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How to stand out from the crowd

Liz DeCarlo

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Narrowing your focus to a niche market or products can result in increased success.
Sometimes finding a niche market happens organically — you work with a few surviving spouses and realize this is an area that suits your passion to combine financial advice with caring for others. Or you help a client with an estate conservation plan and it dawns on you that very few other advisors are targeting this area. In other cases, focusing on a specific set of products is a natural fit. Sometimes, the move to specialization in a niche market can quickly take an advisor from MDRT-level production to Top of the Table.

The Niche:
Surviving Spouses
By Travis D. Manning, CFP, CLU

Meagan S. Balaneski, CFP, RFP, has targeted a clientele that requires her to focus on compassion more than numbers. “We are very much focused on portfolio creation and management for people who are going to or who have recently lost a spouse or partner,” she said. “We help coach them through the process and upheaval of losing someone. We try to be as compassionate as possible with our clients.”

Balaneski has a nine-step process she shows prospects so they can see how in-depth the discussion will be, and what work will be involved on both ends to accomplish their goals. “We make sure they are ready to engage in our process, and that we are not wasting each other’s time and energy,” said the five-year MDRT member from Vermilion, Alberta, Canada. “They have to want to be a part of our system to really get all of the benefits we can offer.”

When working with surviving spouses, Balaneski helps them visualize the future and actually feel how it will work, instead of just seeing numbers. “They need to feel they will be OK, and that we will be there to help in any way we can,” she said. “We have to foster an incredible amount of trust from our clients, and we repay that trust with clearly thought-out plans that take all aspects of their lives into account and a pledge to take care of them for the long term.”

Balaneski helps the surviving spouse see what is involved with retirement. She goes over every detail several times to make sure they actually understand what she’s recommending, because she has found it’s too easy to make a mistake or forget details in times of stress.

“We have to be extremely compassionate in dealing with surviving spouses,” she said. “It’s a hard time both emotionally and mentally, so we have to be very patient with everything.”

Travis Manning is an eight-year MDRT member from Caledonia, Ontario, Canada. Contact him at

The Niche:
By Hoon Joo

During a consultation with a client who was an orthopedic surgeon, Eunji Lee learned the client’s wife had a serious fracture of her finger that had left her unable to work for months. For most people, breaking a finger wouldn’t interfere with their income. However, this woman was a doctor who had to insert endoscopic tools in patients, which required full use of both hands. The family was suffering financial hardship due to the sudden decrease in income.

Another client at the same time was also a doctor, and when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, it was up to Lee to try to bolster their finances through life insurance. “While consulting with the two families at the same time, I realized I wanted to help doctors recognize that the higher their income, the greater the financial risk, and they should prepare for the risks before they become reality,” said Lee, a four-year MDRT member from Seoul, South Korea.

To reach her target market, Lee seeks out newly opened practices in new towns near Seoul. She begins by identifying the size of a business district and the number and composition of its stores. She also identifies the number of new hospitals and practices, along with expected move-in dates.

When they open, Lee visits the hospitals and practices in person to find prospective clients. She also requests referrals from current clients who may know a prospect of hers as a colleague or through medical school. Lee continues to be passionate about serving doctors so they don’t suffer hardship like her two earlier clients.

“Those clients gave me an opportunity to consider the occupation of doctor,” she said. “Even though the two clients had different levels of income, it was difficult for them to cope with the financial changes caused by their family’s medical challenges.”

Hoon Joo is a six-year MDRT member from Seoul, South Korea. Contact him at

The Niche:
Long-term disability insurance
By Stephen Kagawa, FSS, LUTCF

David C. Blake began his insurance career as a brokerage representative for a disability insurance company. “During this time, I came to understand that many insurance producers did not focus on understanding or communicating this important benefit need to consumers,” he said. After working as a product wholesaler for four years, Blake decided he wanted to find a position that would allow him to represent more than just one company and to pursue a career track with greater economic potential.

He now owns an independent insurance agency that specializes in identifying, introducing and supporting portable long-term disability insurance offerings for employed healthcare professionals. Blake first identified the market after a conversation with a friend who provides non-insurance services to medical residents and fellows.

“I found that these new healthcare professionals represented an underserved market,” said Blake, a 17-year MDRT member from Harrison, New York. “The traditional long-term disability benefit provided to them does not address the need for portability, include significant amounts of future guaranteed coverage increases or student loan protection, and it doesn’t adequately replace the significant compensation earned by most physicians as they enter their practice years.

“Every day, medical students, residents and fellows train in environments where they are exposed to conditions that could render them uninsurable for the balance of their careers,” Blake said. “The group long-term disability coverage offered by most employers provides little, if any, permanent protection.”

Defining a niche market and product helps with developing a referral network within the healthcare industry and creating business opportunities with firms offering products and services serving the same market, Blake said. “It also allows us to better understand the specific issues of this market and develop our business model, materials and approach to best address their needs.

“We have been able to work with numerous healthcare institutions by providing timely and objective advice about those products and plan designs that best serve their healthcare professionals,” Blake said.

Stephen Kagawa is a 24-year MDRT member from Monrovia, California. Contact him at

The Niche:
The steel industry
By Travis D. Manning, CFP, CLU

Michael H.J. Evers, CFP, CLU, found his niche market more than 30 years ago when he was a guest speaker at a local steel-making company’s in-house retirement planning seminar. “This led to immediate prospects,” he said. “I then consistently asked each one, ‘Who in your department would be eligible to retire in the next couple of years?’ This led to a hopper full of additional prospects.”

Now, most of his firm’s business is working on retirement income planning with the steel company’s employees and their spouses. A large part of his success is understanding his target market. “The employer has a small pension and a generous profit-sharing plan, which we roll over into retirement income vehicles, as regulated by Canadian tax law,” said Evers, a 31-year MDRT member from Caledonia, Ontario, Canada.

These provide the retiree and spouse with a predictable income while also requiring ongoing interaction between Evers and his clients. Evers’ firm serves about 500 families, and tends to attract new clients who are two to five years from retiring. “Because the clients don’t have, for the most part, a great deal of economic training or financial backgrounds, we are a valuable resource to them,” Evers said. “We specialize in finding and recommending conservatively managed investments with a better than average long-term track record and modest volatility.”

Because of the steel company’s small fixed-income pension plan and the large profit-sharing plan, Evers stresses how all their sources of income will need to work together in a coordinated manner. “We bring them peace of mind regarding the consistency and amount of income they will take home after income tax.”

To continue to succeed in this market, Evers maintains a very active presence in the community and industry; makes a priority of good and constant contact with clients; and stays on top of changing trends, economics and political events.

“We all need to find a specialized niche in which we feel comfortable, and which has the potential to help us reach our own goals while helping others reach theirs,” he said. “There are no negatives to working in a specialized niche. You become better at it, and you become known as a knowledgeable expert in your field. The more you specialize, the better you get.”


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