Douglas Wheeler’s business has been thriving in these perilous times because caring is his business model.
Wheeler has been building his agency, First Community Insurance Group, in his community south of Chicago for decades through community outreach with small town events and just taking care of his clients.
How he can help others was his first thought as he heard the news of the unfolding COVID-19 health and financial crises.
“I have some high school and college interns that help us with marketing, mailing and phone calling and those kinds of things,” Wheeler said. “They're off of school and so they're making welfare checks on some of our older clients. And if they need a gallon of milk or some toilet paper or pick up their prescriptions, the interns are running out to get those for them. We've done five or six of those this week.”
Wheeler has been selling insurance since 1984 and has had his agency in Bourbonnais, Ill., since 1990. He credits his success to thinking about how to help people first.
“I love this business,” Wheeler said. “And I truly love the clients that I work with. We cross the line from a business relationship into friendships very rapidly. If you really love what you do and you really love that client, you can get them to do about anything. But you have to do the right thing. You have to be there, and you truly have to care about the welfare of your clients.”
He credits his community involvement to growing his business and getting him to the Million Dollar Round Table for 12 years and Court of the Table for six.
He specializes in retirement planning and estate conservation but he isn’t dealing with the country club crowd. He focuses on down home people and events. Wheeler found out very early that the more he gave to his community and clients, the more he built a reputation as the good, go-to guy in town.
In the community, he does things such as sponsoring the Bourbonnais Friendship Festival, one of the largest open air, summer festivals in Illinois.
“We don't do the snooty, pinstripe suit and tie events. We're out there with the average American."
“We don't do the snooty, pinstripe suit and tie events,” Wheeler said. “We're out there with the average American. And I think that's really created our success before this Coronavirus thing and it will create our success during it. Because we truly are that trusted advisor, the blue jean, flannel shirt advisor guy.”
Wheeler found out pretty early that doing the right thing always came back to him in bigger ways. Which works out for Wheeler because doing the right thing is his first instinct when a crisis hits, such as the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We're calling out to them and saying, ‘Is there anything you need?’ ‘Yeah, my kid is in Indiana and I'm stuck here,’” Wheeler said. “We're giving and doing anything we can to help our clients, and they're telling 10 people, ‘Well, my insurance guy, my annuity guy, my retirement guy, sent his associate over to take care of my prescription.’”
He is also getting on the phone to help save retirement money for prospects who weren’t so interested in annuities in the past.
“We're calling everybody that we've talked to in the last 12 months,” Wheeler said. “In the past two or three days, we have been calling them back and saying, ‘You told us no before. Now is it time to move out of the market and come into indexed annuities where something is guaranteed and insured?’ And so, we're seeing a bump up in that.”
Fixed index annuities are a solid product for him now even as interest rates drop. Other agents might be having a hard time messaging with the low rates. In fact, one of the companies he usually deals with dropped rates to 1%, down from 2.2% -- and he expects his other companies will follow suit.
But Wheeler said he make no apology for FIAs because they are safe and they have the potential to pick up as the market does. So, clients are not asking him about rates as much as keeping their money safe.
“The killer thing with using annuities is that you're going to have your money when it all shakes out,” Wheeler said. “However, if the market recovers in the fashion that the talking heads on TV say it's going to in the third quarter, you're going to have your money, plus the indexing is going to rise.”
And he is able to speak from experience. He has been selling insurance and annuities through every financial crisis in the past 35 years.
Wheeler still hears from clients he helped in the 2008 crash and ensuing recession.
“Yesterday, I received three calls from clients that I moved out of the market, out of securities, into fixed indexed annuities right after 2008,” Wheeler said. “It’s truthfully, very humbling.”
Wherever, However And Being Safe
Not only is he getting leads with previous prospects, he is getting a stream of referrals.
People anxious about their money are asking friends and relatives for advice. As of Wednesday, March 18, Wheeler was still seeing prospects and clients in person, although he acknowledged that he would have to stop meeting in person very soon. As of Wednesday, his county still had no COVID-19 cases. [Illinois’ stay-at-home order went into effect this weekend.]
“I've sold annuities in the barn, on a stack of hay,“ Wheeler said. “I met a referral yesterday in front of the coffee shop yesterday, and wrote the app on the hood of a truck, drinking a coffee with a guy. We went in, we got our fancy coffee at the coffee place, and walked out front and stood in the sunshine and he wrote me a check.”
And although Wheeler is getting more business from people who are worried about the equities market and the economy, that was not the motivation for that referral-turned-client.
The prospect builds race cars and got paid on a big job, so he had money to put away. So when he asked his friend if he knew of anything he could “buy low and sell high” without any risk, particularly with his retirement pending, his buddy said he should talk to Doug Wheeler.
Wheeler suggested meeting the prospect at a coffee shop where he and his friend meet. The shop didn’t have chairs for customers as a COVID precaution, so they moved the discussion to the hood of Wheeler’s truck.
Wheeler said he expected that soon he will have to adopt ways to communicate with prospects and clients.
“Then we will have to be doing things online, Skyping or Face Timing, that kind of stuff,” Wheeler said.
Adaptability is what has gotten Wheeler this far with his business through several national economic calamities over the past nearly four decades.
“We have the technology to just tell the clients sit home in their easy chair and let's have a face to face on your iPhone."
“Because I've operated by the seat of my pants, and out of my back pocket financially for the last 30 years or so, I have a talent to roll with the punches,” Wheeler said. “And we'll do what we have to do. We have all this technology and we'll figure out how that technology works as it evolves. Here in the office, we already have the technology we're using, teleconferencing, Skype, GoToMeeting. And we have the technology to just tell the clients sit home in their easy chair and let's have a face to face on your iPhone.”
Wheeler said it goes back to his original mission to help people. And that always seems to work out for him.
“As my friend Zig Ziglar used to say,” Wheeler recalled, “’if you're helping other people get what they want in life, you'll have everything that you ever wanted in your life.”
Paul Feldman is publisher of InsuranceNewsNet.com. He can be reached at [email protected]
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