No two advisors are exactly the same. Their unique perspectives and experiences shape how they do their job. That's why this year we've given each of our Advisor of the Year finalists a special label that signifies their individual talents for helping others.
The Educator - Jim Brogan
Education in the largest sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense, education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. Find out why we're calling Jim The Educator.
The Connector - Thomas (Thom) Brueckner
Connectors are said to be people in a community who know large numbers of people from accross an array of social, cultural, professional and economic circles, and who are in the habit of making introductions. Although connectors are rare--only one in several thousand people might be thought of as a true connector--they are very important in the healthy function of civil society and business. Find out why we're calling Thom The Connector.
The Survivor - Richard Clark
A survivor is defined as someone who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship or setbacks. A person is considered a survivor when he is resilient or courageous enough to be able to overcome a great ordeal or misfortune. Survivors are some of the strongest people you will ever find. Find out why Richard is The Survivor.
The Healer - Stephanie Fullerton
A healer is one who helps others be more sound or whole. They clear obstacles holding others back in their business and career, and help to attract more abundance and prosperity in one's life. The healer supports others in their drive to take action on dreams and goals. Find out why Stephanie has been dubbed The Healer.
The Protector - Lance Howard
The protector covers or shields those around him from exposure, injury, damage, or destruction. He guards and defends--he protects the goal. The protector also maintains the status or integrity of a thing, especially through financial or legal guarantees, and fosters or shields his charge from infringement or restriction--he protects others' rights. Find out why Lance is The Protector of his clients.
Brogan Financial , Knoxville, TN
Number of years in the industry: 17
Total production 2010: $34.5 million
On designations: "I am all for continuing education that will ultimately help me become a better advisor for my clients."
On seniors: "In the early 2000s my parents were aging and I saw their needs were unique and I saw there were very few professionals who understood their unique needs and also served them effectively."
On suitability: "As the industry moves more and more towards the fiduciary standard, as an independent RIA, I am as prepared as ever to deal with new regulation."
What's a guy like Jim Brogan doing in the financial services industry? Sometimes he has to pause and ask himself the same question and the answer always circles back to around 1994, when Brogan was immersed in an MBA program.
"It's kind of funny, because the reason I got my MBA in the first place was to go into the music business." He'd majored in music as an undergraduate after all, had been a professional singer pretty much from the time he could put words together and had his eyes set on Nashville, envisioned himself standing under the bright lights of the Grand Ole Opry; he'd even interned with one of the big record labels in town.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to crooning alongside Waylon and Willie and the boys...Brogan got hit with the investments and finance bug. Seriously.
A six-hour block of courses he took got him "really turned on to the financial industry." And there was no looking back. After years of working with employee benefits and group health, he wanted to return to that course on finances and lean on that experience to "work with individuals on their personal finances and doing financial planning."
By 2001 he'd left the agency where he worked to start his own firm. "I wanted to work with the couple or the individual rather than the corporation--that's where I felt I really made a connection." Then, by late 2002, with his own parents aging, he saw first hand the challenges they were facing and he "didn't really see them being served effectively."
There was something unique he identified with retirees--with no earned income, there was more stress on the nest egg and there wasn't a plan being devised to help his parents develop a sound plan so they could really enjoy those golden years. From then on, he's focused on that niche--the retired or those getting ready to retire.
"I like working with that market because I found that I identify very, very well with their values, they're on time, and if they give you their word, you can pretty much take that to the bank."
With the practice set up the way he liked and his preferred niche clearly identified these last 10 years, Brogan has really gotten to hone in on what's made him a success: teaching. "It's the number one thing I do in my practice and that's my major outreach on how I market."
At heart, he sees himself as a teacher as much as he does a financial advisor. When meeting with clients, he's able to break down the complex topics of finance and investments into plain English, not the gobbledygook of textbooks and airings of CSPAN.
The teaching approach, whether one-on-one with a client, in a classroom setting or on his weekly radio show, is one that allows him to connect with people and understand what's going on in their minds. Whenever he teaches in these settings, he's constantly surveying the audience, asking them how they feel about the economy, whether they believe they're past the worst of it, if they're concerned about more bumps in the road, etc.
