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Using life's lessons as motivation

Matt Pais

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Married advisors both enter profession to help after seeing their relatives in need.
Leo was a veteran. He and his wife, Pinky, were hard-working parents of 10. Yet Pinky outlived Leo by more than 15 years, and when he died, she didn’t even have a chance to mourn him because she was stuck with so many bills.

“She wasn’t educated on finances at all and had to sell the house that my dad and his nine siblings grew up in almost immediately,” said their granddaughter Lisa Barram, a one-year MDRT member from Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. “The person who was managing their money didn’t care. He just charged a fee and offered whatever investment options were being pushed.”

This and a whopping four other incidents of incomplete planning, particularly regarding long-term care, has impacted her family members’ financial stability and quality of life. That was a big part of what led Lisa and her husband Daniel Barram, RICP — like his wife, a one-year MDRT member and immediate Top of the Table qualifier — to enter the financial services profession and specialize in retirement planning.

Years of service
Lisa spent nearly 18 years helping people before becoming an advisor. Working in the nonprofit world, she raised millions of dollars for charity and helped open hundreds of literacy projects. But in 2011, while traveling with an advisor she was working with, Lisa was introduced to a group of Top of the Table members. This experience connected her interest in helping people to the type of service being given by members she met.

“I was really impressed that not one of them talked about selling to people or transactional business,” she said, noting that the type of holistic work they did could have helped her family. “After that, I got even more passionate about educating people.”

Many members told her she should be in their line of work, and Lisa came home energized. But when Daniel encouraged Lisa to take the Top of the Table members’ advice, she was uneasy. “I wanted to make sure I had the tools to put my hands around an individual or a family and do a complete plan for them,” she said.

So both Barrams, neither yet licensed as advisors or investment experts, committed to supporting another advisor (Daniel as chief operating officer, Lisa managing consumer advocacy and marketing), only to marvel at the insufficient guidance being provided to clients.

Driven by education
Fast-forward to the present: A few years after detaching from the underwhelming advisor, getting licensed and learning even more about long-term care from 18-year MDRT member Don Quante, Lisa and Daniel developed a seminar to educate prospects on retirement risks.

Each attendee receives a workbook about retirement. “If you never meet me again, I’ve given you information tonight to challenge your current advisor or plan,” Lisa tells them. “These are risks I want to make sure you’re addressing.”

This, too, is driven by experience and seeing how many individuals, even those with millions, do not understand how investments or certain products work. Part of the client service hinges on education about insurance and investment options, to ensure clients understand what the choices are and not just diving into a plan in a second or third meeting. “I’ve not yet found a client who has understood what a variable annuity was supposed to do,” Daniel said.

Of course, sometimes action happens quickly, such as a client with a terminal illness who nearly let a term life insurance policy lapse. Daniel called the insurance company and converted the policy to whole life, also helping the client’s wife with investments. She received the death benefit when her husband passed away nine months later.

Through their work, clients avoid the challenges the Barrams have seen firsthand. Before one client passed away, he told his kids, “‘Call Lisa. Your mom is going to be OK; Lisa and Daniel have done a plan for her,’” Lisa remembered. “I just started crying.”

“Somebody can have great asset management but spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on long-term care, and that will destroy any good plan,” Lisa said. “Life taught us a lot more than anything else could have.”

Lisa Barram

Daniel Barram


Through holistic planning, the Barrams help clients like Joe and Cynthia, who were concerned about having enough income in retirement, especially if one or both needed long-term care. Cynthia, previously turned down for long-term care, now has a long-term care policy where the premium passes to heirs if she doesn’t use it, and annuities will create a pension for the self-employed Joe when he retires.

They even became comfortable enough to invest in the market for the first time in more than a decade. “It’s like a symphony — a finely tuned arrangement of vehicles, all with an intended purpose,” Lisa said.

Another key part of the system comes with treating everyone the same, whether they have $60,000 or $6 million. One result: Clients with just $50,000 invested have generated more than $2 million in referred investments.

Long-term care remains a main focus because of what they’ve seen in their own families, and Lisa has trained other advisors and home-care companies on the topic.


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