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Adapt or die: A survival guide for a changing world

Joseph W. Jordan

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There is a negative global perception of the financial services profession, as evidenced by recent regulatory actions. Coupled with the rise in technology and robo-advisors, some are now questioning the viability of the industry. Jordan teaches you how to thrive in this hostile environment. He shares why a transformational culture change is necessary to refocus our business purpose on making sure the money outlives the people and provides independence and dignity to an aging population. He covers three major issues that all financial services professionals face:
• How to increase per rep productivity
• How to sell the right mix of business based on clients’ needs
• How to build a culture based on value not price

I don't give the normal financial services presentation, but I think you will find it interesting because it's about how you feel about what you do. It's not a pep talk. I'm going to deal with the three major issues that everyone deals with in financial services:

  1. Increasing per rep productivity
  2. Creating the right mix of business built around client needs
  3. Creating a culture of value, not price

Dealing with change is difficult. Remember what Charles Darwin said, "It's not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

Let's look at the drivers of change: technology, regulations, the private sector versus the government, and demographics.

There are six Ds of technology that can impact businesses. First, they are deceptive, then disruptive, dematerialized, demonetized, and, finally, democratized. Consider how technology revolutionized transportation with Uber or shopping with Amazon. In our own business, we are facing our own technology pressures, such as robo-advisors.

There is a global negative of our profession as evidenced by recent regulatory actions.

Here are five countries that recently did away with commissions: Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia. Both the United States and Canada have recently announced more stringent regulations. We have never been more needed and less trusted.

While we may feel that many of these regulations are unfair, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that some of these rules are the result of self-inflicted wounds. As an industry, we are not known to be client centric. That makes us easy targets for regulators.

Before we go any further, I need to address a misconception: I have this reputation of being a motivational speaker. I'm not. How could I possibly motivate you? Look at the profession you have chosen. You talk to people about stuff they don't want to talk about, and nobody wants to see you. When they do see you, they don't want to buy what you're selling.

I think this business has so much negativity and rejection in it that self-driven motivation is not enough. What you have to do is get inspired because inspiration drives you. So how do you get inspired?

You have to know, and beyond knowing you have to believe that you can be the most important person in someone's life, that as a result of your actions, a family can continue, a small business stays intact, or a legacy is born.

Not only do you have to know it; you have to believe it. Let me tell you your unique purpose: to make sure the money outlives the people. You must insure against what can go wrong to gain the luxury to invest for what goes right.

Now, what is your value proposition? The value of the advice you provide and the products you sell are worth far more than what your clients pay.

Your beliefs drive your behavior. If your desires or goals don't sync with your beliefs, you will always manifest your beliefs. If your only goal is to make money, then you can be subject to something I know no one talks about in financial services: low self-esteem.

All chronic production issues are behavioral! Your behavior. How do you deal with this? You have to create a culture and mind-set that celebrates the impact you have on your clients and community.

Here are some suggestions on how to create that culture.

You need to qualify and go to MDRT meetings. The meetings not only talk about sales ideas but also talk about our impact on clients.

I also think our metrics need to change. All I see is commissions and assets under management. How many of you know the face amount or sum assured that you have created in your community?

We had a top producer at MetLife who wanted to quit because he couldn't take all the negativity. He called me later and said, "I read your book, and for the first time I realized that if all my clients died last night, the greater Philadelphia community would receive more money than if they hosted the Super Bowl." When you change the way you see things, the things you see change.

It's not all bad, because we do have some fans. There was a meeting in Rome in the early 1960s, and a very important person said to a gathering of life insurance professionals:

You are the admiring witnesses to the sacrifices of families who, through the guarantees of your firms, wish to assure their children a serene future. The light of goodness shines on the insurance person because it puts him or her in contact with the powerful and subtle forces of the family, a union which the stability of individuals and nations depend on.

Do you know who said that? Pope John XXIII. He was quite a guy. Someone asked him how many people worked at the Vatican. He said half.

