Andy: Before we get started with any of the formal questions here, and for the benefit of our listeners, Michele, could I ask you to give a brief bio about yourself and your work history? What got you to this point in your career?
Michele: Sure, I have my own practice within a large old firm, the firm was established in 1933. We’re one of the largest independent, privately held financial services firms in the country. I started in financial services about 15 years ago and came to Strategies. I was very impressed with the talent, the individuals, and the philosophy of their planning. It is not transactional, the planning is all based on process and purpose. I really focused on working with individuals and business owners, helping them make smart choices with their money. I do a lot of work in the areas of estate planning and retirement planning and have always looked to really make a valuable difference in my client’s lives.
Andy: Have you always been interested in getting into financial advising or is this something you stumbled into?
Michele: I wouldn’t say stumbled, but I was really seeking a career that was very meaningful. At one time I thought I wanted to be an attorney. In my life, I had been involved in a couple of other businesses quite extensively and I was really looking for a career where I could really give myself and have an unlimited potential to achieve and really draw upon all my life experience and my desire to really help people and to build a career that was meaningful to me.
Andy: Well for those in our audience that don’t know, you really have sold yourself, heart and soul, into this career because last year you were made number one producer for Guardian Life Insurance Company. Quite an achievement, congratulations.
Michele: Thank you very much.
Andy: Can you give us a little insight as to the steps that you took to get to that point?
Michele: Sure, I would say that a turning point for me in my career early on was when I started tracking my business. I started tracking how many meetings I was having, what type of meetings, what the results were from those meetings. I started tracking my goals and they were very specific. They were things that I could measure and they were tied into very specific goals. That really made a significant difference. Eventually I evolved to be able to see that tracking as a way of running a thriving business and just how any other business owner would look to track what they’re doing and the impact of what they’re doing. The other thing that really made a difference was really looking to maintain a positive focus at the best of times, at the worst of times, at the times where one is most confidential and perhaps might be struggling with maintaining that confidence or that positive focus. From early on I realized that having a positive focus on what I stood for and what I stand for and who I choose to be rather than what I feel or rather than emotions of my clients or the people around me, to really anchor myself in that stand has really made a significant difference in being relentlessly anchored to that positive focus and that faith and that stand that I am for my client, who I am as a person, personally, in my ethics and my values. All of that are really anchored and I would say deepening that sense of self has really helped me focus on my professional identity.
Andy: That challenge of maintaining the confidence level and keeping the vulnerability in check. You must’ve faced other challenges very similar to this, as you were moving ahead. What were some of the other challenges and how did you overcome them?
Michele: There are many challenges, I think in any business, but specifically in this business. It is a male-dominated industry. There are much fewer women in the industry and there are few very successful women and I think that that could be perceived as a challenge. I really looked at it as an opportunity. I think a lot of the things that were challenges, or perceived challenges, really were all opportunities to really build greater strength. A challenge when I first started, I felt that people looked at me as I was too young or I was very young. It was really taking that and shifting that to the determination and the insight and the drive of somebody who has that ambition to really make a difference in somebody’s life. As opposed to being set in old ways, I used that challenge also to really be more of a defining opportunity. I think there’s a tremendous amount of misinformation in financial services, there’s a lot of conflicting information and so that I feel is a very big challenge and its earning the trust and respect of your client every step of the way. For them to be able to hear what you have to say and to present what you have to them, that is a value, to be able to put that in front of them in the sea of misinformation that’s out there and the conflicting information that’s out there. I would say that’s a continued challenge, but one that again when your work is based on results and on really making a measurable difference to your clients. I think given the opportunity you’re able to overcome that challenge as well.
Andy: And like you were saying about not just earning your client’s respect, you have to maintain it too. As you said, in this sea of ever changing misinformation that they can always come back to you and say, hey, what about such and such? Are you doing right by me?
Michele: That’s exactly right and so I think that really will reflect an advisor’s commitment and style and focus. I am not a transactional advisor. I really look to build long-term relationships with my clients. All of my clients get annual reviews, many of them get quarterly reviews or semiannual reviews. It really depends on what’s important to them or what’s happening in their lives, and I think that is a very strong component of the strength of my relationship and the quality of my relationships with my clients.
Andy: Now, I know you’re a member of NAIFA, has that helped you professionally and maybe even personally?
Michele: I think that NAIFA and industry organizations are very important to our industry and important to know for an advisor building and growing their career that you don’t have to re-create the wheel and that there are organizations that have really taken great length and efforts to strengthen who we are in the industry and who we are in the world of financial services. I think that it’s a very valuable organization and can be very impactful on somebody who’s really building and growing a career.
Andy: Now you had mentioned earlier about fact that this industry is very male dominated and not only did you make number one producer of Guardian Life Insurance Company last year, but you were the first female financial representative to achieve this honor, and that’s in the hundred and fifty three plus years of history for that organization. What does this signify for other female financial representatives of Guardian or even throughout the rest of the financial services industry?
