“Keep in mind the larger picture” With Jason Hartman & David Hanzlik

Currently, we have a number of really interesting things going on. Like everybody else, we’re navigating the COVID-19 crisis and focusing on how to help our employees and customers as best we can. This is a crucial time for everyone to keep in mind the larger picture — what are we really trying to achieve […]

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Currently, we have a number of really interesting things going on. Like everybody else, we’re navigating the COVID-19 crisis and focusing on how to help our employees and customers as best we can. This is a crucial time for everyone to keep in mind the larger picture — what are we really trying to achieve together.

As a part of my series about “Investing During The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Hanzlik, Vice President of Annuity and Retirement Solutions at CUNA Mutual Group.

David Hanzlik is the Vice President of Annuity and Retirement Solutions at CUNA Mutual Group, where he brings a relentless energy, passion and focus to developing solutions that help guarantee consumers a brighter financial future through simplicity and accessibility. Trained as an actuary, David leverages a financial discipline concerned with long-term risk and results in his leadership of the organization’s retirement and annuity product management, including the development of its structured annuity offerings, the fastest growing segment of the annuity industry space in the United States. In addition to his role at CUNA Mutual Group, David also currently serves as Chair of the Annuity Committee for LIMRA.

Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance industry?

My father was a high school math teacher and emphasized the need for discipline and focus in managing our family’s finances. Despite this advantaged background, I remember vividly how much trust he put in a financial advisor to help my grandmother manage her financial needs; I saw not only how critical the advisor’s role was in ensuring that her needs were met, but also how complex it was for people with an even more in-depth level of knowledge to build comprehensive financial plans on their own. This really set the stage for me to investigate a future in the financial care space, eventually leading me to start my career as an actuary focused on the life insurance and annuity industry. I wanted to help make financial stability accessible, and that value still drives my work today.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I have a vivid memory of working on a corporate finance strategic planning calendar. This planning process was always difficult and frustrating and required navigating unclear responsibilities, detailed analysis and many differing opinions. I had created a one-page graphic that illustrated how we were going to logically conquer this challenge and “get it right” this time. At our kick-off meeting, I presented a copy of the one-pager to my planning partner, boss and our senior leader — everyone sat in silence for 30 seconds and then just burst out laughing. It turned out that my one-page graphic, with dozens of detailed summary boxes connected in a dizzying array of arrows that attempted to present complex connection points, was a disaster that was ultimately only understandable to me — but we did laugh, to the point of tears. What was so great about that experience was that those three colleagues and I had a level of trust where we could have fun together, laugh at something I had worked so hard on that didn’t succeed, yet still respect and trust each other at the end of the day.

Two great lessons came out of that. First, keep it simple, especially when dealing with complex situations, as it can be easy to lose perspective and your true purpose. Second, it’s so important to build strong, trusting relationships with your team — it really helps to have friends to catch you when you fall and then laugh with you about it as you get back up.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Currently, we have a number of really interesting things going on. Like everybody else, we’re navigating the COVID-19 crisis and focusing on how to help our employees and customers as best we can. This is a crucial time for everyone to keep in mind the larger picture — what are we really trying to achieve together.

In addition, a real passion for me is how we’ve been continuing to care for and roll out new innovations in our structured annuity portfolio. Our approach has been to introduce products that are simple to use, easy to understand and provide the absolute downside protection that people want with the upside potential that they need. Specifically, we give customers the power to specify the exact downside protection against market loss in exchange for varying levels of upside potential linked to the market. It has received incredible feedback, especially in this current environment of significant market disruption.

Recently, I have been focused on a structured annuity version we’ve brought to market that guarantees income for life as well. We fundamentally believe that if someone understands what a financial management tool can do, they will more optimally utilize it for their long-term benefit. We keep refining our offerings to squarely keep people focused on the big picture and provide real, needed protection as a part of their broader retirement and financial plans.

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?

