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“Work-life balance.”, with Ross Vanderwolf and Tyler Gallagher

What do their clients say about them? While you want your advisor to be experienced with your specific needs, you also need to pick someone who you consider trustworthy and reliable. Look online for client testimonials to see how the advisor you’re considering has helped other clients achieve success. If they work within your community or […]

What do their clients say about them? While you want your advisor to be experienced with your specific needs, you also need to pick someone who you consider trustworthy and reliable. Look online for client testimonials to see how the advisor you’re considering has helped other clients achieve success. If they work within your community or industry, ask around at your next city hall meeting or corporate networking event. Chances are, you’ll find someone who currently works with them and can provide extra insight into the advisor’s practice.

As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or adviser, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ross Vanderwolf, CFP. Ross is a highly qualified and celebrated financial services professional. Since 1981, he has dedicated his knowledge, experience and financial acumen to helping clients set and achieve goals and supporting industry peers as they strive for excellence. Ross is the recipient of numerous industry awards and accolades, including being elected the 2019 President of MDRT, a global association of over 72,000 of the world’s leading financial services professionals. Ross advises across all aspects of wealth accumulation, retirement planning, self-managed super funds and personal and business insurance. Ross is adept at creating bespoke financial plans that reflect individual goals and aspirations, while helping clients use financial tools and implement strategies necessary for achieving them.


Thank you so much for doing this with us, Ross! 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?

After high school, I explored mechanical engineering as a career path, but was quickly presented with an opportunity I couldn’t resist. At age 21, my father’s agent influenced me to pursue a career in life insurance sales, which I perceived as a profession that came with inevitable success and an early retirement. I began at a firm where I quickly built a small — but solid — client base made up of friends and family. While I was off to a respectable start, my confidence soon took a hit after expending my natural market and receiving negative feedback from my sales manager. My desire to stay in the industry began to fade as I approached my third year.

When I was struggling to stay afloat, I met an advisor who had just the advice I needed in that moment. He coached me through the importance of recording my activities to improve my prospecting methods and conversion rates and encouraged me to lean on the advice of other successful advisors. To expand my network he suggested exploring what MDRT — a global, independent association of over 72,000 of the world’s leading financial services professionals — had to offer. Tracking my activity was proving to be effective in building my client base and my desire to qualify for MDRT membership motivated me to take that success even further. I eventually qualified for MDRT after seven years in the business and can say confidently that gaining access to its membership network with top-performing professionals who are always willing to mentor others and share expert insights renewed my passion. Now, I have just under four decades of experience as a financial advisor and took my commitment to MDRT to another level serving as the organization’s 2019 President.

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?

Whilst not that humorous, I honestly believed there was a ‘secret to success’ in this business and that the most successful advisors who made it look easy had discovered a secret formula. I was determined to find out what it was, so I spent a lot of time trying to find the short cut. It wasn’t until I advised for nearly two years that I finally realized the secret was hard work and perseverance; the longer you persevered and the harder you worked, the easier it became. In summary, the only place where ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary.

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

I’m looking forward to exploring what the future holds in my new role as the Immediate Past President of MDRT. We are constantly evolving and investing in our membership to provide the resources they need to succeed and promote financial wellbeing among consumers. The MDRT App recently launched in the U.S. to help advisors better serve and protect clients by providing on-the-go content, which keeps them up to date on market trends such as an article on how they can work with clients to offset the implications of the recent U.S. tax reform.

In my personal practice, I am looking to return to spending more time in my business. The financial services profession in Australia is undergoing monumental changes with regards to redefining our compliance, regulation, education standards and the way we must interact with our clients. These changes will occur over the next five years and will ultimately reshape our businesses moving forward. Whilst extremely challenging to adapt to meet these new standards, advisers with the correct mindset will get through this transition and flourish. In addition, I see clients receiving better quality independent advice and service with a higher level of professionalism.

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?

