Student Loans & Policy Review?

I recently watched part of a television segment by a well-known personal finance expert discussing student loans.  One thing in particular caught my attention: 

American’s owe $1 trillion in student loan debt - $200 million more than what is owed in credit card debt.

I’ll wait here while you read that again.

As I listened to the program, my mind quickly turned and I thought of how many family and friends may be included in that statistic now - and may be again, in years to come when their children are college bound.

Unlike most debts, current federal law states that student loans cannot be dissolved or written off via bankruptcy and, if in default, are subject to garnishment and income tax seizure.  A quick Google search presented an average student loan debt of $29,400 for the class of 2012 according to CNN Money.

This situation, along with several others is precisely the reason that we all as agents, advisors and consultants should participate in a full fact finding crusade.  I feel we, as an industry, have a responsibility to our clients to not only insure, but also ensure their future.  Financial insolvency can be a burden not only for your clients, but also for their heirs. 

Annual policy reviews can bring issues such as college funding into focus.   

·           Life events like marriage, birth of a child or grandchild, career change or the purchase of a home can cause a person to need to adjust their priorities.   

·           Clients with annuities may be in a situation of having to take RMDs and not really needing the income.  A strategy of leveraging those monies into a life insurance policy with tax-free death benefits may be a solid option. 

·           Many clients express the need for long-term care benefits but don’t want to purchase stand alone LTCi in case they never use it.  By combining long-term care benefits with annuity or life products, you can offer your clients another option.

Do you have a committed policy review program in place?  If so, great!  If not, you should. 

Mix-Tape Revolution

Recently, while cleaning out some old boxes in my home office, I came across my old CD collection.  Yes, that’s what I said; CDs.  Those thin, circular, hard plastic-type objects that helped usher in the digital era.  Prehistoric to today’s youth, these amazing discs were actually the predecessor’s to perhaps a more influential movement; the mix tape.

If you are either too young, or too old to know about this 90s phenomena the “mix tape”, I feel sorry for you.  It was a convenient and clever way to tell someone how you felt.  A way to express feelings and emotions or to celebrate certain events or parties with a custom and deliberate collection of songs.  I still remember certain mix tapes or CDs that got me through some tough times in my life, like the breakup of my first girlfriend, or loss of the family pet; as well as some pretty exciting times like college house parties or fraternity trips. 

What made mix tapes/CDs so great was that they were a collection of diverse songs, but that had a similar or common message or theme.  And yes in today’s age of music programs and downloads you can have a software pick similar songs for you, but there was something special and unique and even fulfilling about listening to this specific CD that you created yourself.  When I found my old collection of CDs, which easily totaled 200+, the first thing I did was look through my whole collection and go straight to my mixes and reminisce about the good, or bad, times that each one of them represented.  As I did so, couldn’t help but think that we could use a bit more mix tapes or CDs today.  Not only in our personal lives, but in our professions as well. 

In today’s hectic and fast-paced world efficiencies and streamlined processes have become commonplace.  However, are these same systems as efficient and effective for the client?  In some cases they may be, but I think often times those systems cause a slight inconvenience or at the very least a decline in personal touches for your clients.  So I believe we should all bring back that mix tape mentality.  If you have 50 clients that want to retire in the next 5 years, could you find one product that adequately meets all of their needs?  Yes, it’s possible.  But don’t be just like your competitor and grab one proverbial “CD or Cassette” off the shelf and give them all the same one.  Take the time to add a personal touch and meet their needs to the best of your ability.  Show them not only that you have the knowledge, but that you care enough to put together a well thought-out plan to meet all of their needs.  By doing this you not only are doing what is truly best for you clients, but are also differentiating yourself from your competitors.  I’m convinced that if you do that, your business will grow. Efficiencies are a necessary part of your business, but you separate yourself from others by taking the extra step and adding those personal touches. 

How My Trash Man Could Change Your Business

First off, let me start by saying that I mean no disrespect to anyone holding a full time job for a living, but “trash man” is easier to type than “sanitation engineer”.  With that being said, let me tell you more. 

I have had the same person pick up my waste and recycling every week for as long as I’ve owned this house.  In those eight years, I’ve never been disappointed with the service that I receive from the waste management company overall.  But I’ve never been more impressed with George (my trash man) then I was the other day. 

I live in a perfectly nice, established neighborhood filled with great families all around.  But none better than my next door neighbors Bud and June.  They have been somewhat designated as the neighborhood grandparents, as they are the only ones in our subdivision who actually built the house that they currently live in.  They are very caring and helpful, but both of them now struggle to get around.  Bud has been in a scooter for as long as I’ve known him and June still gets around well, but has definitely slowed her pace of late.