Wow! There are so many great and truly different people that I have had the honor to meet or work with and call lifelong friends that have all been integral to getting me here.

One unique example was a colleague I met early in my career who continues to inspire me with their incredible intellect, drive and plain thinking. They helped me continue to strive to challenge myself to think more critically, not to give up and “to get to the point.” Recently I was disappointed by a failure I evaluated as of my own making. We discussed, and their conclusion was — to paraphrase — “the other side’s loss — not yours.” I immediately moved forward. They helped remind me that you cannot dwell on the past, and it’s great to have smart people like this around you that help you be the best, most resilient person that you can be.

Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I continue to tell everyone to make sure to take care of themselves first. If you have not addressed yourself, how can you take care of your family, friends, colleagues or customers? And what does it mean to take care of yourself? Acknowledge what you’re worried or stressed about. Take time to identify those feelings or realities and use them to examine what your true values are. Find healthy outlets to give yourself a break and recharge — exercise more, get back into reading and call that great friend you have been meaning to for months. WORK LESS!

Getting back to those feelings or realities — don’t dismiss them outright and call upon your team for help when you need it. This is a time where connecting with and leaning on family, friends and colleagues is more important than ever.

Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know the stock market and the economy in general have become extremely volatile and uncertain. Many people “dollar cost average” and put aside a monthly sum into a long term savings plan for retirement, college, or a home purchase. If a loved one or a client came to you and said, “I have been saving and investing $500 every month in an S&P 500 index fund. Over the next few months until the dust settles, should I be doing something else with my money?”, what would you say to them?

I would ask them to tell me about their values and concerns, and then I would work with them to define their goals for this investment. I believe in focusing on the concepts of behavioral finance and helping people navigate the emotions that come in situations that are stressful and complex. Generally, people shouldn’t be changing their plans because of a crisis unless that crisis has put them in an untenable short-term financial situation (e.g. needing access to money to meet basic needs). Otherwise, the desire for these changes tends to highlight someone’s true underlying risk tolerance. It’s okay for someone to realize they are more conservative than they had anticipated now that they are faced with a real market crash and uncertain financial future, and in this case, getting at the root of the investor’s goals and appetite for risk will be essential in successfully calibrating their plans for this investment and beyond.

Eventually the economy will recover and rebound. Certain sectors, like travel and hospitality might be hurting for a while. But other sectors, like technology and healthcare, might do very well. If someone wanted to prepare today to take advantage of the future recovery, what would you suggest they do?

I would tell them to keep to their systematic plan or activate a new one. I believe most are best served with continuing to invest and rebalance across a broad range of asset classes and solutions, including those with absolute guarantees like annuities. This is even more critical in situations of market volatility and recovery where there may be a temptation to overweight or underweight based on current perceived sector opportunities or challenges. This same temptation leads to shifting investing and rebalancing strategies based on factors not appropriately linked to long term goals, and I discourage such behavior.

Are there sectors that provide exciting and lucrative investment opportunities today, specifically because of the volatility and uncertainty?

I have pursued a career centered around a principal that simplicity and absolute guarantees are foundational to building long-term security and wealth. I believe that lucrative investment opportunities for anyone relate to leveraging their core knowledge and aptitudes. Most often I see these paying off for people through their application of those resources within their chosen field of work — whether as an entrepreneur starting a business or as a member of larger business or institution. I advise you to look to that as your more exciting investment opportunity, rather than jumping at the latest headline.

Are there alternative investments that you think more people should look more deeply at?

Annuities really should be looked at by everyone. This is the only tool that can provide guarantees related to both asset performance and income for life, and in times of crisis like the one we’re in right now, one really begins to recognize how truly invaluable these are. The options available in this space provide a wide variety of solutions that can be tailored to unique needs, goals and timeframes. For example, our structured annuity offerings allow exposure to equity markets, but with absolute floors on downside risk that can be adjusted to meet an individual’s risk tolerance. By bringing together customization, guaranteed results and stability, these solutions can really add value to each phase of an individual’s retirement planning, whether that’s accumulation, income or legacy.