Michele: I believe that it means that excelling and achieving at the top of one’s field is not limited to what gender you are. I think success is really going to be based on the merit and strength of the individual regardless of gender and I hope that this opens up opportunities and what’s possible for other female advisors. I never really looked at it as I was a female and I was looking to come in on some ranking level with my male counterparts. I really was driven to doing my best and being my best, serving my clients and continuing to grow and evolve professionally and personally.
Andy: Excellent. I was going to say what other advice would you give to other female financial representatives, but I think you just answered that.
Michele: I would say just have a very strong work ethic and that you know it’s not a 9-5 job and knowing what your priorities are, what your values are, and what your goals are really should dictate what you do every single day and who you are every single day. That really is what defines you, not what your gender is.
Andy: Exactly. You had mentioned in your bio that you had worked with Strategies for Wealth and your organization is a subsidiary of this group?
Michele: It’s not a subsidiary. I have my own corporation, Cornerstone Wealth Advisory, which is under the umbrella of Strategies for Wealth and we have about 150-180 advisers at any given time in our main offices and we have about 100 administrative staff. Within that 150 base of advisors, you have some of those that have chosen to brand themselves and to create a brand or an identity within the firm. For me it was really just wanting to build something that represented and defined my own philosophy and my own style and my own concept of planning and caring and serving my clients. I was able to really position and harness the integrity of that brand and build and grow it with great talent and great people.
Andy: What services are specific to Cornerstone Wealth Advisory?
Michele: Cornerstone Wealth Advisory does private wealth management, anything in the area of savings, investments, insurance, when it comes to personal insurance and protection. It looks to come in and really review what one has done as an individual and as a business. There are times where I may come in and I may see that there is work to be done or there is vulnerability in one area when the client may have thought it was in another area and they may be open to exploring one area and be able to pivot to the next area upon that continued trust and respect evolving and deepening within the relationship.
Andy: What do you hope to achieve?
Michele: My goal is to really be a premier sought after firm that has an impeccable reputation of integrity, service, results, and exceptional individuals and advisers that serve their clients. Andy: Excellent goal, I hope you achieve it.
Michele: Thank you.
Andy: Now you had mentioned your dedication to this business, the fact that it’s not a 9-5 job, that it’s ongoing, that you have to have a belief in your business. It’s obvious you really do embrace this career fully. How do you manage to maintain that healthy work-life balance?
Michele: I think managing your commitment, when you’re very clear on what your priorities are and what your values are, what is important to you, then your time is very intentional. I realized a long time ago, with my family I can’t feel guilty that I’m not in my office and I could be doing something else and I could be preparing something else and if I’m with my business I can’t be feeling guilty that I’m not with my family or my children. I think that it’s very much about quality time and being extremely productive with the time I have with my family, with my children, and with my clients. I look at every day with much gratitude that it is very authentic and powerful for me to be able to spend my time with the people that are on my path. Whether it’s my family or my clients, I look at it as an honor to have that in my life and to be able to make a difference in both areas.
Andy: I’m going to ask one last question. What are three things that you would like our listeners to walk away with from this podcast?
Michele: I would say that an advisor’s role is really not to come in and basically put a product in place or do some transaction and move on. I think it’s our role and responsibility to be an ambassador and a leader for our clients, to help them navigate. They are so busy running their lives and their businesses that they had very little time to research their financial decisions. There is a lot of misinformation out there and tax laws are constantly changing. There are so many economic factors that impact their decisions and their results that I think really being stuck to kind of a rate of return or to some transaction is going to fail in the long run. As opposed to really looking to be proactive, provide leadership and integrity, and having your clients be able to look up to you as that leader. I think the other thing would be to be very clear on who you are and what you stand for. The why and how you do what you do, that will really create and define you in your career and really never compromising your integrity and making a difference to the lives that you touch and in really being able to make a difference to that business, to that family. It is such a meaningful part of what I do, when not more so than making a new client, but meeting with that client in 10 years from now and seeing all the progress that we’ve made together and seeing how they’ve grown and how you’ve made such a difference. They’ve already been on a path of success, but because of your work together you have exponentially increased the benefits and the value and the growth that they have enjoyed, and I think that’s really what it’s all about for me.
Andy: With your work ethic, I can’t possibly fathom that Guardian would pick anyone else to be number one producer last year or this year.
Michele: Well, I don’t think it’s something that we choose. There’s certain things we have control of and others we don’t. The only thing we can choose is how we use our time and our minds and what we give and do. I think it was a very humbling experience and it was a wonderful, tremendous accomplishment to have reached that level, to have made number one, but you know I’ve always said that number two, number three, number eight and number ten still worked really hard and I think it’s much more than a ranking. But again, it’s the quality of what you do and the difference that you make every day that really make what we do so important and so meaningful.
Andy: Michele, I want to thank you for joining us today on our podcast, building a more successful practice. Thank you very much.
Michele: Thank you Andy, I appreciate the opportunity and it was a pleasure speaking with you.