by Carolyn Ellis
Ms. Ellis is Features Editor for LIFE&Health Advisor. Connect with her by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Juli McNeely is owner and president of McNeely Financial in Spencer, Wisconsi. She became NAIFA’s first female president in September 2014 at the association’s national conference in San Diego. We talked with her about issues relevant to NAIFA members, from current research on market diversity to NARAB II legislation to establish multi-state licensing for insurance agents.
L&HA: What’s new at NAIFA?
JM: As part of NAIFA’s mission to help our members grow their practices we’re re-launching the LUTCF (Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow) designation. The updated curriculum will be in partnership with the College for Financial Planning. We’ve shortened the program so people can finish in a year, and the virtual classroom is much more comfortable. We’re enrolling now for the first classes that start in July.
Another initiative is Advisor 2020, a study that NAIFA did jointly with the GAMA Foundation, that looks at what the advisor of the future needs to be prepared. The research touches on technology and working differently with consumers of various generations and diverse backgrounds. In April we’ll launch workshops around the country where participants can dive into the research and determine how they’re going to implement change in their own practices to be successful in a changing marketplace.
L&HA: That’s the world within. How are you interacting with the world outside?
JM: The second part of our mission is to protect our industry and our members’ practices. The biggest highlight here is the passage of the NARAB II legislation (National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Reform Act of 2013), which is basically a uniform way to get licensed in multiple states. There’s a lot to be done, but we’re excited about how that might simplify the lives of our members.
L&HA: The Wall Street Journal recently quoted you in an article about the merits of using a living, breathing financial professional versus a computer-aided investing system.
JM: That was an interesting article that seemed to lean toward the robo side. I’m an individual advisor, so like other NAIFA members, I believe in building strong relationships with clients. That’s more personal than a static or cookie-cutter approach when it comes to investments. Consumers face unique situations. The beauty of having an advisor is being able to talk through the individual’s scenario and make a plan to eliminate risk and plan for the future. That’s why I chose this career.
L&HA: How did you come to be with your agency?
JM: I took over my father’s practice. The firm has been in existence for 45 years, and I’ve been with the firm for 18 years. My dad is retired and living in Arizona. I own McNeely Financial Services that focuses on investments and life insurance, annuities, and long-term care. We have a separate division that does property and casualty insurance.
L&HA: This sounds like a succession dream come true.
JM: Succession planning is very difficult; it’s a balancing act between the person moving on and the person moving in. I’m grateful that my dad and I figured it out. Of course I think about who’s going to take over next. Our clients depend on us to have someone there to help them, and that’s an assurance I want to give.
L&HA: Do most NAIFA members generally serve the middle market?
JM: That’s my world, and I would say NAIFA fits in the middle market category. We do a very good job, and I hope we can continue to serve that middle market as we currently do.
L&HA: What about the underserved population segments that aren’t working with financial planners?
JM: As an industry that’s something we need to address. With the younger generation there are issues with financial literacy. There’s also a disconnect in communication style. In my firm, we’re trying to figure out ways to deliver financial literacy topics that Gen Y will welcome, including video pieces we’re going to utilize through social media.
L&HA: Are you seeing the younger family members come in with their parents?
JM: It’s important for parents to encourage and instruct their children on financial matters. Younger individuals often think, “Nothing’s ever going to happen to me and retirement is so far away.” We offer our clients family meetings when Mom and Dad are approaching or are in retirement. We sit down with clients and their children to explain what the parents have and how they have prepared for the future.
The meeting has a two-fold focus: to give everyone peace of mind and to educate the children about the steps that you need to take. It’s really pulling the family together and utilizing that as a learning opportunity. We’ve had good results.
L&HA: Do most clients elect to have a family meeting?
JM: Some parents don’t want a family meeting. My next step is to ask if they would like to get everything organized so if something happens, children can quickly determine where everything is. Our firm has developed what we call an Estate Directory, which lists everything a client owns with where it’s located, the title, the beneficiary, and who to contact if something happens. We put that on a flash drive so clients have it available for themselves or their children.
L&HA: So NAIFA is helping members deal with top-of-mind issues and an evolving market.
JM: Our Advisor 2020 research project sheds some great light. The average age of NAIFA members is 52, so if you’re trying to communicate to a 26-year-old, it’s a whole different conversation. When the research came out, people said, “Wow, I really need to figure out how to communicate with these people even if that isn’t my market.” I’m excited about the workshops we’re offering because our industry has to be able to communicate and reach anyone who’s underserved, anyone who’s connected to our current clients, and anyone who happens to be migrating to this country.
L&HA: That’s a challenge and an opportunity for people who are solo practitioners or in small offices.
JM: You can’t be everything to everyone. I find that many solo practitioners find their niche and focus on it. If that niche happens to be cultural, you’re still going to have generational issues. It’s important to be aware of some of the challenges even though not all apply to your practice.
L&HA: Is NAIFA assisting young people coming in to the industry as financial professionals?
JM: We have a strong Young Advisors Team we call YAT. We want to help our younger, newer members survive while they get their feet on the ground. Our programs are a great way to network.
More women are choosing this career. Women have a great ability to listen, empathize, and strategize. As more women make financial decisions for the household there’s a great opportunity for women in the industry.
L&HA: What else motivates you to go beyond serving your clients?
JM: It’s really important to be part of your professional association. I would not be where I am today without NAIFA, where I have been able to grow and learn from very successful people. I also believe that as professionals we have an obligation to protect our industry. There are so many things that could critically and radically change how we do business.