When building a book, sometimes there's more in a rep's way than the typical marketing obstacles and client objections. Meet four brokers who have faced personal health challenges along with the common stumbling blocks. Their physical situations have colored--and contributed to--their business success.
LOUIS SCHWARZ Schwarz Financial Concepts
Royal Alliance Associates
Silver Spring, Md.
Louis Schwarz, CFP, is outgoing, dedicated and successful. He's also deaf. And through Schwarz Financial Concepts, which is affiliated with Royal Alliance, he has a niche business providing financial services for the deaf and hard of hearing community.
It's not a role he adopted right away. After graduating from Gallaudet University in 1968 with a degree in chemistry, Schwarz helped his deaf friends with their income tax returns while working full time as a chemist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington, D.C. He also joined several civic organizations and became an advocate of equal rights for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Schwarz's interest in the financial well being of the deaf community continued to grow. In 1975, he became insurance licensed and represented the National Fraternal Society of the Deaf as a field representative. In 1983, while still working for the government, he formed his own financial planning business, Schwarz Financial Concepts.
Two years later, Schwarz went full time into financial planning and tax preparation. He moved his business to Silver Spring, Md., where the National Association of the Deaf is located, and became a registered rep with Integrated Resources (now Royal Alliance).
"I found that many of my deaf clients preferred working with me because of the frustrations they experienced communicating with other financial professionals," Schwarz says.
Schwarz mailed out 1,000 business announcements to friends and associates, many of whom he met through the deaf community. Working with a sign language interpreter, he scheduled workshops and seminars. He also became a frequent contributor of financial planning articles to deaf monthly publications including Silent News, DeafNation and NewsWaves.
Today, Schwarz has a client base of about 200--95 percent are deaf or hard of hearing. He does a mix of stocks, bonds, insurance and mutual funds. Twenty-five percent of his clients have more than $250,000 in assets. Working via a specialized TDD telephone system, Schwarz relies on a flashing light to alert him to incoming calls. Conversations are relayed through typed messages.
His involvement with the deaf and hard of hearing community extends beyond his client base. Working with his alma mater, Gallaudet University, Schwarz teaches an adult consumer education course called Dollarplan to deaf students interested in learning about financial planning techniques.
This is part of a larger plan. "My goal," he says, "is to educate my clients in order to provide them with the foundation of knowledge they need to become active participants in their own financial security."
BRIAN ESTES A.G. Edwards
Faith and a resolution to succeed helped Brian Estes turn adversity around. After a car accident at the age of 16 paralyzed him from the waist down, Estes focused on the positive.
"If I couldn't use my legs," says the 32-year-old financial consultant, "then I was determined to use my mind." That simple concept was his mantra from the beginning, but living it was far from easy.
Estes suffered major injuries in the accident and doctors offered him little hope of survival. But a strong religious faith and solid support from family and friends pulled him through. Estes spent six weeks in the hospital, followed by several weeks in rehabilitation, before returning to high school for his junior year.
He continued his education, graduating from the University of Illinois in 1990 with a degree in economics and finance. He also spent a summer studying at Cambridge University and the London School of Economics.
The experience of investing his own insurance settlement prompted him to enter the securities industry after graduation. "We worked with a stockbroker at the time, and I found the process very interesting," Estes says. He had a goal to eventually help others with similar personal injury settlements.
Estes joined A.G. Edwards in 1991 and started networking through local attorneys for prospects, a challenging experience at best, he explains. "I didn't get any referrals at first, but looking back, I really can't blame them. I was only 22, very young and inexperienced. I probably wouldn't have referred clients to me either."
Undaunted, Estes began cold calling. "I did everything. I called with CDs, tax-free bonds and mutual funds and sent out 10,000 mailings every month for the first three years," he remembers.
His perseverance paid off and he eventually developed a strong base of more than 500 clients.
Today, Estes generates $800,000 in production with more than 1,100 clients, mostly referrals. Although he continues to work with municipal bonds and CDs, the majority of his business is managed money.
If Estes admits to any limitation, it's not being able to play golf. "That's where a lot of business is conducted," he says. But he has a way around that. He's a licensed pilot who owns a single engine plane with specially adapted hand controls. Instead of arranging golf outings, Estes frequently flies to Texas and Tennessee to meet with clients for lunch.
"There is no limit to what you can do," says Estes, the ninth biggest producer of the 85 at his branch. "The top eight are million dollar producers and that's where I expect to be next year. You learn to deal with the cards you're dealt. Disabilities have nothing to do with it."
