Sailing On That Big Blue Ocean — With Joe RoosEvans
What are the secrets of success? For Joe RoosEvans, those secrets boil down to having a system, having mentors, having referrals and having a way to set yourself apart from all the other advisors out there.
RoosEvans started in the financial services industry in 1982 and eventually founded Financial Resources of America, which is ranked among the top 5% of financial services agencies in the world. His practice focuses on protecting his clients’ wealth and maximizing their assets. He has published nine books, including a series called Here’s To The Good Life, in which he reveals what he calls “things they don’t want you to know.” His most recent book is Take a Step: The New Normal in a Post Pandemic World.
He is a follower of the Blue Ocean Strategy, finding a market space where no competition exists and then capturing that space and creating a new demand. RoosEvans found success by observing what successful people do and then adapting it to his own style.
In this interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, RoosEvans describes what makes his business unique and how losing his job as a railroad diesel mechanic put him on a path to future success.
PAUL FELDMAN: Let’s start out by talking about how you started in the industry.
JOE ROOSEVANS: My folks were immigrants. They always told me that if I got a job on the railroad, I would be set for life. Right out of high school, I got a job on a railroad that had never had a layoff in its history. I was a diesel mechanic; I was going to make good money. Twenty-three months in, and I was rich. I was 19, 20 years old, getting union pay, I had no bills and I got paid every Friday.
One Friday, I got my check and behind it was a pink slip. It said I was furloughed. I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked a couple of the old-timers there and they said it meant I was out of there. On Monday, I went over to talk to the head executive about it, and he told me the railroad’s gone, things are changing and I need to find something else to do.
I went to work selling cars and met this guy who sold insurance to the auto shop, and he told me he raced motorcycles. He gave me his phone number and asked if I wanted to spend the next day riding motorcycles with him.
We spent the whole day riding motorcycles, and then I went to his house. I had just turned 21 years old at that time, and this guy was 26. He had a house, a truck, a Pontiac Trans Am, a Harley and dirt bikes. I asked him, “What exactly do you do?” He said, “I sell insurance.” Then he asked me, “Are you going to be selling cars all your life?” And I said, “Oh, no — I’m going to be doing what you’re doing.”
That was how I got into the business. I interviewed with State Farm, and they wanted me to relocate to Florida. I said no, I wanted to stay in O’Fallon, Ill., a suburb of St. Louis, where I was from. Instead, I went to work for Farmers Insurance, and they told me I needed to work in my hometown. I said no, I’m going to work 10 miles away and create my own clients. I’m not going to try to sell to my friends.
The day I started in this business, I was broke. I hired two people to work in my office and I ran up $26,000 on my credit card to pay them until the money started coming in. I had a telemarketer set my appointments; she set 15 appointments a week, I would see them and that started my marketing system. I ended up being the top agent in my district because nobody was seeing as many clients as I did.
FELDMAN: Tell me about mentorship and how it impacted your career.
ROOSEVANS: Every step of my career involved mentorship and running into the right people. Where I’m at today came about because of someone I met who was a marketing genius. I got into wealth management by way of annuities. This man had a marketing system for annuities, and I went to work for him and learned his system.
What I soon realized is that relationships and partnerships are very important. One of the things I realized is how much the people I’ve met helped me along in my career.
It’s said that some of us think we have to do it all ourselves. I read something in a book that said, “If you are doing the paperwork, you are your assistant.”
FELDMAN: Can you tell us more about how you got to where you are now?
ROOSEVANS: I met someone who was selling annuities and single-premium life insurance. I ended up working for him and was successful at it. Then he decided to retire. I wanted to find a practice, and I moved into my home in Illinois, outside of St. Louis. He agreed to stay around for six months to help us. That ended up lasting 10 years. He introduced me to someone who said, “If you just listen to what I say, you won’t have to you won’t have to hit the potholes I did.” Boy, he was right.
But I realized what was missing in our industry — relationships. So today, we’re a trust representative office. We are actually a trust office with national powers.
Another thing that was instrumental to my thinking was a book called Blue Ocean Strategy. In essence, what it said is that there’s a red ocean where everyone is competing for the same thing, but there’s a blue ocean that’s wide open. That’s where you want to be. That red ocean is the 30 financial advisors all within 20 miles and all competing for the same thing. So you want to distance yourself from the red ocean and set yourself apart.
I looked for ways to set myself apart, and I looked at estate planning. Forty percent of the U.S. population has done no estate planning — zero. You have people who are 60 years old, and they have done zero.
Take that a step further. Forty percent of the 60% who have done estate planning have inadequate estate planning. They wrote a will when their kids were two years old, and they never updated it. Or they have a trust, but it’s not funded properly.
