The Power of Storytelling – One Advisor’s Perspective

The Power of Storytelling – One Advisor’s Perspective

We’re here to find solutions. That’s why we work in the financial services industry. And while every advisor has their own style and strengths, we also recognize the value of connecting and collaborating with others.

So we’re trying something different. Here's the perspective of an advisor who, like many of you, is committed to educating his clients to help them make informed financial decisions.

Jeff Christenson has been in the insurance and investment industry for more than 26 years. What began as a stockbroker career morphed into an equally balanced practice of insurance solutions and investments, and Jeff hasn’t looked back since. He is passionate about helping clients and colleagues understand the power of insurance.

However, the secret to Jeff’s success is the way in which he educates his clients. He finds that thoughtful language and explanations designed to clarify what different products accomplish, is more effective than education on how products work.|

Make No Assumptions

“People love insurance,” says Jeff. “But most don’t understand it. And when they learn what insurance products can do, they are almost always surprised. Most of the high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth individuals I’ve met with did not understand even some of the most basic details of what insurance can do. Assuming that these people do know, is a giant mistake. It’s show and tell from grade school.  But now it’s show and tell and then LISTEN. It’s our job to deliver that surprise.” 

And we do that through the language we use.

According to JT Bell, of Bell and Associates (now an Ash Brokerage Company), “Jeff has done a tremendous job explaining what matters most to clients ‘when the rubber meets the road’ and he does it comparing traditional investing to alternative approaches.  For many clients what matters most is simply the amount of SPENDABLE income they can reasonably expect from wherever they put their money.  Once he has their attention with his “punchline” of total spendable income – and clients often scratching their head how this could be possible - Jeff supports it by weaving together taxes, fee-structures, risk-mitigation, and policy loan types to support and explain from there.  With this format, Jeff consistently places several six-figure Target cases through us every year.”

Telling the Story

In Jeff’s experience, consumers generally find insurance presentations confusing. The problem isn’t that we as advisors don’t have the tools. We do. As Jeff shares, “the biggest, strongest, most wonderful insurance companies in the country have been busy for many years, creating certain financial products that clobber Wall Street products. It’s our job as advisors to communicate that to clients who can benefit.”

But the average consumer doesn’t see it that way. We need to translate those tools to language the client understands.

“Shouting at you in French isn’t very helpful if you don’t speak French. The magic is the translation. It’s how we get things done,” he explains. “Right now, clients are ill-equipped to speak the language. But we can change their reaction from ‘no way’ to ‘yes, please’ just by using different language.”

Jeff takes a storytelling approach, using two fictional characters – Fred and Barney – to help his clients see how financial goals can be achieved when presented with different investment opportunities. Let’s look at a high-level example of how Jeff uses the Fred and Barney personas to help his high-net-worth clients with investment or insurance decisions:

  • Fred and Barney are each age 50 and plan to invest $200 thousand a year for seven years. Each will have a total investment of $1.4 million over seven years.
  • Fred invests his money with an investment firm paying typical management fees and taxes on his earnings. Fred enjoys a spendable income of about $217,000 per year from his investment account which lasts 12-years -a total of $2.6 million.
  • Barney places his money in a max-funded, specifically-designed IUL. He enjoys spendable income lasting a full lifetime - a total of $6.6M by age 95.

So instead of trying to sell an insurance product, Jeff focuses on telling a story to help clients along. And he focuses on what they achieve with each different strategy.

Little Changes. Big Results.

Jeff applied the Fred and Barney strategy to a client we’ll call Phil. Successful in the commercial real estate business, Phil’s net worth is $75 million. Jeff served as Phil’s investment broker but didn’t want to disrupt Phil’s long-standing relationship with an insurance rep we’ll call Tom. Phil was pleased with the easy explanation yet disappointed that Tom hadn’t explained the concept of max-funded IUL insurance to him.

Having worked with Tom before, Jeff reached out to him and learned that Tom had told Phil about the max funded IUL, but Phil didn’t recognize the concept. It wasn’t until he heard the story version of Fred and Barney that Phil could conceptualize the power of the investment choices. This collaboration led to a more strategic plan for Phil, and increased confidence in his financial future.

“If my client is convinced that investments are better than insurance,” says Jeff, “I won’t be able to change their mind. But once I translate my solution into general language, without getting bogged down on product descriptions, they’re more open to considering different types of strategies.”

With different language, we can help clients have a bigger impact.

Little changes in how you position and use stories to help clients understand concepts lead to big impact — no matter which solution you recommend to help them achieve their goals. And in today’s environment when clients may feel more uncertain of their financial futures than ever before, painting a picture through a story can help them connect to the why behind the product, so they feel confident in taking the steps you recommend.