I actually have two pieces of advice I can give to people in the industry. The first relates to professionalism, and the second is practical. The wonderful American poet, Maya Angelou, once said, “Just do the right thing! It may not be expedient, and it may not be profitable, but it will satisfy the soul.” These are the words I live by both within my practice and in my personal life. This really helps avoid potential issues that can cause burnout. On a practical level, I would encourage everyone in this industry to hire an assistant before they can afford one. Cut costs and expenses elsewhere, anywhere. A good assistant is the difference between just cutting it and making it really big. The moment you’re free from managing the administrative aspects of your business, such that you can apply your skills 100% to your “highest and best” use, that will be the time you change your path.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Myerson, President and CEO of Myerson Wealth in Los Angeles. Richard brings his knowledge, experience and passion to his practice by working with his clients to design, develop, implement and maintain strategies to maximize clients’ business value and personal wealth. The firm’s analyses and alternative modeling provide recommendations to maximize value for high and ultra-high net worth families, business owners, HENRYs (High Earners, Not Rich Yet), non-profit organizations, and wealthy international citizens.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Sure. To cut a very convoluted story short, I chose to enter the life insurance industry due to a combination of two things: a prior business failure which necessitated me doing something else with my life, and my some very positive encouragement from a few connections in the industry, given what they thought were the appropriate sales skills. I was 36 at the time, which is a somewhat unusual age for entering the profession, given that most folks enter immediately after college or shortly thereafter. However, my age helped me significantly, as I was able to market to my peers who had already started “making it” and hence had the need and wherewithal to acquire products that produced a revenue stream far greater than one would associate with a fresh out of college agent. My background as a CPA did not hurt either, inasmuch as I immediately gravitated to what’s known as the “advanced markets,” that is, business owners and estate planning clients.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first began in this business I’m not sure I considered any mistake I made to be funny, at least at the time. Perhaps somewhat to my own detriment, I did my utmost not to make mistakes, but of course they were inevitable. My biggest mistake would not necessarily be considered funny. Simply put, that was going for the “lowest hanging fruit.” In my case, the low hanging fruit was the high income, high net worth client, rather than building a much greater base of less affluent. It paid off at that time, but it may have been limiting in the long run. There is a rather funny illustration of my practice at that time, although I’m quite sure my career company did not think so (and hence changed the rules after me). I was contracted with one of the very large national career Companies and was their leading producer for all first year agents. At the annual meeting for the Western region where I was based, I was called up on stage to say a few words about my practice and how I had accomplished this achievement. Prior to being called up, the announcer proceeded to call out the 3rd, 2nd and then 1st place agents in their first year. The award at the time (since changed) was based on the Company’s calculation of volume, which was a proprietary blend of points for term coverage and whole life coverage. My volume was significantly greater than the 2nd place agent, but my number of lives was less than one-third. If I recall correctly, perhaps 35 lives to 112 for the 2nd placed agent. Many thought this was a much better way to make a living… work one third of the time and still make more money. The carrier was not convinced, and to prove it, they changed the recognition method shortly thereafter. Today, I’m not convinced either. While I’ve no complaints about the balance in my life, if I had a much larger base of clientele, I may not need to still be marketing as hard as I do.

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

Yes, I’m working on a marketing project specifically focused on the millennial generation. The project is still in its infancy, but it highlights the need for both life insurance protection coverage and the need to build tax-protected retirement assets. I’m personally freaked out by our current national debt and only see it getting worse in the future. If we have a rise in interest rates, in the absence of a cataclysmic event, the cost to repay that debt can eventually only be covered by higher taxes. We cannot keep kicking the can down the road, and we’re burdening the next generation with our lack of discipline and current tax policy. Hence, I’m trying my best to educate this upcoming generation on the need to build tax-efficient and tax-protected assets.

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 lessons that others can learn from that?

