On the surface, the life of a minister and the job of a financial advisor would seem quite different. A minister tends to the spiritual needs of his church, while an advisor focuses on the dollars and cents of a client’s portfolio. Opposite worlds indeed.
Yet Mark Pruitt says that when he was a minister for 18 years, he dealt with many of the same issues he does now as the head of Strategic Estate Planning Services, Inc. in Dallas.
Many times a congregant would come to him, needing financial aid. But before any money was handed over, Pruitt would ask for a detailed accounting of the person’s finances.
“We looked back six months to see how they were spending their money before we would give them resources to pay for things,” he says.
Then there were the times when a parishioner was dealing with the loss of a loved one and had nowhere else to turn. “They turned to the church and I became kind of the point person on that,” he says. “When you lose a loved one, you have so many decisions that have to be made and you really don’t have any resources to turn to.”
He also helped the staff at the church select health-care policies and 403(b) plans. So when he decided to switch to insurance and financial services full-time in 1998, Pruitt felt he had the necessary skills to shepherd people’s financial lives.
Yet he wasn’t looking to simply provide financial advice; he wanted to offer a wide range of resources to his clients, which number about 800. How wide ranging? Well, Pruitt’s clients can get tax consultations, estate planning expertise, nursing home reviews and even help repairing their credit rating. And what happens if a client’s computer malfunctions? “I have a guy that can go to our clients all over the nation and repair their computer,” he says.
Seniors, in particular, do not have those kinds of resources in one place, Pruitt says. “Everybody’s compartmentalized, an attorney’s just an attorney, CPAs just do CPA work, brokers just do broker work, insurance agents just do insurance work,” he says. “We’ve taken a lot of those things and put them in one service where we can refer people out. These are people that I refer so we don’t get paid on most of these services—we’re not paid any commission—they’re just people that we’ve used personally with our own families.”
Those referrals may not bring in extra revenue, but more importantly, they build trust between his firm and his clients— an important cornerstone of his practice given the “major breaches of trust” between the public and financial institutions like banks in recent years, Pruitt says.
“Just because you have one bad person in a field does not make all of us bad,” he says. “We have to earn their trust and do that every single day. And we do that by doing what we say we’re going to do.”
It also means being there when a client has an emergency. Many agents fail to follow through and don’t continually communicate with their clients, Pruitt says. “We gain a lot of clients that way because they say, ‘I can’t get my agent to call me back. They never check on us.’ Basically what that means is the agent sold them a product and after that, they never talked to them again. We don’t do that.”
Weary of the stomach-churning market upheavals of recent years, his clients are also looking for asset protection and a steady income stream. “The number one question we get is, ‘Do we have enough money to last us the rest of our lives?’ ” Pruitt says. “Asset protection and income stream creation are huge now.”
Long-term care is another concern. “We have sold more LTCI in 2012 than in any other previous year,” Pruitt says. “If you want to stay in some kind of control over your health-care decisions, the best way to do that is via long-term care insurance.”
Pruitt knows first-hand the importance of having a long-term care plan in place. He lives with his sister-in-law who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s and he’s passionate about helping people get the resources they need to deal with an ailing relative. “The old answer of ‘my kids will take care of me, I’ll let them straighten it out,’ you have no idea what you’re saying. They don’t know what 24/7 means when it comes to care.”
Being in financial services means not only getting a client an insurance product like LTCI, but also listening to what the client truly wants, much like a minister would when he is trying to understand a person’s spiritual needs.
“My approach to planning is to first allow the client to ask me questions in the very first meeting,” he says. “The meeting is for them and they are there for a reason. I need to know what those reasons are and to find that out I must listen first in order to deal with their hot buttons and concerns. You don’t fix a lifetime of issues in a single meeting or with a single product. We build the overall plan with future meetings. It’s like building a house, and you don’t do that in a meeting or two.”
For practice management tips from other top advisors, see SMA’s 2012 Advisor of the Year Finalists.