Now, if your goal is to put yourself in contact with people and venues that remind you of your obligation to others, let me give you another person: Pope Francis. Not only is it amazing that he is the first pope from the Americas, but he is a Jesuit. You have to be Catholic to appreciate that. No one thought a Jesuit would become pope.

Look at his impact: He was Time magazine's Person of the Year; Fortune magazine listed the top 50 leaders in the world, and he was number 1. Why am I telling you this? This has nothing to do with Christianity or religion; it's the fact that he is a global voice. He is no fan of capitalism. In his first message, he talked about the negative impact of unbridled capitalism.

I think he is more concerned about excesses of capitalism. Milton Friedman said that the only purpose of business is to generate profits. In 2014, the top three CEOs made more money than the other 47 in the top 50 combined.

However, no creation of mankind has elevated more people out of poverty than capitalism.

When I graduated from college in 1974, there were 4 billion people on the planet, and one out of every two lived in poverty. In 2014, there were 7 billion people, and those living in dire poverty are now one out of every ten.

This happened for two reasons:

  1. Spread of the free market versus socialism
  2. Exponential progress of information technology

China's rise has more to do with attracting foreign investment and privatizing its lumbering state-owned businesses. By 2005, these two actions represented 80 percent of its growth!

This is the greatest acceleration of wealth by the most amount of people in human history!

Now there is a historic social transformation of capitalism under way. The book Firms of Endearment by Rajendra Sisodia discusses businesses that "subscribe to a purpose for being that is different from and goes beyond making money."

Comparing the time period from October 1, 1998 to September 30, 2013, the S&P was up 5.2 percent, while the "Firms of Endearment" were up 21.17 percent. When you have a purpose that creates value first, the money follows. Profit-only-driven firms seldom are the most profitable.

Once you understand your purpose by creating a culture that celebrates your impact on others, you have to take action. Positive thoughts don't always lead to positive action, but positive action always creates positives thoughts.

What is the one thing we all must do in this business that we all want to avoid? Prospecting! Facing rejection. If that's the number one issue we face, here's a suggestion: Set up a daily contact commitment. That means that five days a week, make a commitment to ask X number of people to see you. If you are new in the business, it can't be less than 10. If you're more established, it could be less.

Let me tell what is different about this. You're managing the effort, not the results. You don't control your results; you only control your effort. Gandhi said that true satisfaction doesn't come in the accomplishment but in the effort. Total effort is total victory.

I was doing this as a rookie in the 1970s. Catch this: If I had 10 noes, I had a successful day, because I faced my fears. I knew if I kept asking 10 people a day, the appointments would come. The more you prospect, the better you feel, and the better you feel, the more you prospect.

Look, I don't think this is something you just do. I think it's reaffirmation of faith that you do something worthwhile. St. Augustine said that faith means believing in what you can't see, and when you have faith, you can begin to see what you believe. I don't mean to get religious here, but I do think there is a spiritual side to the business. Nelson Mandela said that only inspiration can get people to perform beyond which they think can achieve.

Nick Murray says it best when he says there are only three variables in this business:

  1. The quality of your work
  2. The number of people you try to show your work to
  3. The reaction or nonreaction of the people you show your work to

You only control the first two. By focusing on the first two, the rest will come. Nick goes further when he says there are only three kinds of people in this world:

  1. People who listen to your advice
  2. People who don't listen to your advice
  3. People who never heard your advice

Your job is to keep the people who listen, get rid of the people who don't, and talk to the people who have never heard your advice to turn them into people who do listen to your advice.

Now, you may think that this insight about committing to prospecting is not very profound. So why don't we do it? The answer is that we let fear into our practice. Here's a short video on fear. [video]

The person who said it best was Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." When you get down to it, there are only two emotions in this business: One is fear and the other is love. 1 John 4 says, "There is no fear in love, and total love drives out fear." You know what your real job is? It's to kill the wolf every day.

