The most important piece of advice I can give is having realistic goals in place before you see the advisor. With those goals in mind, let the advisor prepare a roadmap for you to achieve those goals.
As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or adviser, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shawn Plummer. Shawn is Director of Advanced Annuity and Insurance Sales and Blogger at The Annuity Expert.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up all over the Southeast, primarily in Florida’s Space Coast, and later graduated from the University of Central Florida earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Digital Media. In 2005, I started my career as a Graphic Designer and found out quickly I didn’t enjoy staring at a computer for 10 hours a day earning low wages. At that point, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career, but I knew I wanted to earn a living working my way and earn what I was worth.
In 2006, one of my college friends informed me that his brother in Atlanta was working as an annuity marketer, and he was making six figures a year doing it. At that point in my life, I didn’t care what I was doing for work as long as I was getting paid as much as I could. So my buddy and I went up to Atlanta, met the brother, found he was just an awesome person, and he agreed to help me get an opportunity where he worked. That’s all I needed to hear from him so I packed my things and moved to Atlanta 2 weeks later.
When I finally settled in Atlanta, I interviewed with the annuity company, made it to the last round of interviews, and lost the job to another candidate that had sales experience. At that point, the only sales experience I had was waiting tables at Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. The annuity company informed me that they liked me, but there was only one position available. They thought I should go out, get some professional sales experience, and come back a few years later. That’s exactly what I did.
Now that I had moved to Atlanta, I needed to start generating some income so I went back to waiting tables until I found a sales opportunity. About 5 months of serving tables, I landed a commission-only sales role as an executive recruiter. Because the sales role was commission only, I had to keep waiting tables until I made my first commission. I would come in at 7:30 every morning Monday through Thursday, and work until 5:30 at night. On Fridays, I would come in at 7:30, work until 3:00, then drive 45 minutes north of Atlanta to my serving job, and work the dinner shift then drive back down to Atlanta. On Saturdays and Sundays, I would commute back and forth to wait tables, and start my work week all over again. Finally, after a month of grinding it out, I made my first commission which was enough to l quit my serving job, focus on the recruiting opportunity, and make as much money as possible. I made the most money I’d ever made in my life that first year then the great recession happened, and I made nothing because no companies were hiring.
In 2009, I went back to doing what I knew best, wait tables, and started the grinding process all over again.
Between 2006 and 2009, I had always checked in my friend at the annuity company to see if they were hiring, and by chance they were. I went back through the interview process again and was hired. I quit my serving job and went all in as an insurance marketer, and the rest is history.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been training financial advisors and insurance agents on annuities and insurance products.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
A few days after my initial annuity training, I happened to receive a call from a financial advisor notorious for having a short temper. Everyone was at lunch, and any new marketers had to stay and field incoming calls until the rest of the seasoned annuity team members got back. This financial advisor happens to call in, steamrolled me with questions about specific products, and I didn’t know the answers. I put the advisor hold, found the answer, and returned to the advisor with the answers. He then gave me a long lecture about how I should know my product information in and out. Luckily all the calls coming in were recorded because that same irate advisor emailed my president shortly after recommending I be fired. The president listened to the call, hearing me getting chewed out to assess the situation. I was afraid, I was going to get fired, but my president sat me down, explained that I did the right thing by admitting that I didn’t know the answer instead of guessing the answer and kept my composure throughout the difficult call.
The lesson I learned was to know my product information. It’s ok not to know everything, and it is ok to say “I don’t know” as long as you seek the accurate answer. I also learned that day to be humble, check my ego at the door, and make it about the advisor.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on a blog called The Annuity Expert. I want to educate both advisors and consumers about various annuities and insurance products in a very simple way. Insurance contracts and plans can be overwhelming with financial jargon, and I want to translate that on a consumer level so they better understand what they are purchasing. The Annuity Expert is taking the training I do every day, and putting it into a guide for everyone to use.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
I started in the insurance industry with a large corporation, and that was a fantastic training ground for my career because it formed my work ethic. I was talking to advisors about annuities at least 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, and like any demanding job I burned out. For the most part, we were running off pre-made scripts like telemarketing firm. This limited my conversations and personality.
I left the large corporation and became an independent marketer and trainer, and I was able to be myself. I was able to start communicating with advisors the way I wanted to communicate to them, and this where I started to see success. I was able to relate to advisors on their level instead of selling them a product off a script.
I learned from that point forward that advisors respect transparency, and appreciate that you’re sincerely trying to help them make the right decisions for their clients.
What three pieces of advice would you give to your colleagues in the finance field to thrive and avoid burnout? Can you give a story or example?
Always put the client first. Listen to what their needs are, and figure out a way to solve their problems.
Exceed a client’s expectations.