If a person in their thirties and forties came to you today and said that they have $10,000 that they want to put away today for a long term investment what would you advise them to do with it?

I would first establish what they meant by “long-term” investment and what they were attempting to accomplish over time. We would then work through overall goals, needs and concerns. My general recommendation would be to lean more heavily to equity upside solutions with some guarantees depending on risk tolerance and real timeframe for this investment. I often hear that certain investment sizes (e.g. $10,000) are small and should be matched to rather banal, highly conservative approaches, but I believe that all investment sizes and opportunities should be matched to the long-term big picture.

Ok, thank you! Here is a more general finance question. You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 nonintuitive essentials for smart investing, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

My son isn’t an adult yet, so the hypothetical situation under which he will listen to more than one essential lesson from me sounds pretty amazing!

Know thyself.

This investment portfolio will maximize upside potential, minimize taxes and does so with below-market expense ratios…sounds great, right? But what do you ultimately want? Are you really interested in safety, security and minimizing stress? Or maybe you have a desire to build your assets to leave some sort of legacy to your children or a favorite charity? If you don’t understand what you value and what your actual goals are, how can you invest to serve those values and goals?

Be aware and wary.

Have you ever been involved in a work project where each meeting results in an ask for more analysis without any clear direction? Does it seem as though a conclusion is never reached as endless meetings pile up, along with the supporting detailed reports and PowerPoint presentations? Each discussion reveals a new “critical” detail that needs to be vetted and drives a new focus point for the work. Similarly, when it comes to investing, the mountain of information and advice available today is both a blessing and a curse. While it is really important to be educated on current market dynamics, investment opportunities and retirement/financial management thinking, one must stay objective as they conduct their research. The next headline or great new market study will not make or break your financial future.

When evaluating an investment opportunity or solution, don’t become distracted by just one aspect and ignore the overall package and purpose that it needs to fill.

It’s like the real estate saying that “there is more than a kitchen to that house” — many house shoppers fall in love with a kitchen with shiny new appliances, granite or quartz countertops, or a great under mount sink, only to discover that the lack of bedroom space, poor natural light, etc. make it a poor fit for them. Similarly, many people hear about an investment product on TV or in their reading and zero in on one upside — like a high historical rate of return, for example — and don’t carefully look at the risk exposure that may come with that. This can leave investors vulnerable.

Guarantees are cool.

When I ask financial advisors that work with our annuities how concerned their clients are in the current environment, I get a consistent answer — “they are not concerned.” The use of guarantees stabilizes performance, takes unnecessary risk off the table and allows for more effective, strategic risk taking in the overall portfolio. Absolute certainty eliminates the doubt and distraction that can derail a seemingly well thought out plan. This latest economic crisis highlights how guarantees — accumulation or income — allow us to be cool under pressure and open up our ability to drive better results overall.

Change is okay.

When I was younger, I enjoyed amusement parks. Recently, I took my son to an amusement park and we jumped on the tilt-a-whirl. I got one round in on that ride and was done. What once thrilled and provided enjoyment led to a splitting headache and stomach nausea — I had changed, and the ride wasn’t serving its intended purpose for me anymore. While I’m a huge believer in having a plan and staying with the plan, you also need to be open to changes that will come with shifting needs, values and risk tolerances. There can be new solutions that emerge that may enhance your plan, just remember my first four essentials of smart investing as you evaluate your options.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I am terrible at remembering specific quotes, jokes, etc. but I will give you a name of a book that captures it for me: Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. It’s a really insightful book and the title captures a great and under-applied concept — a true leader isn’t first in line at the buffet, because they are willing to sacrifice for the good of the team — it’s not about them. It reminds me that we can accomplish so much more when we are working together for something bigger and not for our own personal edification, glory or ego.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Be willing to listen to others and change your mind. No one is infallible, and hearing others’ perspectives opens up tremendous opportunities.

Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!

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