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Shorter lifespans challenge retirement advice

Liz DeCarlo

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Sy adds real estate license to address clients' interest in more tangible assets.
Convincing prospects they need to plan for retirement in a country not known for longevity is a challenge for Timothie Williamson Sy, a five-year MDRT member from Bacolod, Philippines. “Our average lifespan in the Philippines is 68 years, so people don’t think about retirement plans,” Sy said. “The majority of people aren’t well off and can’t take care of their health concerns, so they’d rather wait until a year or two before retirement to do any planning.”

The Filipino culture also emphasizes caring for family and parents, so most prospects see their family as their retirement plan. “We’re very attached to family, even when we move overseas,” Sy said.

Still, Sy is undeterred. He started as a financial advisor at the age of 20. Now, eight years later, he manages 20 advisors. His target market is the parents of friends his age, not the friends themselves. “When I talk to my friends, I ask them to introduce me to their parents,” he explained. “The ones my age don’t have money; their parents do.”

Prospecting a target market twice his age, especially at first, required pre-planning and a little more attention to his physical appearance, Sy said. “I’m growing a beard to look older,” he said, only half-joking. “It isn’t easy at first to talk to someone so much older.”

To compensate for his youth and inexperience, Williamson created detailed scripts to use with prospects. “I had everything scripted, from hi to goodbye. I had the complete script and any questions and answers memorized,” he said. “It was as if I knew everything, but I just memorized.” Now, Sy provides those scripts to the agents he manages, so when they meet with clients, they also have the right answers to all the questions. It’s a strategy that has worked well for both Sy and his advisors.

“Clients see houses and cars as an investment. These are our competition in a way.”
Client concerns
Having the right strategies to talk with prospects and clients is critical because of a lack of offerings in terms of retirement and investment products in the Philippines. “We’re not as advanced as other countries, so we don’t have a lot of choices and products,” Sy said.

There’s also a stigma against life insurance, due in part to the pre-need companies that became popular in the late 1990s. These companies sold products such as education funds, where parents put money aside before the need arose, similar to an endowment plan, Sy said.

But problems arose when many of the companies went bankrupt, taking people’s savings with them. “This is a problem for us, because it was associated with life insurance, so prospects think we’ll go bankrupt,” Sy said. “The moment you say ‘life insurance,’ they close the door, literally, or run away from you because they had a bad experience and lost money.”

Sy is quick to point out that life insurance companies are regulated, unlike the pre-need companies, which only had to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission but were otherwise unregulated. But it can be difficult to overcome the preconceived ideas many prospects and clients have regarding life insurance.

Also, many clients still prefer to put their cash into more tangible assets, such as housing, so Sy has acquired his real estate broker license. In addition to being certified as a financial advisor and a financial planner, he is now qualified to add real estate to his services.

“Clients see houses and cars as an investment. These are our competition in a way,” Sy said. “I took the real estate exam so I could be more knowledgeable and helpful if they’re going to go into real estate as an investment.”

Sy also helps clients reduce their risk as they maneuver the culture of entrepreneurship in the Philippines. Many Filipinos see their careers in two phases: In the first, they work for others. During the second stage, they want to own their own business. “But they have no idea what business,” said Sy, who tries to help clients understand the need for a backup plan to business ownership.

“They might take offense if I tell them, ‘If you go into business, you’ll fail,’ so I offer a supplementary financial plan, which often includes life insurance.” Sy explains to the client that this allows them to be prepared for whatever happens with their business. “I say, ‘This is like a business. You put capital in now, and it’ll already be generating income for you.”

Timothie Sy


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