Unquestionably! That occurred when I had my first insurance claim, which was only about four years into my career. It was not a death claim, but a long-term disability claim. My client, a co-partner in a highly successful business, had acquired a significant amount of disability buy-out coverage to fund his buy-sell agreement, and in addition, the maximum amount of personal disability coverage available. As a result of some cardiac issues, he lost his ability to continue his role as the face of his company, and the disability provision of his buy-sell agreement was triggered. The carrier paid out the lump-sum benefit, which allowed his partner to buy him out, and he continues to receive his monthly benefit to this day. When I realized the value I had brought to his family and him, everything changed. Previous to this I knew theoretically I was doing good work in the community, but when I saw the direct benefit of what we do, it gave me such a deeper sense of our significance. It imparted a deeper passion into my communication with my prospects and clients both through the use of that particular story, but more importantly because of the internalization of the benefit we bring to the table. Recently, I received a call from the client’s wife, and when I told her I had just recently been thinking of them, she said something that brought tears to my eyes. She responded, “Richard, John and I think of you every morning when we wake up.”

I guess the takeaway that others can learn from this is to understand the importance of what we do. If they don’t yet have their own story, then use the stories from others around them. As long as they’re authentic, it doesn’t matter they belong to someone else.

What advice would you give to other people in the insurance field to thrive and avoid burnout?

Avoiding burnout in this industry can be tough. It’s not an easy business. You first have to fight to find prospects to talk to; then you have to fight to get in front of them, because most of them aren’t calling you (until you’ve really established yourself in the community, at which time the pendulum does shift); then you have to fight to get them to buy the products they need and in the right quantity; and as if that is not enough, you then often have to fight with the insurance underwriters to get their applications approved. For a young person entering this business, burnout can come quickly.

I actually have two pieces of advice I can give to people in the industry. The first relates to professionalism, and the second is practical. The wonderful American poet, Maya Angelou, once said, “Just do the right thing! It may not be expedient, and it may not be profitable, but it will satisfy the soul.” These are the words I live by both within my practice and in my personal life. This really helps avoid potential issues that can cause burnout. On a practical level, I would encourage everyone in this industry to hire an assistant before they can afford one. Cut costs and expenses elsewhere, anywhere. A good assistant is the difference between just cutting it and making it really big. The moment you’re free from managing the administrative aspects of your business, such that you can apply your skills 100% to your “highest and best” use, that will be the time you change your path.

An an “insurance insider”, you know much more about insurance than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to buy a policy from another person, which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing to a policy? Can you give an example or story for each?

Wow! This goes to the heart of our business, and I could speak for hours on this question. However, let me try and answer as concisely as possible.

The first advice I would provide would be to make sure the agent they spoke with was of the highest knowledge, integrity and morality. Truthfully, beyond this, no further advice might be necessary, as an agent with those qualities will provide my loved one with all the information they would need to execute a proper decision. But how do you find such an individual? While the insurance stereotype of being somewhat shady to downright shifty unfortunately has some basis in reality, an honest agent with the highest moral character is not a unicorn. There are many of us in our profession that apply the highest moral values to what we do. They can be found both in career companies (agents that are associated with a particular insurance carrier) and in the independent space. I left my career company after 10 years, and as an independent agent myself, I would add this feature to the list I would give my loved one of what to look for. While there are many agents in the career space who have all the moral values one could wish for, knowing what I know today, I would be reluctant limiting the product range that would be offered to my loved one. Don’t get me wrong, career companies have some exceptional products, but they don’t always fit into the objectives of the client.

This brings me to my second piece of advice. Beyond choosing the right agent, I would advise my loved one to know precisely their goals and objectives for needing insurance coverage. On this point, I could get into deep discussions as to the various uses of life insurance, but again I’ll attempt to keep it concise. While there are many ways life insurance can be used both in a personal or business context, essentially it comes down to two primary uses: the death benefit for purposes of protection coverage; and the cash value for purposes of tax-efficient investing.

My first rule in protection planning is “the right insurance is the right amount of insurance.” If the primary objective is death benefit for protection purposes, I would want my loved one to ensure the agent prepares a Capital Needs Analysis. This is the calculation that determines, based on a number of variables and assumptions, how much insurance is actually required to protect the family in the event of the death of the income earner(s). Once that has been determined, then I’d want to make sure this amount of coverage is purchased. Only beyond that, to the extent that the budget allows, would I want them to look at some permanent insurance for purposes of asset accumulation.