I want to share a personal story about Bob Benmosche, the former chairman of AIG. He took over the impossible job of turning around AIG. He paid the federal government back the full $182 billion the government gave him, plus a $20 billion profit. When the coauthor of his book, Good for the Money, asked me what was special about him, I responded that he took the fear away from the employees. That's your job too. Your job is to take away the fear from your clients.

Embracing emotion is critical since we are really not in the financial services business. We are in the human behavior business. We sometimes forget that people's brains have two sides. The left-hand side thinks and the right-hand side feels. The left side knows; the right side believes. The left side requires hard skills; the right side requires soft skills.

The future belongs not to the advisor who has the right answers, but to the advisor who asks the right questions. In the future, the sale will become incidental to the relationship. Face-to-face distribution creates a value added.

People can talk about the past and the present, but they have difficulty articulating the future. Asking the right questions can help people do something they can't do on their own; begin to think about the future. That connection is the beginning of creating a relationship and ultimately trust. No robo-advisor can do that.

The problem is not the problem; they don't even know how to think about the problem. They want a process, not a product, to help them see the future on their terms. People don't really care how our stuff works; they simply want to be heard. The goal is not to sell, but to be understand!

Changing Demographics

What is the defining issue of the twenty-first century? Terrorism? Global warming? Energy? It's not any of these. It's the aging population of the world.

By 2062, there will be 2 billion people on the planet over the age of 60. There will be five countries with more than 50 million people over the age of 60. Japan will lose 18 percent of its population in the next 50 years. In 2008, they bought more adult diapers than baby diapers. By the end of the century, Japan will lose half its population. By 2062, China will have more people over age 65 than the combined population of Japan, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. No government can afford to provide for all these people. There must be a partnership between government and the private sector to deal with this. That's why what we do is important!

A positive demographic for our business is the feminization of our business. Women instinctively create trust and relationships.

But the most opportunistic demographic trend in the world is millennials, individuals born from 1980 to 2000. There are a lot of stereotypes about millennials. Let me show you a video that illustrates that. [video]

There he sits inside his local coffee shop sporting a man bun and facial hair. Somehow he believes although he has no job that by his thirties he will be a millionaire.
M-I-L-L-E-N-N-I-A-L! Gotta love millennials.
M-I-L-L-E-N-N-I-A-L! Gotta love millennials.

27 years old trying to make it on their own. Maybe start by leaving your parents' home, but maybe we're just wrong.
Criticism isn't easy for their ears. They feel like they know most everything. See, they grew up with undeserved confidence cause they got trophies just for participating.
M-I-L-L-E-N-N-I-A-L! Gotta love Millennials.
M-I-L-L-E-N-N-I-A-L! Gotta love Millennials.

There are a lot of millennials: 1.7 billion worldwide. It's the first global generation. They communicate effortlessly with people around the world. It's the last generation with one foot in the old world and one foot in the new world. They grew up with books, and now they are not tech savvy—they are tech dependent. They are called the two-screen generation.

I was never a fan of millennials, but I was wrong! The number one goal they have is to have a meaningful career. We own that space! We give the aging population of the world independence and dignity.

Currently, a male aged 65 has a 50 percent chance of living beyond age 85. For women, life expectancy is age 88. And, for a couple at age 65, there's a 50 percent chance one will be alive at age 92. Now, this is life expectancy. That means that half the people will be dead, but the other half are still alive.

How are people dealing with this? There was a funny cartoon in the paper that showed an elderly couple at the dinner table. The old man says to his wife, "We need to move back in with your parents."

This was funny, but here's something that's not: the Wall Street Journal article "How to Protect Yourself from Your Parents."

All the commentary on this subject comes from people like me, baby boomers who take care of children and parents at the same time. Has anyone given any consideration about the person for whom the care is being provided?

Women have longer life expectancies than men. Additionally, women are more frequently the ones whose careers are impacted the most when a family raises a child. This means that caregiving is a particular issue for women. Listen to Robyn Lewis-Oglesby's story on this issue. [video]

This story started October 12, 2006. And, I know exactly where I was. I was in my office in downtown Denver and the phone rang and it was my dad. He said, "It's bad, it's really bad."

