What is it that distinguishes one person from another? In independent brokerage distribution, I have worked with thousands of people. Interestingly, no two are alike.
Sam Kean noted that, “Wine is well over 99 percent water and alcohol, but water and alcohol alone do not make a wine.”1 Wine connoisseurs can often discern the grape, region and even the year that a bottle of wine was vinted or cellared. These are the same people who inform us that we can expect to taste chocolate, blackberry, plums, coffee, musk or other traces in a glass of wine. I do not have that sensitive of a differentiating pallet.
In case you are interested, you can purchase a bottle of 1945 vintage Château Mouton Rothschild Pauillac Red Bordeaux Blend for only $33,000. They say it pairs well with salami and prosciutto, pungent cheese, potato, pasta, white rice and pork. (It just doesn’t pair well with being able to afford to feed teenaged children, make a house payment or put gas in the car.)
Point: The smell, balance, depth and finish of a wine arise from less than one percent of its ingredients.
What Is Your One Percent?
I first met Ken Bowman in 1984. We have watched each other’s careers develop for over 35 years. While I only intermittently dedicated my efforts solely to retail sales of life insurance, annuities, disability insurance and property and casualty, Ken has steadfastly built his career one client at a time. While I pursued opportunities to positively impact other people by serving in the home office of carriers dedicated to independent distribution, Ken dedicated himself to discovering the means of changing lives in retail sales.
Ken is like most independent financial professionals. He is credentialed. He networks with advisors serving in legal and accounting capacities. He works primarily through referral. He attends continuing education seminars, remains curious about new ways to use financial products to improve lives and enjoys long-term relationships with clients.
Like a fine wine, Ken has improved with age. His distinction is in his humanity. Ken loves people. Selflessly. He learned of relatively unknown benefits available to surviving spouses of deceased veterans. Ken will spend hours with people trying to help them secure modest amounts of Federal money which, to them, will make the difference between staying in the family home or downsizing.
The one percent that makes Ken different from every other person I have known is his compassion. (I should add that no one has a laugh exactly like his. Explosive and full of heart as well as decibel.)
What Is Your Driver?
Every successful person is driven by something. For Ken, it is compassion. What is motivating you?
Have you ever been on a sailboat? Sailing is akin to being in the financial services business in the sense that both are driven by unpredictable winds. How is it that sailboats move at all?
Look at how Bill Streever describes the power of a sail:
“When air moves faster across the front of a sail, its molecules spread out and the pressure drops. There are fewer molecules in a cubic foot of air in front of the sail than in a cubic foot of air behind it. The wind in front of the sail creates a void. The wind behind it wants to fill the void.”2
Listen, every person you meet has a void. Something is absent in their risk management, retirement plans, college funding arrangements, investment returns, tax-leverage maximization, Will and Trust preparation or succession planning. Every person’s life is full of motion. Career changes. Additional children. Small business launches. Inheritance. Divorce. Illness. Retirement. All this motion means decisions ought to be made regarding the financial implications. The void is formed in the space created by not knowing what to do and/or not having the self-drive to address it. People need someone to bring pressure in the form of knowledge and urgency (not in the sense of pushy salesmanship).
Whether you are employed by a carrier, serve in a wholesale capacity in a brokerage general agency, or serve clients directly in retail financial services, you meet real needs of real people. What is it about you that makes what you do different?
Varieties of One Percent
Which of these describe you?
- Motivator: You are driven to help clients get the most out of their financial lives.
- Communicator: You are driven to explain technical product features and economic principles in clear terms that people can understand.
- Visionary: You embrace the fiduciary standard and want clients to explore all reasonable opportunities.
- Empathetic: You are driven to know what clients really need and research/recommend the one product/solution that is most appropriate for them.
- Relational: You are driven to keep in regular contact with clients in order to update them on current financial issues and opportunities.
- Quarterback: You are driven to assemble a broad range of experts to meet each client’s specific needs through a team approach.
- Navigator: You are driven to keep your clients away from mistakes, from wasting resources, and from untimely market swings.
I am personally driven by the desire to see people grasp the right perspective. A BGA once came to my attention that was working itself out of business. The agency’s sales were 95 percent term life insurance. The agents they worked with were primarily P&C based. This meant that these agents knew extraordinarily little about underwriting. The symptom of the agency’s sure demise was in the tension every case manager experienced. All sales were made based on illustrations assuming Preferred or Preferred Best rates. Every case was an argument with an underwriter. None of the agents really wanted to work on their cases after the initial sale. Underwriting requirements were difficult to secure.
The perspective I could offer was from other BGAs I worked with that had a better product mix and a more traditional life insurance agent base. We worked together to reduce the attention paid to agents causing disproportionate problems. We designed a recruiting effort to attract more experienced agents as replacements. In just a few years, the percent of sales arising from misquoted term fell dramatically and revenue increased sharply. More importantly, the atmosphere in the agency improved. Gone were the constant battles with underwriting. No longer were requirements remaining outstanding.
All it took was a little perspective provided by sharing the more profitable experience other agencies were enjoying.
Reputation vs. Identity
You may know that the three most important things on a wine label are the vintage date, the place where the grapes were grown, and the grape(s) used to produce the wine.
“The vintage date tells you that 95 percent of the wine in the bottle had to be harvested in the year listed. The place (State, County, or AVA) on the label tells you that 85 percent of the wine comes from the listed location. And finally, the grape varietal identified on the label ensures that the wine is produced from at least 75 percent of that grape variety.”3
Did you catch that?
- How much then does location matter? Every year more than 17 million gallons of wine are made in California alone.
- How important is the type of grape? In Napa alone there are 21,665 acres devoted to growing Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. There are 550 Napa Valley wineries that produce more than three dozen different wine grape varieties.
It is not enough to know that a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon is from California and was vinted in 1996.
Here is where we begin to discover distinction: Approximately “95 percent of Napa Valley’s wineries are family owned and nearly 80 percent make less than 10,000 cases of wine per year. Most wineries can be described as small, artisan producers. These vintners share a commitment to blending historical practices and achievement with an eye toward innovation, quality and prosperity for the Napa Valley.”4
Wine aficionados know the importance of getting to know a consistently dependable vintner.
Would your clients describe you as consistently dependable?
You are probably aware that the word “identity” is from the Latin idem meaning “same as” or “quality of being identical.” Your identity is bound up in your industry and related to other independent financial professionals. Why? Because 90 percent of what you do is the same as what most every other IFP does.
I am urging you to focus not on the sameness, but on the distinction you can create by focusing on your one percent. That one percent is what builds your reputation. That is the root of your particular identity.
- “Caesar’s Last Breath,” by Sam Kean.
- “And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind,” by Bill Streever.