When it comes to using life insurance for purposes of asset accumulation or as an alternate asset class for wealth transfer, I’m a huge fan. Notwithstanding the constant barrage from financial pundits of “buy term and invest the difference,” the use of life insurance as an alternate asset class for wealth accumulation is not only exceptional, it’s smart. Here, however, I need to make the following observations: first, life insurance as an asset class is a long-term commitment. This is largely due to the high upfront costs and expenses, but additionally the need for a long enough runway for the real benefit of the tax-deferred compounding to do its magic. Second, life insurance should be a piece of an overall accumulation portfolio, not the portfolio in its entirety. Beyond the positive impact of tax deferral, and if properly structured, completely tax-free distributions, all non-variable life insurance policies mitigate downside market risk, which is an exceptional hedge against negative sequence of market returns during the distribution phase of life. Having said all this, I would instruct my loved one to take a long hard look at the pros and cons of all permanent life insurance products: whole life and indexed and variable life products. I would not want to place a limitation on them as to which they might consider better for their purposes. However, if I was in the market to buy a new product for myself or my wife, there is no question that given our understanding of all the options, and the relative pros and cons of each, the product for us would be Indexed Universal Life.

Another thing I’d tell my loved one is to make sure the product has all the other bells and whistles that they might need on their policy. If a term policy, does it have the most favorable conversion features, with minimum limitations? Does the policy have an accelerated benefits rider, or if desired, can the face amount of the policy be used for long-term care? While this could be a costly rider, sales of these “hybrid” policies are growing steadily and can be an exceptional way of “having your cake and eating it too.” If a cash accumulation policy, does the policy have the very best loan provisions for distributing cash from the policy? Some carriers charge you substantially for borrowing your own money, while others have either a “wash-loan” (free loan) provision, or a very small guaranteed loan charge. Also, if you are buying a product for accumulation with the intent of taking retirement withdrawals, I would want to make sure the product had an “Overloan Protection Rider.” This rider will prevent too much money being drawn from a policy and cause it to lapse, thus preventing any income tax from being triggered on distributed gain.

While there are many more things I could advise my loved one, I go back to my first point: if the agent is of the highest moral character, I won’t need to.

Insurance agencies or companies are often known to be very creative and innovative marketers. Do you use any clever and innovative marketing strategies that you think large legacy companies should consider adopting?

Most of my marketing strategies are consistent with others in my geographic region and market focus. I spend many hours networking with Centers of Influence (COIs), writing blogs, and doing annual client reviews where the opportunity of a referral or a new client need always exists. Outside of that, my only innovative marketing (which I sincerely doubt could be used by the large legacy companies) is my dinners. From the time I was a teenager I’ve enjoyed cooking, and as I got older this enjoyment morphed into a passion that has resulted in me knowing quite well my way around a kitchen. (Humility dictates understatement.) Over the last decade I’ve hosted many round-table dinners in my home where the invitees consist of existing clients and COIs, and the format is usually a plated five-course wine paired event, with all the food prepared by me. As one might imagine, having clients and referral sources in one’s own home goes a long way to deepening the relationship, and then cooking for them takes it to a level of uniqueness that might be difficult to recreate. No other marketing I do hits this level. I knew I was making some waves with this approach when I recently walked into a network meeting and was approached by a CPA who asked me when he was going to get an invite to one of my dinners.

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?

Yes, there are actually two. The first was my mentor when I came into the business now twenty-five years ago. He’s the moral compass from which I learned true north in this business. He’s also one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve known in this or any other industry. If not for him, I would not be doing what I am today. The other is my Operations Manager. Where I’ve forgotten names of clients, she remembers everything about every case we’ve ever written. She has the most incredible disposition with our clients, and a deep insight into the carriers and their products we use in our practice. Where Jerry showed me true north, Jill keeps me on that path.

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. 🙂

That’s easy: the recognition that life insurance as an alternate asset class for tax-efficient accumulation is the “missing ingredient” in most retirement portfolios.

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

About the Author:

Matt Schmidt is the founder of DiabetesLifeSolutions.com which specializes in helping people with diabetes find affordable life insurance. Matt founded the company after his father was diagnosed with diabetes in 2010. He is also founded Diabetes365.org to provide helpful information for those living with diabetes. Matt is also pre-diabetic.