There is no small debate currently being waged in the United States regarding our shared cultural history. Statues are coming down, place names are being changed and historic symbols are being eliminated. This pattern repeats itself throughout history. Everything is known as something until it is called something else by people living later.
There are, however, some people, places and things that stand the test of time simply because they remain the starting point from which everything is still viewed. World religions have founders. Scientific laws, discoveries, inventions, words, and innovations have their originators.
Bottom line: for everything there is a starting point.
Point of Beginning
A monument stands outside of East Liverpool, in Columbiana County, Ohio, near the three-way intersection of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the northern tip of West Virginia. This monument is protected and included in both the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and as an U.S. National Historic Landmark.
The Point of Beginning is a surveyor’s mark and the starting point of the surveys of almost all other lands to the West, reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
In Thomas Jefferson’s day approximately five million people lived on the East Coast within 50 miles of the Atlantic, hemmed in by a confusing series of ridges and peaks known as the Appalachians. From his home at Monticello, Jefferson could see the easternmost portion of these ranges known as the Blue Ridge hills. He was fascinated by whatever lay beyond. Furthermore, he believed in an idea that was antithetical to the Native Americans who had lived for hundreds of years beyond those geographical impediments. Jefferson’s radical notion was simply this—land ownership. He knew that as America expanded in population the people would have to spread westward. He knew they needed places to settle.
Thomas Jefferson believed men should have the right to buy, sell or borrow against land that they owned. He also knew that the government needed funds to properly govern. (The Congress was prohibited from raising revenue by direct taxation, but land sales could provide an important revenue stream.) As a seated member of the Continental Congress he sponsored a bill in 1785 known as the “Land Ordinance.” “The Land Ordinance established the basis for the Public Land Survey System.”1
The Public Land Survey System (aka “Rectangular Survey System”) was established to survey land ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris in 1783. This territory included what is now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The Land Ordinance “laid down the requirements for a survey, the creation of a grid of meridians and baselines from which to create these parcels.”2 Of course, to begin the process, there had to be a starting point. The responsibility for choosing the starting point fell on Thomas Hutchins.
In 1781 Thomas Hutchins became the First (and only) Geographer of the United States. He was a military engineer, cartographer, geographer, and surveyor. He was also the architect of a system still in use today. The system Hutchins created is based on townships, each one measuring six square miles. These are stacked North and South in “ranges.” Each township is then divided into 36 numbered sections equaling one square mile (640 acres).
Hutchins somewhat randomly chose the Point of Beginning. It is situated at baseline Latitude 40° 38’33” and Longitude 80° 31’10.” The Latitude chosen is referred to today as the “Geographer’s Line.” The line extends all the way to the Pacific.
Point: One man chose the starting point and the system for surveying the whole country (before most of the territory to be included was even part of the Union).
Question: What does this have to do with independent life insurance distribution? Keep reading.
Financial Planning Is All About Getting Started
A Financial Plan is a map for how to move forward. Before engaging the Plan it must be known where things stand. The starting point is the current holdings and sources of funds and how they add up. In other words, the starting point is a Financial Inventory that includes total income, tax rates, credit score, expenses, debt load, account balances, assets, real estate and total net worth.
The starting point serves as the “you are here” mark on the Financial Plan Map. The next step in a financial plan is to identify the destination. Consider these examples of Financial Destinations:
- Debt Free
- College Funds
- Seasonal home
- Retirement at a certain age
- Charitable legacy
Financial Planning Is about Baselines
A financial plan must be based on reality to be successful. A financial plan therefore must include a baseline, the all-encompassing examination of actual spending, saving, and giving. Habits dictate the future. Bad habits lead to a less-than-optimal future. Good habits can accelerate the arrival of goals and dreams. To not understand current behavior is to fail to achieve future results.
