our teams with the right value systems and the right training, and, most importantly, we need to understand where our clients are getting information from. It is becoming a smaller world and, even more important, a world where information is easily available to everyone, so the twenty-first century is about distinguishing ourselves from everyone else around us to stand out and be recognized.

We have made the choice to be in this profession out of true love and commitment. Let us be the best airbag and seatbelt our clients can find in their journey of life. MDRT is the quality standard for this business. Today, we have to make the decision to get not just to MDRT but to the top of this industry!

Sanjay Tolani, FLMI, MBA, is a 15-year MDRT member with two Court of the Table and 11 Top of the Table qualifications from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He works with ultra-high-net-worth clients in 53 countries and has spoken at more than 100 conferences.


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