I said, "What is it, Dad?" That was the day we learned he had pancreatic cancer. They gave him two years to live. What made things so difficult was that he was the caregiver for my mom, who at the time had been diagnosed with dementia. And that was the day that, all the kids in the family, our lives changed forever and we really understood what it means to be a caregiver.

Nothing slowed my father down, and one day he came home and he had found my mom had badly shattered her ankle. We had to call 911, get her out of the house, and she was in nursing care in the hospital for three months. Every six weeks, I would fly home and give everybody in the family a break, and I would care and just do all the work. And basically, those were my vacations—from 2006 until this year my vacations were flying to New York to give everyone a break.

One week I was at home and my sister called. I remember her calling to him and saying, "Daddy, do you need oxygen?" I heard a voice in the background say, "Yes. I can't breathe." She says she'll call me back and that she's going to get some oxygen. The phone rang 15 minutes later and he was gone.

I keep thinking back that if he had had long-term care insurance, which I had asked him about years ago, would we have had more luck bringing someone else into the house? I know there would have been so much less stress. I just think of those final days. My mom doesn't remember any of them, but I just think of how horrific they probably were with him trying to do everything for her while knowing that she was the caregiver for him and was unable to do anything.

That has just had a profound impact on what I do. If there's one thing I have to crusade for, it's for them not to do what I did or have to go through what my dad did and to get the story out and get the coverages for people so they can live their final days in dignity. So that they can have the people around them to love them and not to be exhausted, worry, or juggle. So they can think of the last days with good memories.

I wear my dad's watch. It will be with me forever. This is Mother's wedding ring and her engagement ring. They don't leave me. They are just reminders of two people. Granted they are my parents, but there are millions of people who are just like these two people. I think about what we do and nobody has the opportunity to make a difference like we do.

What a story! These are the aspects we need to help our clients understand. One issue of major importance is helping clients understand income in retirement. During the accumulation phase, ROI means "return on investment." However, during the distribution phase, it means "reliability of income." In retirement, the new challenges we face are turning assets to income, managing the risk, not just the money (like in Robyn's story), and making the most of what we have.

A life of significance is not a sprint; it's a marathon. The challenge of living a significant life is that there is not much instant gratification. Significant people must focus on what's important, not just what is popular. This can be difficult at times.

Now let me close with my story. Here is my family. [visual] My two sisters are highlighted. I have a brother, but this story is about the girls. My mother was married to a successful lawyer who was an advisor to Harry Truman. In 1952, my father canceled a $100,000 life policy to make an investment and was killed in a car accident.

My mother woke up with four children and me, the youngest six months old. She had to provide for us. She was never raised to be professional person. She finally got a job as a secretary at the bartenders local in the Bronx—a far cry from going to the White House for tea. She had to live through a number of adjustments. The Bronx was wonderful in the 1950s, not so nice in the 1970s. But the hardest decision was that neither of my two sisters went to college, even though one of them got a full scholarship. They had to work to support the family. Tough legacy.

I'm telling you this because despite being in this business, I thought it would be unprofessional to tell a personal story. I thought it would sound like I was looking for sympathy. How stupid can you get? Our entire business is built around real-life stories. So I realized my personal connection, and I became mad. Rather than describe how mad I was, listen to what I sounded like on this very stage as the opening speaker at the 2004 Annual Meeting. [video]

And I want to know, where was the person of significance, the advocate, who could have taken my father, even pushed him up against a wall and said, "Don't you understand you have to have life insurance? Because I'm advocating for your wife, because if you're gone, life could be miserable."

Where was the advocate who advocated for my sisters who were denied a college education at the appropriate time? Where was the advocate even for my father, whose younger son stands in front of you now? The only legacy I can tell you that my father left us was he left us alone.

I'm over it now. In our Western culture, with our emphasis on individualism, we focus on our separateness from other people and from nature. In Native American traditions, the interconnectedness of all living things is said to bring harmony to one's life. This belief sustained the Native American people through many trials.