This interaction frees people up, allowing them to express their concerns and fears about the economy and their own retirement situation and it provides Brogan with the fact-based course material he then uses to educate prospects and clients. "People are looking for answers and if you educate them on what's going on and what those risks are and you speak to them in plain language" then you gain their trust--and their business.
As far as marketing goes, Brogan says his entire marketing model is based around attracting business to his firm. "It puts you in a completely different position because everybody that walks through my front door is here because they asked to be here. They raised their hand--I didn't call them or solicit them to be here." Instead, whether at a speaking engagement, in a classroom or on the radio, he invites them to drop by, but he's never soliciting their business.
So, ultimately, "they raised their hand and said 'I want an appointment with Jim Brogan.' " He says this completely changes the dynamic of the client meeting--especially the first meeting. "And that's important because that takes me from having to worry about selling to where I can truly listen." In those first meetings, Brogan sticks to the philosophy that "we've got two ears and one mouth." He's there to hear what the clients have to say.
As those first meetings go, he's asking questions, finding out what the client wants. Then he turns that around and teaches them about the things they need to know in order to achieve their goals. And by the end of the day, "then process that we take people through is very educational."
Spoken like a true teacher.
Thomas (Thom) Brueckner
Senior Financial Resources, Inc., Nashua, NH & Strategic Asset Conservation, Inc., Scottsdale, AZ
Number of Years in the industry: 21
Total Production 2010: $16 million
Philosophy: "Our conservative, frugal, Depression-era values tend to attract clients with a similarly government-skeptical perspective"
On seniors: "Over 98 percent of our clientele is made up of seniors."
Key to success: "We're committed to investing in our business, hiring competent staff, designing and working out of an efficient, impressive office, and building a thriving practice of raving fans and clients-for-life."
How many Thomas Brueckners are there? That was the question I was asking myself after a recent phone conversation with him. It seemed impossible, after all, that an advisor could have so many irons in the fire and yet accomplish them with such relative ease.
Brueckner has a thriving practice in New Hampshire. Oh, yeah, he has one in Arizona, too. And a radio show. And he's a mentor to advisors around the country. And, oh you get the picture, which leads me back to my original question: how many Thomas Brueckners are there?
Rest assured, there's only one Brueckner (so, my original theory of cloning was shot down).
So what is it? According to Brueckner, there are a few factors at work. First of all, he owes much of his success to the example set by his parents. His mother was a first generation financial advisor, who worked for Banker's Life and Casualty where she was a long-term care specialist.
"I watched her professionalism and the way she took care of her clients, baking cookies and bringing them around to clients in tins at Christmas time. She was very service oriented." From his dad, he learned another valuable life lesson. "My dad sold luxury cars for 17 years and I watched the way he did business. He taught me the importance of a handshake, how you always maintain eye contact with people, look them squarely in the eye."
Secondly, he took a unique path to financial services. In college he studied environmental science and wound up working on offshore oil rigs from the age of 19 to 24. The tough, hard labor of oil rigs instilled a great work ethic in Brueckner and the jobs took him all over the world, to varied places such as West Africa, Cairo, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Biscayne in France, among others. These life experiences exposed him to all types of people and prepared him for a service-oriented career where it's important to make a plan fit the person rather than have a client fit a plan.
Finally, Brueckner forged his career by locking onto an idea about the marketing of his business. "Your marketing needs to be coordinated." For Brueckner, it's all about the idea that the whole is greater then the sum of its parts. In his practice it's imperative that he develop a synergistic approach, with so many pieces within his practice, working together, feeding into and off of one another.
Brueckner describes it in pretty simple terms or at least he makes it sound easy. "Your marketing initiatives need to mention each other. Our billboards talk about the radio show and they have our website on everything. Our website talks about the seminars and the radio show. On the radio show I talk about the seminar the night before and in the seminar I talk about the radio show coming up. And then you know referrals come in from all of the above and people have a place they can send their friends."
Like I said, sounds easy, right?
But there's a mistake too many advisors make. According to Brueckner, too often advisors fail to really develop a relationship and a trust factor with a client before they make a product recommendation. In short, they're too busy trying to sell the client something, making themselves look like a "product seller looking for product purchasers. If instead you seek to become a trusted advisor looking for clients for life and within that subset of clients-----or within that group, that big group of clients for life--you have a subset that you can refer to honestly as raving fans."