The other day I was leaving for work and realized that I couldn’t back out of my driveway because George had is garbage truck parked in the street right behind my driveway.  My first reaction, of course, was that of frustration until I looked and noticed that he had taken his time to stop the truck to carry Bud and June’s trash cans back to their garage.  After feeling ashamed for my ever so slight inconvenience, I really became enamored with what had just happened.  Think about it, how many house stops does George make daily?  300?  500?  1000?  I don’t know the exact answer to that question, but it is obviously a large number.  And I started to wonder how that small gesture means so much more.  And how if we all would go above and beyond the call of duty for our clients, like George, how much happier they would be and how much more rewarding our already fulfilling jobs as insurance professionals could be.  I also truly believe that if we all made an effort to go the extra mile then we would also build more successful businesses.  There is a quote by John Maxwell that goes: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know that you care”.  I am a firm believer in that mindset and know that if you care about your clients, and do the right thing, then your business is much better off.

So today I ask you: are you doing the right thing?  Are you putting in the extra effort for your clients?  If so, I am certain you are reaping the rewards.  If not, you should start today.  And just like George, you could improve the world; one family at a time.

Memphis Raines

Attaining Greatness and Taming Your Mythical Beast Like Sales Guru: Memphis Raines

Yes, you heard me right, Sales Guru Randall “Memphis” Raines.  If his name sounds familiar, it should.  Memphis Raines was the lead character in the 2000 feature film, “Gone in 60 Seconds”.  Now before you stop reading, please give me a few more moments to explain.  In this movie Memphis, portrayed by Nicolas Cage, is a retired car thief that is forced to come back for one last heist to save his little brother.   While reviewing a list of exotic cars, he realizes that his dream car, a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 is present.  Eleanor, his pet name for this particular car, is the pinnacle of his career and is also a car that had become a personal mission after multiple attempted heists had failed.  This car, Eleanor, was the “whale” that we all dream of in our own businesses; the mythical creature that always seems out of reach.   I know you all have someone in mind, when we talk about our own Eleanor’s, so keep them in mind as we take a few moments to learn from the our new found sales guru and discuss how this ’67 Mustang can help your business.

First, in order to have a chance to triumph over your inner Eleanor you will need the right team in place.   In the movie Raines brings back his whole crew to handle the job the right way.  As entrepreneur’s we all get pulled in many different ways, so having the right team in place, whether they be internal staff or external relationships, is crucial.

Obviously we all need to not only identify, but also continuously work towards securing more Eleanor’s; but there is a fine line between consistency and obsession.  While a little bit of an obsession focused on Eleanor is good, it cannot be something that is a detriment to your current business.  So just like Nick Cage’s well-manicured teeth, you will need to have a consistent, concise and articulate plan in place.  In the movie, Eleanor was one of 50 cars that needed to be stolen in 72 hours.  If he devoted all of his time to one car, he wouldn’t have a chance to get the others.  It is the same with your practice - don’t devote too much time in medium to long term prospecting and ignore what you need to do to meet short term goals.

Now that you have the right pieces in place and a good quality plan in place, you need to be bold and take chances, especially if the plan works and you’re able to get time to talk with your Eleanor either over the phone or in person.   Being bold doesn’t mean that you should jump over the can and throw tact and professionalism out of the way, it just means that you need to look at this opportunity differently than the others and be willing to step outside of your comfort level.   As Memphis nears the end of his heist he uses his Eleanor to jump multiple stranded cars on a bridge.  I of course would never recommend trying such stunts, but what I would recommend to find a way to stick out from the crowd and jump over obstacles that may pop up along the way.

No one ever said that taming mythical beasts was easy, but if you take advice from Randall Raines, you’ll have everything you need to catch your own Eleanor and grow both personally and professionally in the process.

How do you spend your 86,400?

How do you spend your 86,400?

I recently returned from a national industry conference.  Hosting a booth enabled our team to meet some of the leading insurance and financial advisors – and expand our growing network of industry professionals.    Attending such tradeshows  is often exhausting.  Between hosting our exhibit booth for hours each day, attending educational programs, and networking at the evening receptions, our days are long.  The time away from my family makes those days even harder.  In the back of my mind there is one thing that I always try to ask myself at the end of each day:  How did I spend my 86,400? 