In time, I would come to value the words of the Native American leader Chief Seattle as the quintessential manifestation of coming to terms with a painful experience. Chief Seattle, for whom the city of Seattle, Washington, is named, was a brave and eloquent leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes, which controlled much of the area around the northern Puget Sound in the 1800s. He was greatly respected by his people, and his prophetic vision of a world without respect for nature has earned him respect far beyond the cultural boundaries of his time. His legendary speech delivered in 1854 has inspired historians and environmentalists for more than a century. Here's the modern interpretation of the speech:

We just got word from your president back in Washington that he wants to buy our land. But how can you buy and sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. All parts of this earth are sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore. Every meadow is all holy in the memory and experience of my people. We are part of the earth, and every meadow is all holy in the memory and experience of my people. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers. These are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the eagle, these are our brothers. Each ghostly reflection in the clear waters of the lake tells of the events with the voice of my grandfather's father. The rivers, these are our brothers. They carry our canoes and feed our children. If you buy our land, know that the air is precious to us. Know that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave my great-grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. This we know.

The earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that binds us together. Man did not create the web of life; he simply is a strand in it. What he does to the web, he does to himself. Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when all the buffalo are slaughtered? What will happen when all the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men? And the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? It's the end of living, and the beginning of survival. When the last Red Man and his wilderness is gone, and his memory is that of a cloud going over the prairie, will there be any memory of my people left? We love this land like the newborn loves its mother's heartbeat.

So if you buy this land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memories of the land when you receive it, and preserve it for all children. Love the land the way God loves you, because this we know, no man, be he the Red Man or White Man, can stand alone. Because we're brothers after all.

This speech was delivered at a time when Chief Seattle and his people were about to lose everything, yet his philosophy of balance with nature caused him to pity the civilization that was taking the land. You see, in the Western tradition, we view nature as something to be conquered. In a culture without harmony, you can be enriched but never fulfilled. When you change the way you see things, the things you see change.

I spoke of my anger on the Main Platform at the Annual Meeting in 2004. For the first time, I personalized the business I had been in for 30 years. Chief Seattle revealed a culture and a way of thinking that did not compartmentalize life to me. It is in the synchronization of what you do and who you are that assists in your transformation.

The incident that finally completed my transformation was a meeting at MetLife. Despite a 23-year career in the home office of MetLife, I was never a terribly popular figure. You see, they ran a lot of meetings. You know the definition of a meeting, don't you? It's the unfit managing the unwilling to do the unnecessary.

After the meeting started, one of the participants attacked me. The person said, "He's not a team player. He always demands what he wants, and he hurts my feelings!" I have heard this throughout my life. I never gave it much credence, and I thought the other person had a problem. But I said to myself, You've heard this a lot, and maybe there's something to it. I always had a fire in my belly, but I never answered this question: Why did I do what I did?

And with this I continued questioning: How did I get into this business? Why is it I am speaking to tens of thousands of people around the world every year? How did this happen? The answer came to me in an instant.

I feel that I have been directed by my mother to get to where I am today. As Joseph Campbell would say, the way I "follow my bliss" is to talk to the thousands who can save millions from a fate like the one she endured.

For the first time in my life, who and what I did were in congruence. I understood my purpose; my life had meaning. In life, it is not the pain of the journey, but the rapture of the revelation. That which I thought was a tragedy was a triumph. You all have your very own personal journeys, but there are very few professions where you can make a very good living and also fulfill your obligations to others. Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get. But I'll tell you the best thing that happened.

I'm Irish, and my mother always wanted to go home to Ireland. She never made it. But in 2006, my MDRT buddy Brendan Glennon invited me to speak at the Annual Meeting in Dublin. I told my mother's story and showed her picture. And, in my mind, I took my mother home.

Joseph W. Jordan, of New York, New York, is the author of the award-winning book “Living a Life of Significance” and was a Main Platform speaker at the 2004 MDRT Annual Meeting. His book has sold more than 80,000 copies and has been translated in four languages.


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