Once you have those raving fans on your side, you've got it made. They're introducing you to friends, family, "fellow retirees, former co-workers now you have a well-oiled machine."
A final key in connecting the dots for Brueckner is a natural curiosity about the world both within and outside financial services. If he learns of a hot button issue within the industry, for instance, he's not afraid to pen an opinionated Op-Ed piece, as he did earlier this year in these pages on the topic of whether or not advisors should get a securities license. Months after the fact he still has a strong take on he subject, having been on both sides of the debate.
"Why does it have to be either or?" There are two sides of the financial services industry, he says, and both are equally valid.
In the end, he says, you have to carve out the path that best fits you.
Clark & Associates, Inc., Reston, Va.
Total Production 2010: $8 million
Number of years in industry: 30
Philosophy: "Depression mentality," meaning capital preservation is paramount.
On seniors: "Once I got into the senior market I began to realize that they are the targets of many financial advisors with the wrong person's pocket in mind when it comes to their client's money."
On designations: "Because of my years of experience the question of designations hardly ever comes up."
Not even a bout with cancer that left him with a raspy voice has made Richard Clark any less outspoken. No question he tells it like he sees it. Just listen to what he has to say about the difference between the Greatest Generation of seniors versus the baby boomers.
"The Greatest Generation were savers and the baby boomers were spenders," he says. "They spent their way right out of retirement unfortunately."
Such a sentiment is not surprising coming from a man who characterizes his investment philosophy as a "Depression mentality." For him capital preservation is paramount, regardless of whether the stock market is up or down at any point in time.
"We think it's really important that we set people up in retirement so that no matter what happens they will have a sustainable income," he says. "A lot of people are going to run out of money without proper planning. The Social Security system wasn't designed to be a pension plan. Unfortunately, I think too many people are going to end up trying to rely on Social Security and we don't know where that is going to go."
Clark surely didn't know what would happen to him when he was diagnosed with cancer at the back of his tongue in 2003. He endured as series of treatments only to have his vocal cord damaged during a checkup about three years later.
Yet he says the experience only reinforced his passion for the mission behind the company he founded in 1987, Clark & Associates, Inc. in Reston, Va.
"I realized how precious life is and that for the rest of my life, I wanted to do something that made a difference," he says. "As an advisor, I have a real passion for helping people and there are so many people out there that are so misinformed. They don't teach this stuff in college. They don't teach people how to have a sustainable income that is going to hold them their whole lifetime."
His battle with cancer, however, did not leave him without a sense of humor. He can even joke about how before a procedure, a doctor told him he was injecting his vocal cords with medical Gor-Tex and that when it was over, his vocal cords shouldn't get cold. "Get it? Gor-Tex." he laughs. "You have to make the best of life. And I've got a real good, happy-go-lucky-type feeling about life. You have to live every day to the fullest. And doing what I do, helps me know I am living to the fullest because I know I am helping people and that is very fulfilling."
To fulfill his business goals, Clark relies on referrals and what he calls "multi-generational" planning. "We have the Greatest Generation, we have the baby boomers, and we have the baby boomers' or the Greatest Generation's grandchildren who are now in their 30s and 40s," he says. "We're bringing in their children and grandchildren and we're educating them early on so that they don't make some of the mistakes their parents made, meaning the baby boomers."
Multi-generational can also apply to Clark's business operations: His son, RJ, and daughter, Megan, work for him.
Another cornerstone of his business is transparency. "There are an awful lot of advisors who don't give full disclosure. Transparency is our number one thing," he says. "We want [our clients] to know everything we do, how we make our money. We don't even mind if they know what we get paid because they know we need to get paid. As long as we do a good job for them they don't care how much we make."
Doing a good job means finding suitable products for each client. Before he started his own firm, Clark worked as a captive agent for a while, but soon discovered one company could not offer a suite of products appropriate for each individual.
"Suitability has just become a giant issue. Do I think it's good? Yep, I think it's great," he says. "I think it's going to get rid of some of the riff-raff of advisors that are out there that don't have the right credentials or education to do the job. I think it's going to be good for consumers because it's going to make sure advisors are not advising them to put [money] into an unsuitable investment for their time frame and risk. As advisors, [we must] make sure that we're not putting people at risk and [instead] providing a suitable investment that gives them an income that fits with their needs and wants."