There is a famous song from the musical Rent titled “Seasons of Love.”  Similarly to this song, where the characters reflect on life as the number of minutes in a year (525,600), I dig even deeper and try to measure every second of every day.  There are 86,400 seconds in a 24 hour day (60 seconds x 60 minutes x 24 hours) and I want to ensure that I am getting the most out of my daily allotment.  This is especially important when attending events like NAIFA.   With access to like-minded, successful educators and business professionals, I don’t want to let one connection, one introduction or one opportunity slip by.  That’s why if you attend an event, you will see that I’m up early and out late every day.  As long as there are attendees to meet, you’ll find me out of bed and out of my hotel room. 

The same principle applies to my everyday life.  I strive to make the most of my 86,400 – after all, it’s a gift.  I work hard to make sure Innovative Brokerage Network is operating successfully, but I also focus on spending quality time with my family.  I manage to squeeze in a little “me time,” as well. I try to spend time every day doing what I can to extend my daily gifts for many years to come.  I will gladly offer time today to stay healthy and fit, knowing it will benefit me in the years to come. When I look at life as a ticking clock, it encourages me to push myself personally and professionally.

Do yourself a favor: make an effort to measure your success, failure and productivity on a daily basis.  Don’t wait until Friday to see if you had a valuable Monday.  Take a few minutes to reflect on each day.  Celebrate when you have a great day, you earned it.  Additionally, don’t be afraid to confront those days when you were not as productive as you would’ve liked to be…we’ve all been there.  Prioritize your goals for the next day and focus on actions that help you to realize those goals.  If you are honest in your assessment of each and every day, you will likely have greater success and stay better in tune with your business.  After all, if you don’t take your responsibilities as a business owner seriously, who will? 

Jack of all trades...

Jack of all trades...

by Justin C. Snapp
November 20, 2013
“Jack of all trades, but master of none.” Generally, this expression is said with negative connotation in reference to an individual that is competent in many trades but not necessarily outstanding in any specific one. However, is it possible to succeed by being a “jack of all trades?” I think so – and it may offer the defining element that sets you apart from other advisors, particularly when it comes to business owners.
Small business owners are often an overhyped, yet underserved market for most agents and advisors, if only for the fact it is a challenge just to gain and keep their attention. According to the 2010 US Census, 89% of US companies have 20 employees or less. Often times, these small businesses have spread their resources thin. They need help in increasing their efficiency and improving their bottom line. Therein lies your greatest opportunity to cultivate valuable and lasting relationships with small business owners.
Let’s start by addressing what we know about small business owners. On a daily basis, they are solicited by a financial industry barrage and B2B sales professionals, not to mention circadian operations and employee requests. Small business owners are busy. Their time is valuable – they know it and you should, too. At their core, small business owners are looking to ensure that their doors stay open. It’s all about their bottom line.
To earn their attention, it is time to move past initial proposals of Buy-Sell Agreements, Succession Planning and Key-Person Insurance. You can bet they have heard your go-to pitches, one-liners and sales concepts. Leading conversations with novel bottom-line boosters like search engine optimization, brand management, cloud-based business solutions, employee retention, CRM systems and creative marketing to your small business clients or prospects will most certainly open doors for insurance and planning discussions and distinguish you above your competition.
Please understand that I am not proposing you register for every online course available in a desperate attempt to become an expert on all facets of running a business. However, keep in mind that constantly expanding your knowledge base has personal benefits for you because, as an insurance advisor, agent or producer you too are a business owner. You are most likely facing some of the very same challenges, concerns and goals as other business owners.
In order to position yourself as a business advisor that truly offers more, align yourself and collaborate with other dependable and successful professionals. First, take your time to vet possible candidates and discuss with them the expert associations you are establishing. Scrutinize their work ethic, organizational structure, client relationships, retention rates, and public complaint records. Ensure you are absolutely comfortable and confident in your professional relationship before you consider introducing a client or prospect. To add additional value, maintain an active role in communication between both parties. This will serve as a regular reminder of the benefit you bring to the table and show your clients that you are the core of a truly elite network for all things business-related.
Sometimes the greatest efficiency comes from simplicity. By offering small business owners access to a reliable network of vetted relationships, you eliminate the headache they face when taking cold calls, scheduling meetings, watching webinars and performing due diligence to choose and develop relationships with their service providers. Essentially, you have given them time, confidence and offered a solution to some of the complexities that small business owners face. As a centralized catalyst for growth, you have become not just their insurance advisor, but an integral and trusted business advisor.
The remainder of the rhyme is often times disregarded: “Jack of all trades, master of none, certainly better than a master of one.” In the current economic environment where the competition is fiercer than ever, ‘master of one’ is not always enough. Diversify what you offer by leveraging a valuable network of dependable resources and position yourself as the key to success for small business owners. You will undoubtedly unlock endless business development opportunities for years to come.