Four Timeless Lessons From My Early Years In Financial Services


Four Timeless Lessons

I don’t remember much of age 22. My first year as a financial rep was one of long hours and nights with little sleep.

However, I do remember with great clarity the night I accepted my Rookie of the Year award.

It was a black-tie affair at a beautiful hotel in downtown Chicago. I gave a 3-4 minute speech in front of the leaders of one of the most prestigious financial organizations in the world.

I told everyone how fortunate I was to have found a career that I knew I would have for the rest of my life.

Unbeknownst to me, the CEO of our company was a guest of honor at that dinner. I was stunned when he stood up afterwards and said that my words had moved him.

It was a high point that fueled my 27+ year future in this industry.

I am often asked how I became successful so early in my career, and sustained it over the years. While there is no single magic bullet, here are four important lessons I learned early on that I believe are applicable whether you are brand new in the business or a 30-year veteran advisor.

#1 A Fair Game - You Get What You Put Into It

Being from a middle-class family and a C student, with no connections, I was looking for a job that would provide opportunity.

I felt an excitement for selling insurance from my very first interview. Here was a job with unlimited income potential, where I would be doing real work and have a life-changing impact on the clients I served.

I learned very quickly that the individuals who made it at the top were those who worked the hardest, driven by passion and purpose. You’re not measured in this business by your seniority or a fancy degree, but by activity, results and a willingness to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

On the door of my bedroom, I wrote MDRT and Rookie of the Year to keep me striving towards these goals every day. I achieved both that first year, and qualified for MDRT each year after.

I knew that I might not be the smartest, the best salesman, or the most connected, but there was no way I was going to let anybody outwork me.

#2 You Become the Company You Keep

You need good mentors that you can learn from in your career. I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who were not only MDRT members, but were also Court of the Table and Top of the Table.

Having these role models was significant. They set the bar high and led by example. Seeing people 20 or 30 years my senior achieving the success I dreamed of, in the very hallways I walked each day, was extremely powerful. I wanted so badly to become like them.

Every day, they would tell me about the importance of life insurance, disability insurance and saving money. They would share stories of what they had done for their clients. It didn’t take long to embrace the mission: helping others achieve financial security.

I did a lot of joint appointments that first year and I was always able to pull one or two nuggets of wisdom out of each. I was like a sponge. You’ll often hear me say that everything I know now, I learned from others.

#3 Progress, not Perfection

One of the most important things that differentiated my success was how I dealt with the bad times. Almost anyone can perform well in good times. The commissions are rolling in and life is grand.

Yet, it was not the victories, but the multiple challenges I faced and how I overcame them that was crucial. When you’re in a trough, it seems like nothing goes right: appointments cancel, clients reverse their policies, and you spent a commission before it came in.

The only remedy that worked for me was sustained activity. That’s what kept me going during tough times. I always felt better when I had a phenomenal amount of activity.

I would have a dozen referrals, keep 5 or 6 appointments, which would open up a couple of cases. I was back on top, and consistent activity was the medicine that made the pain go away. It was better than a commission check in my mailbox.

#4 Trust is Earned

Lastly, I learned early on the importance of building solid relationships with clients based on trust. A high level of trust, in turn, meant clients would be much more inclined to follow my advice.

I learned very quickly that the individuals who made it at the top were those who worked the hardest, driven by passion and purpose.

One way to begin a trusted relationship is to provide added value. When I would have an initial factfinder meeting, I would try to find key points where I could provide information that I knew the clients would find valuable.

An example of this was obtaining a client’s employee benefits booklet and reading through it from cover to cover. Most people never take the time to look at it.

Studying the booklet helped me gain an understanding of their pension, 401(k), group life, and disability insurance. Explaining these benefits and the associated rules to my clients provided tremendous value and helped build trust, which increased the chance that I’d retain them over the long term.

Additionally, this became a great source of referrals for me. After helping one employee understand their benefits, word naturally spread, and I became the go-to source for the client’s co-workers.

The Career of a Lifetime

Over 27 years later, I am still as excited about this business as the day when I accepted the Rookie of the Year award. I’ve been blessed to work as an advisor, a managing partner and now as a speaker and trainer. This business allowed me to live the life I always imagined – and it can do the same for you.

Whether you are new to this industry or a seasoned veteran, keep in mind that we all have days that are a grind. But, you are in control.

Regardless of your triumphs or setbacks, you control your effort and activity. With a little luck, you can surround yourself with people that challenge and support you. You can always do what’s right and go the extra mile for your clients. Doing so is the key to gaining their trust and generates the greatest return on investment: the career of a lifetime.

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