Beyond providing for his clients, Clark is also active in charitable efforts to help the less fortunate in his area. Last winter, he collected 150 blankets, got into his four-wheel drive with his daughter and distributed those blankets to people "sleeping on grates' in Washington, D.C.
"We are outside Washington, D.C., in the second richest county in the U.S. and we have homeless people sleeping under bridges," Clark says.
If Clark has anything to say about it, they will survive, too.
Financial Planning for Seniors, Sun City, AZ
Number of Years in the industry: 7
Total Production 2010: $9.7 million
On seniors: "After watching my aunt taken advantage of by unscrupulous practices, I didn't want other seniors to be abused that way. The ideology of helping seniors safeguard their assets was and is the foundation for my business."
On trust: "I wanted to be a person that seniors could trust to do the right thing for them for the right reason. Seniors tend to be at a critical period in life and they are susceptible to scams, manipulation, and dishonesty."
On her business model: "We work towards the creation of a long-term relationship with clients, not just the making of a one-off sale. By establishing trust and an ongoing relationship I am able to give clients the product to match their specific circumstance."
Not too long ago, Stephanie Fullerton was a housewife raising babies. And she was good at it as she whipped the house into shape, the babies, too. Then one day the babies were teenagers and Fullerton needed something to do. She'd had a successful career before the kids and wanted that again--she just didn't know the industry where she wanted to stake her claim.
About that time different factors collided, sending Fullerton on a path to the world of financial services. First, an aunt of Fullerton's was going through a difficult time with an agent who was giving her "some really unsuitable recommendations. And I got involved in it." Coincidentally, a mentor of Fullerton's, who was in financial services, had a sit-down with her and said: "Stephanie I really feel like you need to come listen and watch what I do because I think this would be ideal for you."
And it was. Just like that. Fullerton always had a passion for helping people, a calling, if you will, and in this field she had the opportunity to do that while making a little money, too. "There's no greater satisfaction than I have at the end of an appointment when I know that I've really truly placed these retirees and seniors into a place of safety and preservation and that throughout their retirement years they don't have to worry about what's going to happen to their money."
People starting hearing her name in the industry. The FMOs would come calling and they'd go, wow, who's this? Where'd you come from? Fullerton would laugh and say: "Well, I've been raising babies for 10 years."
Talking to Fullerton, you get a sense of what she's about and why she jumped into this industry with both feet: her aunt, the one being given bad advice, wasn't alone; there were lots of retirees, just like her aunt, getting a bum deal from bum advisors. "Not to sound negative but it just seems like too many advisors out there are trying to push the a product for the commission and it should not be that way. Our business is really more about helping clients with their finances" and developing lasting relationships with them.
Fullerton says these client relationships are like all the good and great relationships we forge during
our lives. "We watch them go through the good and the bad." All the while, she's listening, taking notes, analyzing the individual situation, looking for the right ingredients to heal this financial problem so this client can know that throughout "their retirement years they have peace of mind and don't have to be stressed out about this nest egg that they spent their whole life working on."
As more and more baby boomers join the ranks of seniors, Fullerton has adapted her practice to cater to this key demographic and the myriad of economic pitfalls they face as well.
"The baby boomer generation is also facing the reality that their retirement is often underfunded and/or that they face the risk of outliving their retirement savings." Fullerton works to change the risk-taking nature of many boomers by looking at ways they can maximize what savings they have while helping them to structure their retirement assets to grow safely.
And, since boomers are more apt to tap into technology, the Internet and social media, Fullerton
has embraced those mediums to make the connection. "I constantly update our marketing efforts and search for new products that meet the unique needs of the baby boomers." She says she's had success reaching the boomer demographic through marketing strategies such as partnering with other small businesses within the community.
In addition to looking after their financial situation, Fullerton makes sure clients are taken care of on a regular basis through client appreciation programs. One of the more successful programs have been mini-golf tournaments, a popular year-round sport in sunny Arizona, where Fullerton and her clients live. She breaks it down like this: "We invite some of our 'A' clients to a golf tournament and then we'll ask them to bring two or three people that they would feel comfortable introducing us to." Lately, she's expanded that plan to "a lady's tea" where 40 clients were invited and each one brought a friend so there were more than 80 clients and prospective clients on hand.