MAYNARD AND JACKIE KLEIN Prudential Securities
If you ask Maynard Klein what his biggest career challenge is, he'll tell you that it's working with his wife. Of course, he's only joking. But maintaining his sense of humor has been important since a stroke 21 years ago changed his professional life and brought his wife, Jackie, into the business.
In 1978, Maynard, a 16-year brokerage veteran, suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Doctors told him he'd never make it to his next birthday. He proved them wrong. However, his speech was severely limited and he needed a wheelchair to get around. "The stroke affected almost every part of my body except my mind," he says through his wife.
After a year of extensive physical therapy, Maynard was told he would never get better. That's when he made a decision. "I told my wife to get her Series 7 and that I'd be the brain, she'd be the brawn."
"Normally someone with this kind of disability would go home, close the blinds, watch television and take disability from the government," Jackie says. "That was not going to be us."
Jackie became a licensed broker in 1980, and began learning how to talk to clients with Maynard's coaching. "He gave me the speech and taught me how to sell," she remembers. "By the time we were through, I could have done the speech in my sleep."
The Kleins approached B.C. Christopher, a regional brokerage firm in the Midwest, about letting them work as a team. The firm said yes.
With Jackie at the helm, the couple scheduled quarterly seminars. "Our seminars focused on bonds and mutual funds, and Maynard was always there in his wheelchair," she says. "I told our clients that I would be working with my husband, that he was the teacher and the ideas stemmed from him."
The results were generally positive. "We only lost one client in the beginning, a dean of a small college who said he couldn't deal with a woman," Jackie says.
In 1987, the Kleins joined the Wichita, Kan., branch of Prudential Securities and continued to build their business focusing on professional managed money and retirement planning. "Maynard's a very positive force in this relationship," says Jackie, now vice president of investments. "I'm better at presentations and warm fuzzies with clients. He's best at concentrating on the global market and carefully analyzing things he never had the time to do before his stroke.
"Our production is over half a million and our goal is to reach a million or more," Jackie says. "Correction--that's his goal. We're at a point in our lives when we could retire, maybe coast a little, but that's not for him. He wants to keep going. He's already gearing up for several more marketing programs to expand the business."
ED KATZ First Alliance Asset Management
Round Hill Securities
Cheerful, positive and highly motivated, Ed Katz is content with his life. The fact that he's diabetic and has already had five angioplasty procedures since 1992 is just a minor blip in his otherwise orderly existence, which includes running First Alliance Asset Management with his brother Stanley.
Athletic and disciplined, Katz is up everyday at 4 a.m., rides a stationary bike and completes a 20-minute calisthenics program. He's in the office by 7 a.m. six days week, including a few hours on Sunday to get organized for the coming week.
"I'm a very disciplined person, partly because of being diabetic and what it's taught me," Katz says. "If I deviate from what I do during the day, with regards to eating, exercise or rest, my body will go out of balance."
Katz says he carries that discipline over to the investment world. "Consistency is important," he says. "With clients and their investments I try to help them keep everything in order and consistent with their needs."
Being diabetic has also made Katz more sensitive to life's problems. As a result, he says he's willing to help a client with things other than investments. For example, Katz went out of his way to assist a client whose husband suffered a heart attack while on vacation. "I can be pretty intense sometimes, but I put myself in the shoes of my clients and want to help them in all aspects of their life."
That's been his philosophy since Katz worked for EF Hutton in the '80s. In 1988, when it was acquired by Shearson, he left with several other brokers to open a PaineWebber office. Katz worked with his brother at PaineWebber for a few years until the pair started their own independent office with Round Hill Securities in 1998. They also have an affiliation with Lockwood Financial.
Focusing on managed money and 401(k)s, Katz builds his business through cold calling, monthly mailings and seminars on managed money. He says his business is more successful now than ever before. "In 1997, while we were still at PaineWebber, we did $3.25 million in production," Katz says. "Today, we've grown our business to the point where we have more than 3,000 clients and our production numbers are higher."
Controlling his diabetes has gotten better, too. After taking injections for 33 years, Katz converted to an insulin pump two years ago. "I'm careful about what I eat, and I follow a strict regimen when it comes to my health, but I don't focus on it. I'm one of those people who sees the glass as half full. I won't allow my disability, if you will, to be an excuse for anything less than the best for my family, my clients and myself."