Individuality is a hallmark of the so-called American Dream, so it’s little surprise that financial services practices in the United States are as diverse as the advisors themselves.
John F. Nichols, MSM, CLU, a 19-year MDRT member from Chicago, Illinois, focuses his practice on income protection (disability) insurance. His own experience of becoming disabled at 32 and the subsequent recovery and rebuilding of his business acted as his foray into this target market, but the clients he has been able to help over the years are what inspire him to continue.
“Without the benefits of insurance — the ongoing claims money and the rehabilitation benefits — their lives and their families’ lives would be significantly different,” he said. “And the struggles of those that choose not to protect themselves are a painful reminder of the value we provide.”
Compliance and fiduciary are the watchwords of our industry, and products have proliferated.
— Vijay Khetarpal
David C. Blake, a 19-year MDRT member from Harrison, New York, used his background in disability insurance to transition his practice into focusing on insurance offerings for health care providers, particularly those in school or training programs.
When he first began working with this population, there was a concern that young medical professionals would become uninsurable due to exposure to HIV. Over the years, that particular concern has been replaced by worries about other conditions like Zika and Hepatitis C.
“The concern of becoming uninsurable due to exposure to workplace hazards continues to this day,” he said. “We have the privilege and responsibility of helping people take actions that impact their lives, their business partners, employees and loved ones. The satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped someone protect their future is unrivaled by most occupations.”
Beyond unique target markets, advisors in the U.S. are also increasingly seeing specialization in the products they’re able to offer. Blake now sells policies that include a reimbursement benefit to cover a percentage of clients’ student loan obligations (according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average medical student loan debt in 2018 was $196,520).
Vijay K. Khetarpal, AIF, CFP, a 23-year MDRT member from Tysons Corner, Virginia, has also seen a number of new and creative offerings since he began his career: market-linked certificates of deposit with FDIC protection, annuities with required minimum distributions and non-reducing death benefits, and benefits on life insurance that reduce premiums in exchange for wellness activities.
“All of these provide creative planning opportunities for unique solution design,” he said. “I believe financial planning, like many sports, has a need for a good offense as well as a good defense.”
Part of that offense is setting yourself apart from online competitors. Joshua A. Miceli, a five-year MDRT member from Scottsdale, Arizona, specializes in 401(k)s for small- and medium-sized businesses but also offers comprehensive planning to provide value and to compete in a market overrun by fintech and do-it-yourselfers.
“You must have something over the internet competitors,” he said. “I describe our philosophy as holistic planning from the ground up. I often use the financial home analogy: If you don’t build a foundation or you just do a patch job, the house will eventually crumble or you will have to tear it down years later. It will cost you much more to fix than if you took care of it originally.”
How we interact with clients has to be as smooth as ordering on Amazon.
— Joshua Miceli
In the U.S., all advisors are aware of the challenges presented by robo-advisors and other technological advancements, not to mention increasing regulations such as the Department of Labor’s now-defunct-but-possibly-revived fiduciary rule.
“The effect of the rule is here to stay, and in my opinion, for good reason,” Khetarpal said. “Today, compliance and fiduciary are the watchwords of our industry, and products have proliferated.”
Nichols said American consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before. They ask good questions and engage in strategic conversations. Miceli said they’re also accustomed to the type of experiences they have online — quick, easy, frictionless — and expect those same qualities in their financial advice.
“Client expectations have risen from the experiences of Amazon and Google,” he said. “How we interact with clients has to be as smooth as ordering on Amazon.”
But Khetarpal believes the changes in the industry shouldn’t be seen as a threat; in his view, qualified advisors are more in demand than ever before.
“People will always love someone and owe someone, so the need for efficient planning is not going away,” he said.
Nichols agrees that despite the uncertainties and differences in individual practices, one thing is sure: “The industry products and services are needed now more than ever. And it is up to us to press on in our mission to serve for the betterment of individual, family and business financial security.”