Fullerton uses these client get togethers as a chance to build referrals and it's been taking off to such a degree that even she is surprised at the success. So far this year, she's written between $2 million and $3 million in referrals alone.
Not too shabby for somebody who was putting Band-Aids on skinned knees not too long ago.
Howard Financial and Insurance Services, Inc. & Howard Financial and Wealth Management, Inc., Bakersfield, Calif.
Number of years in industry: 20
On suitability: "The best way to incorporate suitability into one's selling approach is to be willing to walk away from a sale."
On designations: "The Series 65 investment advisor license has dramatically changed the way I do business."
On seniors: "Realizing how ill-prepared my own grandmother was for her retirement and eventual financial and health-care needs made me aware that the aging population is often uninformed and underserved."
You could almost call Lance Howard the "accidental" senior financial advisor. After he graduated from college in the late 1980s, Howard started his career working for health insurance companies such as Blue Cross.
Later, he struck out on his own. But in the mid-'90s, the Clinton administration proposed sweeping changes to the nation's health-care system, which were "basically going to put us out of business," Howard recalls. Although the proposals ultimately failed, Howard decided he needed to expand his business, so he obtained a property and casualty license.
Then a series of circuitous events led him on his current path of advising seniors. He took a course on index annuities and wrote one for his mother ("She did not like seeing negative numbers on her statement.") and several clients. About that time, a marketing organization contacted him and he began to learn more about the business of index annuities and protection-based planning. That, in retrospect, was the starting point that propelled him into the financial advisory market for seniors.
"I was amazed when I started understanding the numbers and the people who needed help," he says. "The big advisors didn't want someone who had less than a $1 million. So I thought there is this whole area of people who are underserved."
And he thought he could be the person to serve them. "It just landed in my lap and I was like, wow, this is incredible," Howard says. "How do I do this and how do I do it the right way?"
He subsequently attended a certified senior advisor class in Las Vegas and the answer became clearer. "When I went to that class and started understanding more about seniors and the changes they go through in life and the help that they need, I started to understand why this had fallen in my lap," he recalls. "I started developing my business based on the idea of doing the right thing and taking care of seniors."
Today, Howard is the founder and owner of two companies, Howard Financial and Insurance Services, Inc., and an investment advisory firm, Howard Financial and Wealth Management, Inc., in Bakersfield, Calif. He has a Series 65 investment advisor license and plans to obtain a CFP designation. About 90 percent of his clients are seniors or people on the verge of retirement.
To expand his clientele, Howard aims to partner with CPAs in order to exclusively market his services to the accountant's clients, or perhaps purchase the CPA business outright and hire others to run the CPA side of the business. "As we start to develop that, I've already seen some clients come from those types of efforts," Howard says.
Outside the office, Howard's charitable efforts include helping military personnel serving overseas as well as veterans transitioning into civilian life. He also makes time to collect toys to be delivered to the local homeless shelter.
Yet it's apparent Howard feels most protective of his senior clients. "I think they are an amazing group of people who have been through some really tough times in our country," he says. "I feel like people get to a certain age and they are almost tossed aside in this country [and] are not taken care of the way they should be."
As an advisor, Howard has come to the aid of his clients at extremely tough times. "Dealing with a death claim at a table when the spouse has passed away and you have the female or male with you, it's very difficult," he says. "We shed tears with our clients."
In particular, Howard feels a special bond with his widowed clients. "Years ago, the man took care of just about everything, especially the finances," he says. "Then all of a sudden, it's dumped in the lap of a female who's never handled it. I felt that they could easily be taken advantage of if they fell into the wrong hands and they really needed somewhere to turn."
In that regard, Howard says that sometimes the best tactic is to withdraw from a possible sale. "No matter what, if it's not right, turn and walk away," he stresses. "I inform the prospect why it's not the right direction and advise him or her not to let anyone try to do something unsuitable. Adhering strictly to one's integrity is the best position to hold."
Yet it's not all one-sided. Howard gets something from helping his senior clients as well. "What I've experienced in my own business is a great gratitude. What I love about the senior market is that people are thankful for what you have done for them."
Especially when someone, like Howard, is there to protect them.