Be as transparent as possible even if it’s negative feedback. Always provide options, and allow clients to make decisions based on the information you provide. I’m not a fan of overselling anything. I’d rather be a problem solver than a salesman.
Be coachable and humble. We’re human which means we don’t know everything, and we will make mistakes at some point in the future. It’s always ok to say “I don’t know”. You can always do research, and provide the answers later. It’s never ok to assume.
I write every idea that pops in my head or task to execute. I’m constantly creating lists. This helps me with time management and mental burnout.
Ok. Thank you for all of that. Let’s now move to the core focus of our interview. As an “finance insider”, you know much more about the finance industry than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to hire a financial advisor (not you :-)), which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing? Can you give an example or story for each?
I’ve trained financial advisors for the past 10 years from all sorts of backgrounds. I’ve seen it all.
The advice I give to family and friends when looking for a financial advisor is the following:
- I always recommend finding an independent financial advisor. Independent financial advisors have the ability to offer more products and solutions than a big box advisory firm. Your financial or retirement plan is only as good as the solutions that are offered to you.
- I always research the length of the advisor’s career. I want to visit an advisor that has about 10–15 years of experience. I like to research career backgrounds on LinkedIn. If the advisor has jumped around from firm to firm in their career, that’s probably not a good sign. Hiring a financial advisor tends to be long term relationships. You want stability. You want to make sure they are going to be in business in the future.
- I recommend interviewing at least 3 financial advisors in the initial phase. If you need help finding an advisor, start within your inner circle, and get testimonials. Also, ask your network if they’ve ever had a bad experience with a specific financial advisor to avoid making the same mistake.
Search the internet, and research independent advisors in your local area. Notice the advisor’s website. If the website looks dated or looks like a sales page, move on to the next advisor. If you see the word fiduciary, that’s a good sign. A fiduciary has a legal obligation to put your interests first. This allows you to hold the advisor accountable for the advice and actions.
Always check for advisor complaints and reviews. Check the advisor’s background on BrokerCheck.
Insider Tip* If you see an advisor on TV or hear their radio show that does not mean they are the best advisor for you. Anyone can get on local TV or radio by purchasing air time. TV spots and radio shows are basically long-form commercials for their business.
Once you’ve found 3 advisors, book an appointment. Appointments should always be free to you, and you should never be charged.
- The most important piece of advice I can give is having realistic goals in place before you see the advisor. With those goals in mind, let the advisor prepare a roadmap for you to achieve those goals.
Example: If you’re planning for retirement, income planning is an essential piece of the puzzle. How much income do you need to earn monthly as a foundation for the lifestyle you want to have? Come to the interview with that figure, and let the financial advisor create a roadmap for you, and let them tell you how you can get there.
After your primary goals are met, let the financial advisor provide advice on other items you’re not thinking about.
- If you see or hear something that seems “too good to be true”, it probably is.
I think most people think that financial advisors are for very wealthy people. This is likely not actually true. Can you explain who would most benefit from hiring a financial advisor and why? Can you give an example?
You don’t have to be wealthy to need a financial advisor. Anyone that is not living paycheck to paycheck can benefit from a financial advisor. A good advisor can be a coach to help you reach your financial goals.
Example: You want to purchase a house sometime in the future, but you’re not sure the best way to save up for a down payment. A good financial advisor should be able to look at your income to expenses ratio and tell you what you can afford. From there the advisor can show you ways to reduce your current expenses and create a roadmap for you to follow so you can purchase your perfect home.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m in my current position because of one person, Jared Lomeo. He’s the brother I mentioned before. Jared took me under his wing when I relocated to Atlanta and brought me into the insurance world back in 2009. He taught me that if you worked hard enough, you can accomplish anything. Jared showed me that people gravitate to kind and optimistic people, and that attitude goes a long way in anything you pursue. I also learned from him to be humble, and not to take oneself so seriously.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A movement I can get behind is investing more in real-life relationships. What I mean by this is encouraging more open communication verbally in lieu of a tweet or social media post. Inspiring people to sit down, and have constructive conversations strengthens relationships by creating a bond. I want to show others how much I care about them by being there for them and listening to their needs and opinions regardless if you’re in agreement or not.
I’m typically a transparent person regardless if the conversation is positive or negative, and I feel this makes the other person know where you stand on any given topic. There’s strength in sharing how you feel. I avoid small talk at all costs because it provides little to no value.
An old school rule of thumb for modern communication that I use is “If you have nothing good to say about someone, don’t say it at all.” Proactively eliminating negative dialogue on social media makes our world a better place.
I’d love to teach society that a good relationship is not built on how well we get along, but how we react to each other after a negative experience has occurred.
Finally, I want to inspire others to be kind to each other, and understand it’s ok to disagree. I want to inspire forgiveness to those who have treated you wrong.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.