The tipping point in my career was when I realized I needed to invest in myself. This meant taking time away from my day-to-day business to attend industry events and collaborate with peers to reach new levels of success. I actively began to surround myself with other successful professionals so I could learn from their experiences in prospecting and relationship building. With each interaction, I was gaining invaluable insights that I could immediately implement to grow my business. Many of these opportunities were through association events, industry resources and additional education programs. MDRT empowered me to idea share with advisors across the globe facing similar challenges and my pursuit of Certified Financial Planner status through the Financial Planning Association elevated my credibility as an advisor. I encourage others to invest in themselves, too, whether that means pursuing additional education, joining an association or taking more time to balance out your personal and professional life.

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?

When I experience periods of burnout from our demanding profession — such as navigating the ever-changing compliance and regulation standards in our industry — I find that focusing on the positives can make all the difference. While these changes present challenges, don’t lose sight of your passion for improving the financial lives of consumers, supporting them through difficult times and celebrating in their successes. Guiding a client through their life from a financial standpoint as they get married, have children, welcome grandkids and retire is an immense personal accomplishment that often revives my appreciation for my daily efforts.

Work-Life Balance: Advice for my peers starts first and foremost with taking care of ourselves in these demanding careers so we can best serve our clients. With that, a healthy work-life balance is vital to our success in helping families plan for their future. What that balance looks like will be different for each individual, but using MDRT’s Whole Person concept I was able to hone in on my priorities across seven critical areas: relationships, health, education, career, service, financial and spiritual.

Peer Collaboration: Fresh perspective from like-minded peers has helped me to develop creative solutions to continue growing and better serving my clients in new financial landscapes. This could be a new colleague who could teach you how to incorporate the latest technological advancement or a counterpart across the world who has already been through strict regulatory changes that you’re now experiencing.

Don’t be a Jack of all Trades: It’s an immense undertaking to maintain a level of expertise across all areas of financial planning. Finding a specialty is often the right move to elevate success, and will help you find your passion. You may even find that clients will seek you out because of your expertise or certain designation you hold.

Ok. Thank you for all of that. Let’s now move to the core focus of our interview. As a “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?

That’s a great question, because people often forget that you should “try on” a financial advisor before fully committing. If you’re seeking an advisor for long-term, holistic planning advice, it’s important to make sure they’re experienced and trustworthy, have similar values and communicate in a way that works well for you. Before scheduling an initial meeting, do some research and weed out those who might not be the best fit by keeping the following questions in mind:

  1. What certifications do they have, and do those certifications align with your objectives? Make sure the advisor has certifications that are accredited from official institutions and boards, such as the Certified Financial Planning Board. You’ll also want to make sure those certifications align to the areas that matter to you and meet your future needs. For example, if you are looking for an advisor to help you plan all aspects of your finances, including stocks and bonds, tax preparation and relief, retirement planning and estate planning — turn to a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC). If you are seeking life and health insurance, an advisor with a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) certification might be a better fit. If you’re a small business owner, advisors who hold Certified Equity Professional (CEP) certifications or Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS) will have an intricate understanding of how to institute employee benefits and compensation plans, and can strategize with you to ensure you keep your employees happy and healthy.
  2. What do their clients say about them? While you want your advisor to be experienced with your specific needs, you also need to pick someone who you consider trustworthy and reliable. Look online for client testimonials to see how the advisor you’re considering has helped other clients achieve success. If they work within your community or industry, ask around at your next city hall meeting or corporate networking event. Chances are, you’ll find someone who currently works with them and can provide extra insight into the advisor’s practice.
  3. What type of industry associations are they part of? Evaluate what kind of industry associations the advisor is a member of to find a professional who is passionate about their career and invests time in elevating their skills. These individuals constantly seek out opportunities to learn how to better serve clients. Some organizations, including MDRT, require their members to adhere to strict codes of ethics and to put their client’s best interest above all else. If they’re part of a well-established industry association like MDRT, they’ll also have access to a vast network of resources including new product insight, as well as other advisors’ expertise, keeping them on the cutting-edge of industry trends and regulations. If you’re a small business owner, consider working with an advisor who is part of the Workplace Benefits Association, since they may have a more thorough understanding of current, industry-standard employee benefits plans and strategies.
  4. Are they an active member of their community? When I see an advisor involved in the every-day workings of their town, volunteering at the neighborhood animal shelter or hosting a talent show at the local middle-school, that’s a great sign. It means they care about investing in their community and giving back, and they’ll likely invest the same care in their relationship with you as well. Check out their social media for photos of them at local events, or read their blog to get a sense of their community involvement. If the advisor also hosts fundraisers to raise money for local nonprofits, that’s a great way to quickly assess where their values lie and gauge if they align with your own beliefs
  5. Does their communication style work well with yours? According to a recent MDRT study, 56 percent of Americans say that, in order to cultivate trust, it’s vital that their advisor communicates with them on a personal level. Find an advisor that asks about your family, checks in regularly and works to consistently understand both your personal and financial goals. Since communication preferences differ from person to person, make sure your advisor also communicates in a way that works for you. Do they let you schedule virtual meetings and chat via FaceTime, or do they require that you meet with them in person? To contact you, do they typically call, text or email? Do they send out a monthly e-newsletter with updates or do they have a blog or social media presence that they update regularly? Finding an advisor who makes you feel valued and communicates in a way that resonates with you is important to build a strong, trusting relationship that will last for many years.