Financial Planning Is about a System or Process
While keeping a jar on the kitchen counter to collect spare change may accumulate some funds for future use, this is not a system. The process of financial planning is applying known elements that have proven to be successful. These elements include:
- Annual review of the financial plan
- Establishment of an Emergency Fund
- Systematic savings and investments
- Diversification matched to risk tolerance
- Dollar Cost Averaging
- Tax minimization
- Protection against downside risks
- Regular rebalancing
- Insurance to prepare for the unexpected
Starting Points Require a Starter
Sadly, a significant proportion of the American population is operating without a sound financial plan. It is not for lack of goals, dreams and sometimes even resources. They lack a catalyst. Their lives have not intersected with the life of an independent financial professional.
This article began with the Point of Beginning in East Liverpool, OH. That is not the only thing East Liverpool is famous for. It is also where Ben Feldman spent most of his adult life. (If you asked, “Ben who?” then you need to read up on this hero.)
“As early as 1979, Feldman had sold more life insurance than anyone in history.”3 It is estimated that he sold $1.5 billion in total life insurance face value for New York Life from 1942 to his death in 1993.
How Ben Feldman Became a Starting Point in My LIfe
In 1986 I decided to get my designations: Chartered Life Underwriter and Chartered Financial Consultant. CLU and ChFC. A total of twelve exams.
The company I worked for was willing to reimburse me for the cost of every course I took and passed.
They cost roughly $300 each with books, etc.
I called the American College in Brynn Mawr, PA, and ordered the course materials and scheduled the exam dates. Oops. I accidentally ordered all twelve. Our credit card maximum credit was $2,500. I charged $3,500. I worked it out with my bank to take all twelve exams in nine months. I was at the office every morning by six AM. I passed all twelve exams in nine months.
The local Association of CLUs hosted a conferment ceremony and dinner. The person giving me my certificates would be the legendary Ben Feldman. I knew that this man was from East Liverpool, OH, a struggling factory town of less than 20,000 people. And yet, Fortune magazine featured him on the cover of a 1974 issue stating that he had written more business that year as an individual agent than half of the 2,400 life insurance companies had written in total. I was excited to meet him, and pridefully, I expected him to acknowledge my singular feat of passing all 12 exams in nine months.
That night I was disappointed. First, Ben Feldman the legend turned out to be about 5’6” tall, bald, stoop-shouldered and he spoke with a lisp. And, instead of congratulating me or flattering me, he simply shook my hand, gave me my certificates, and then said, “Send money on ahead for the old man you’re going to be.”
Afterward I bemoaned to my wife, Di, my disappointment. She said, “So what are you going to do?” I said, “About what?” She replied, “A man who is a legend in your business gave you individual advice. What are you going to do about it!” Well, we began putting $50 per month away in an account that now has $165,000 in it, thanks to Ben Feldman.
During his historic and heroic career, he changed the lives of clients and other financial professionals (like me). He gave advice to both groups that is useful today.
To Clients (Prospects):
- “You haven’t done anything wrong. You just haven’t done anything, and that’s what’s wrong.” The point being, today needs to be your Starting Point!
- “If you’ve got a problem make it a procedure and it won’t be a problem anymore.” Basically, know your Baseline and build a Process.
- To Financial Professionals:
- “If you don’t have any place to go, you won’t go any place.” Go see the people who need a Starter!
- “Your prospect doesn’t get excited first. You must get excited first.” This is your Baseline!
- “See the people.” For independent financial professionals, this needs to be the Starting Point!
We all want to make a difference. Not many of us will discover something new and have it named after us. Not many will invent something everyone will find useful. Few of us will become legends. One thing we all can do is make an impact on the lives of others. To interact with others and to be helpful in directing them to their Starting Points is amazingly fulfilling.
Ben Feldman did that for me. Who are you going to impact in the balance of this crazy year?
- “Land Ordinance of 1785” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_Ordinance_of_1785.
- The Men Who United the States, by Simon Winchester, HarperCollins, 2013.
- Ben Feldman, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Feldman_(insurance_salesman).