Karen DeRose grew up immersed in the life insurance business. Her father spent his career as a top-selling Prudential agent. And she learned first-hand about life insurance when her mother died when DeRose was only 7.
But when it comes to who approached who about getting into the business, there’s a bit of “he said, she said” between DeRose and her father, Ronald Sempetrean.
DeRose, 56, said when she first talked to her father about entering the insurance business with him, his answer was no. “He said, ‘Go out and sell something,’” she recalled. She went to work for an office equipment company in her hometown of Chicago, becoming their top-producing copier salesperson after three years.
Sempetrean, 85, begs to differ. “I approached her,” he said. “She was selling copiers and she was not happy. She said, ‘Dad, what should I do?’ I said, ‘What about insurance?’”
Regardless of whose account is correct, DeRose spent three years with her father. She learned the life insurance business from the man who had been Prudential’s top-selling agent in 1972, back when the carrier had 26,000 agents.
DeRose recalled her father giving her a piece of advice that led to her forming her own financial planning practice. “He said, ‘I want you to interview at firms that do planning because that’s where the future is,’” she said. “My father was very smart. He said that was where the industry was really headed.”
She joined Lincoln Financial Group and started her own financial planning practice, DeRose Financial Planning Group, 22 years ago. Today, her two sons and her niece are among the seven members of her practice team.
DeRose and her family are Chicagoans to the core. Her father serviced debit accounts in the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field. DeRose’s office is near the edge of the city, not far from Interstate 90 and O’Hare International Airport. Her office location attracts clients from both the city and its suburbs.
Her success earned her the 2018 Infinity Award from Women In Insurance & Financial Services. WIFS presents the award to the member with the highest income for the year. The practice is expected to end 2018 at the $2.33 million mark, DeRose said.
A Way Of Life
DeRose said the life insurance business was a way of life for her family when she was growing up.
“My father was in the business, but then when my mother died leaving five kids under the age of 10, we also understood the value of insurance because of what happened to her,” she said.
But DeRose didn’t get into the business right away. She married her husband Tony at age 19 and had two sons, Anthony and Nick. During this time, she also was working for a nuclear engineering firm in Chicago. The firm’s leadership saw potential in her and paid for her to attend college. She graduated with an accounting degree at age 32.
DeRose eventually left the engineering firm, sold copiers and made her way into the life insurance business.
“My father taught me life insurance, he taught me company benefits,” she said. “So I really learned insurance because of him.”
But her father’s words about financial planning being the future stuck with her. She found a certified financial planner to mentor her, then she obtained her securities licenses and her own CFP certification.
Wisdom About Financial Planning
Sempetrean said that even though he was a top seller during his Prudential days, he regrets that he did not become certified as a financial planner.
“Had I known then what I know now, I would have become a [Chartered Life Underwriter] and looked at doing financial planning,” he said. “Because I was licensed as a life agent, I was limited with what I could do for my clients. I could not talk about financial planning, I could not talk about investments because I did not have that knowledge and I did not want to compromise my clients. I could justify the life insurance to my clients but I knew I wasn’t fulfilling their needs completely.”
Selling life insurance was an entrée to establishing a financial services practice, DeRose said. “I started with my dad’s practice and then moved it from an insurance practice to a planning practice.”
A Family Affair
Many advisors are eager to pass their practice down to the next generation, only to find their children aren’t so enthusiastic about joining the profession. DeRose’s sons, however, wanted to join their mother in her practice.
Anthony joined the practice six years ago, at a pivotal time for DeRose.
“I either had to stop taking on clients or I had to grow,” she said. “It was a tough decision. But I’ve been so blessed to have Anthony because he brings a different dimension. He’s a lawyer, a CPA and has an MBA. He has taken our practice to a whole new level. We’re working with a lot more business owner clients now.”
Nick studied financial risk in college and interned with his mother’s company. But he wanted to be a doctor, only to find that medical school was not for him. He found his way back to financial services and is now the agency’s senior financial planning coordinator.
DeRose’s niece, Katie Westphall, serves as a financial planning assistant at the agency.
The family has multiple generations tied to the insurance and financial services world, and as a result DeRose made what she called “a real clear decision” to have a multigenerational practice. “I still serve a lot of my dad’s clients, and then I serve their children. Now we are serving the next generation because of my children.”
A Look At The Future
DeRose’s father may have seen financial planning as the future, but DeRose predicts advisors will need to find a way to combine advice with technology.
“I believe the planning industry as a whole will be more digitized,” she said. “We will have to offer an easier way to do business with us. Advice is going to be front and center because anyone can go anywhere today to buy products. But people want advice. It’s easy to get the data online but people want to know how that data pertains to them.”
She said advisors would have to do web and video conferencing.
“Clients want to do this in the comfort of their own home on their own time,” DeRose said. “Gone are the days when you’re meeting face to face only.”
But life insurance will continue to be the bedrock of a family’s financial plan, she said.
“Life insurance is a big part of all of this,” DeRose said. “You secure the risk first. If you don’t, all bets are off on everything else.”
DeRose’s father often told her of his experience delivering death benefits to those whose spouse or parent had died.
“The one thing he always said was, when he would deliver the death benefit, people would ask him ‘Is there any more money around?’ or ‘Do we have any more money somewhere else?’”
That question — Is there any more? — haunts her today and reinforces her desire to help others provide for their families.
“That’s the reason for insurance, for financial planning — to make sure there will be enough.”