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?

This is unfortunately a common misconception, since everyone no matter their income-level can benefit from meeting with a financial advisor. Financial advisors are like the safety guard rails on the road of life — if your car hits a bump, an advisor is there to make sure the bump doesn’t completely derail your car and send it flying off the road. They do this by proactively instituting protective measures, like the right type of life or health insurance to make sure that if your family experiences a sudden death, the remaining family members will still be able to keep their house and their current lifestyle. Financial advisors can also help set a car back on track after hitting a bump — if you find yourself suddenly disabled on the job, an advisor can work with you to realign your budget, borrow temporary funds from your whole life policy and navigate any employee benefits or tax breaks.

While everyone should see a financial advisor, most schedule their first meeting much later in life than they should. People are living longer than ever before, and millennials will need to prepare for a retirement that may last almost twice as long as their grandparents’ retirement. By meeting with a financial advisor in their twenties or early thirties, they can maximize their peak earning years and pay premiums while still earning a reliable income. Additionally, an investment strategy that’s established early on can benefit from the power of compound interest, and an earlier purchase of life insurance can reduce the burden of premiums over a longer payment period. Meeting with a financial advisor sooner rather than later can also be a solid strategy for paying off student loan debt quicker, since an advisor can help refinance loans at a lower rate, strategize on budget allocation and more.

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?

My business partner Gino Saggiomo has been vital to the success of our practice. When he came on board, I committed to mentoring him, but quickly realized he was mentoring me in return. Our relationship has mutual benefits — as the mentor I am constantly challenged to improve my own strategies and demonstrate the commitment needed in our field to continuously pursue higher success levels. He also played a significant role in transforming our business with his knowledge of technology and how to navigate the challenges we are facing with increasing regulations in Australia. Our business would not be where it is today without Gino’s diligence and commitment. Outside of my own practice, I’ve been fortunate to have a number of mentors who have guided me at various stages of my career. The encouragement from my industry peers alongside a strong family support system at home empower me to be the best version of myself every day.

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. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement based around one word it would be commitment because almost everything changes when people commit. I know my career changed trajectory completely when I fully committed to help my clients build a better financial life through quality advice and implementation of a well-constructed insurance portfolio. When I extended that commitment to volunteering in the broader environment, I became even further imbedded in my profession and community through the people I met. Dedication to your family, friends and community goes without saying, but the most successful and well-balanced people I have met all have an unbelievably high level of commitment to all parts of their lives. The lesson to me is that if you commit, all areas of your life will flourish.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can connect with me personally on LinkedIn, or learn more via MDRT’s platforms on LinkedInFacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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