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The Right Team Approach Can Make 2+2=6

Training + Practice + Teamwork + Synergy. All these words come to mind when I watch my 11-year-old grandson play hockey.

I see how he and his teammates are developing skills in this sport – skills that will serve them well throughout their lifetimes. In hockey, it’s “Maybe I could score – but it’s much more likely we’ll win the game if I pass the puck to the forward who has the best shot at making a goal.” However, functioning in a team environment is a psychological challenge, because it goes against our egocentric desire to win and claim credit for the score.

Teamwork may come naturally to some, but for most of us, working in a team environment requires practice, patience and suppressing that urge to push ahead just to see whether we indeed might be able do it on our own.

It turns out to be no different in the various specialties of financial planning. As with many of my peers, I pride myself on the knowledge and skills I’ve developed to help my clients make smart insurance decisions – and then helping them manage those policies throughout their lifetimes.

But, of course, my clients need so much more than expert insurance advice. They need legal and accounting advice, investment and benefits advice, someone from whom to draw ideas about succession planning and trust planning, and all the other practical things that occur under the financial services umbrella that do not fall within my skill set, expertise or licensure.

In the 70 or so years of the Society’s first “incarnation,” we enjoyed the familiarity and fraternity of a common career and expertise. We took Chartered Life Underwriter classes together – taught by our older mentors – and in time we became mentors to the next generation of students. In the process of learning by teaching, we became skilled at knowing how to assist our clients in identifying the risks that could most adversely affect them and then helping them either mitigate or transfer those risks. That’s what health, life, disability and long-term care insurance are all about – along with the ability of transforming the risk of “living longer than our money” through the assurance of lifelong income through annuities, regardless of how long we live.

It took the Society’s second phase to bring the need and opportunity for true teamwork into focus.  Beginning in 1999, our membership expanded to include attorneys, accountants, investment specialists, financial planners, employee benefit experts – and, yes – life/health/disability/annuity/long-term care insurance professionals who came together under the Society’s new name and purpose.

Chapters around the country began to transform into providing members with opportunities not only to learn from each other but also to know each other. This led to a process where, for example, one member would be inspired by the nuances of a client’s legal issues to make a referral to another member whose skills in that arena are known firsthand.

Case in point: My client and her husband were fortunate enough to have “dot-commed” in 1999, and their wealth reasonably survived the stock market correction of 2000-2002 only to be hit hard by the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Except it wasn’t 2008’s substantial drop in the equity markets that was the problem. Instead, it was the repercussions of succumbing to the “free life insurance” pitch of a stockbroker who fancied himself a life insurance premium financing “whiz.” At the depth of the country’s financial crisis, the lender called the loan, the insurance premiums went unpaid and the collateral was sacrificed.

Not even Ghostbusters could have answered the call to save this situation! Drawing upon our known ongoing professional relationships, we were able to assemble the team that initiated an ultimately successful lawsuit against the whiz, professionally restructured and managed the investment portfolio, and provided appropriate financial and retirement planning to the couple. They could get on with their lives, realizing that their risk tolerance was now better matched to the deployment of their resources. Not to mention that we also helped them acquire life insurance that made sense in the amount and style and was grounded in a realistic payment plan. 

This was accomplished not merely on the basis of individual practitioners with specific expertise – but also by the ability of those experts to work together effectively in a truly collaborative environment.

In the end, our clients understood that they were much more comfortable. They perceived the entire credibility of the process as being in their best interest – all due to the mechanism of a well-functioning team that was focused on them.

For this couple, the team of experts capitalized on their individual knowledge and made 2 + 2 = 6 for the benefit of the client.

In the world of client-facing professionals, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Richard M. Weber, CLU, MBA, AEP (Distinguished), is past president of the Society of Financial Professionals. A 45-year veteran of the life insurance industry, he is a consultant to insurers and their agents on the topic of effective and ethical selling. Contact him at [email protected] [email protected].

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