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Study Group Evolves into Team of Retirement Experts

When it comes to advising on retirement and long-term care issues, five heads are better than one.

That was the philosophy behind the founding of the Savvy Retirement Team (SRT), a group of women who combined their commitment to expanding their knowledge base with their passion for helping others plan for a secure future.

Vivian Gallo, Camille Cosco, Christine M. McCabe

SRT is an offshoot of a long-term care study group that began with five independent professional advisors, each with more than 25 years working in the areas of life, disability, investment and medical insurance. We became aware of each other as we stood out among our male counterparts at professional gatherings. The common thread we had was that, in addition to our individual specialties, each of us had extensive knowledge of and interest in the rapidly evolving area of long-term care planning. 

We then became more closely acquainted through our memberships in professional associations such as the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Society of Financial Service Professionals and the Estate Planning Council.

We found ourselves seated together at one of these association meetings. As we talked, we realized that each of us offered a unique perspective, a different background and a wide variety of experiences with long-term care planning. We agreed that we should explore the possibility of sharing our knowledge and experiences as a group, informally working together, while maintaining our individual businesses. 

We determined that it was difficult to keep up with all the changes taking place in long-term care. By dividing our efforts and sharing our knowledge, we would become better informed and better qualified to help our clients. 

At our first meeting in 2008, we agreed that over the next several months, each of us would select a company, analyze its long-term care products and present our findings back to the group. What started out as a project expected to take several months turned into several years’ worth of research.

We met for an hour or so each month. An agenda kept us focused and enabled us to cover as much material as possible. There was nothing that couldn’t be put on the table for discussion: policy wording, underwriting, case studies, claim filing problems, industry issues, etc. Each of us contributed what she knew to whatever topic was presented. We also invited experts in various areas of senior services to meet with us as “guest speakers” in order for us to benefit from their knowledge.  

The group dynamic expanded as our respect for each other’s knowledge increased. We shared information on new product developments and product changes. We shared notes from seminars and classes we attended. We shared PowerPoint presentations. No one hesitated to contribute what she had learned from her individual experiences.

The more clients in the 55-70 age group that we spoke to, the more we realized that something was missing. Additional issues needed to be addressed by the large number of baby boomers who were approaching retirement and were demanding information in order to make knowledgeable decisions.

We discussed the need for overall pre-retirement planning that included Social Security, Medicare, long-term care insurance claims analysis and the need for lifetime income. By the spring of 2012, the long-term care study group began to evolve into the Savvy Retirement Team. We shifted our focus away from our shared knowledge of long-term care and toward the additional distinctive areas that each member already knew well.

My niche was that of a long-term disability insurance claims consultant. Christine worked in insurance brokerage, but her knowledge of the Social Security system was exceptional. Camille, an expert in medical insurance for individuals and businesses, had developed in-depth knowledge of Medicare and Medigap in response to repeated client inquiries.

 Once we had our topics and the specialists to handle them, we faced the task of developing a strategic business plan. We divided additional related topics among ourselves and went to work.

Christine analyzed and re-analyzed every detail of Social Security. Camille broadened her knowledge of Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medigap and Medicaid. 

Anne, who had an extensive knowledge of investing, developed a presentation on lifetime income options. She found that compliance issues created obstacles too complicated to overcome easily. That caused us to discontinue the segment on lifetime income strategies, so Anne’s role became that of moderator.

While each of us delved further into our assigned topics, we scheduled bi-weekly meetings to maintain our enthusiasm and momentum. We prepared presentations and discussed, critiqued and modified them. Once we were satisfied, we decided to organize a focus group of diverse professionals to listen to our presentations and to provide their “honest and brutally blunt feedback.” And they did! The most important thing the focus group told us was that, although the material we presented was enlightening and interesting, our presentations provided far too much information for anyone to absorb at one sitting.

We went back and simplified our presentations, cutting them nearly in half. We decided to present a series of seminars for attorneys, accountants and financial planners. The seminar time was set at three hours, which included introductions, evaluations, a light dinner, restroom breaks and question/answer time.

In the spring of 2013, the Savvy Retirement Team offered four pre-retirement workshops for attorneys and accountants. The sessions were well-attended and all of us received referrals as a result. In addition, between the team members, we conducted eight seminars on one of our specific topics: Social Security, Medicare and extended care. We all were very busy indeed!

In June, we evaluated our work over the previous six months and decided that we needed to: 1) hire an outside consultant for an objective look at our workshops, 2) hire a graphic designer to design a logo, and 3) develop a better system for following up with past attendees.

The consultant helped us to tighten up the PowerPoint presentations and introduce humor to our sometimes dry topics.

I renamed my presentation to “Aging with Dignity,” which now encompasses the need for both planning and claims consulting. Camille added information on the Affordable Care Act into her Medicare presentation, while Christine incorporated the changes in Social Security spousal benefits for same-sex couples into her presentation.

We created a spreadsheet to list the names and contact information of all our workshop attendees. This allows us to send out e-mail blasts about new developments in each of our specific areas of expertise. We also are looking forward to developing a website.

From concept to reality, it took more than a year of dedicated teamwork. This has been a way for all of us to position ourselves as experts in the marketplace, form relationships with other professionals who can help us obtain referrals and better serve our existing clients. Becoming a member of such a group in your own community could pay off for you!

 

Vivian P. Gallo, CLU, CSA, AEP, CLTC,a long-term disability claims consultant, is founder and principal of Health Resources Consultants. Contact her at [email protected] [email protected].


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