So I chose to market to that population that needs estate planning and needs us.
FELDMAN: How do you reach out to that market?
ROOSEVANS: We have people coming to our events because our story is different. Our team is holistic.
I emphasize smart relationships. It’s not about making a sale; it’s not about telling people that XYZ annuity is the hottest annuity in the world, or what the hottest product or strategy is. It’s asking people, “What would you like to accomplish? Would you like to look at some options?”
FELDMAN: How did you get into the trust business?
ROOSEVANS: There are some insurance companies I worked with, and we had an orphan program. We installed conservation orphan programs, and they turned out to be phenomenal for us and our clients.
But it really all came together after I read the blue ocean book. I started talking to a guy in Texas, and he set me up with a relationship with a bank in South Dakota. As far as I know, we’re the only firm of its kind that has an active marketing trust office representative in the U.S.
You have insurance agents, financial advisors, attorneys, CPAs — the truth is, they’re all associated with a trust company. When you go to a trust company, they take care of all those things for you. This opened my eyes. That conversation with the guy in Texas led us to be licensed to do all this. It has been unbelievable.
If our clients don’t have a relative or a friend or someone to take care of their estate, they can use the bank as their successor trustee. So they have a professional fiduciary behind them when something happens, so their kids can be taken care of and everything can be done the right way.
When I first saw how this could be done, I thought, “This is the blue ocean.”
I designed a seminar around estate planning, we went out and did seminars, and our rooms would be full of people.
Insurance agents and wealth advisors would love to have attorneys give them referrals. But attorneys don’t want to give them referrals because they don’t want the advisors to mess up their client. Insurance agents and wealth advisors will try to give leads to those attorneys, but they never get anything in return. So with a trust company, we have attorneys on staff at all our locations. We have attorneys doing our estate planning seminars.
Our marketing is profitable. When we have seminars, seven days after the event, prospects go into the attorney’s office and 55% will make a buying decision. So that covers the cost of our marketing — pays for the offices, the direct mail, the dinners, and the processing center that does estate planning. The attorney delivers the trust and then we come in seven days later and do funding in the wealth management.
A lot of people think that wealthy people don’t go to seminars. They do. But you have to make it an emotional event they can’t miss. Seminars are high-engagement events, because people respond, they make a reservation and then they go to the event. A lot of guys are focused on the sale, and they’re trying to sell the people at the event. No, the event is not the sale but the experience of those who attend.
We play music, we have bright lights. We shake everyone’s hand; we go around to all the tables and talk to people, and we’re thankful they’re there. I make time to answer questions.
We hold seminars in a restaurant that is modeled after a French castle and in an Italian restaurant that has been in the same family for generations. Well-known places. People love to go there.
You have to create an experience and control as much of that experience as possible. Sometimes it’s the little things that are a big deal to your clients. We have period candies — candies that were popular in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s — sitting in a big bowl in the lobby. That candy is magical; it’s a magnet. People won’t stop talking about it.
FELDMAN: Tell me more about what you do differently from others.
ROOSEVANS: We focus on estate planning, and we partner with attorneys. Our marketing as of now is all about seminars and webinars. Despite COVID-19 putting the brakes on a lot of in-person events, we still had our best year in 2021. We had to move from in-person seminars to direct-to-the-office Zoom calls.
That leads me to the message that I want to get across: We need to hire the next generation. We need to open the door and bring the young advisors in. They know about using technology to reach clients. This industry has given many of us one of the most amazing opportunities, and we need to share that with others by bringing them into the business. At this point in my career, I find it rejuvenating to show younger people the huge blue ocean opportunity that exists in this industry. And if we don’t start recruiting good people, this industry won’t survive. There’s a ton of manpower out there, and we need to bring in the next generation.
I brought young people in as interns, and I’ve found that to be more successful than trying to work with someone experienced. Right now, I have a glowing star named Curtis — he has an MBA now. He was an intern in his second year and now he is a mini me.
FELDMAN: Tell us some of the other things that have made you successful.
ROOSEVANS: Do what you do best and delegate the rest. But if someone needs help, you need to be able to offer them help.
Before I was in the practice I’m in now, I would ask clients if they had a will or a trust. But the truth is they wouldn’t get it done and then life gets in the way. Now, I have a one-stop shop. Someone needs a will or a trust, I can put them in touch with an attorney. They need investment advice, we can give it to them. People want convenience, and they want to know they’re getting value.
Our average client age is between 62 and 64 years old. They have between $1 million and $3 million. But they don’t think they are wealthy enough to go to a trust company, and they don’t want to go to someone like Merrill Lynch. They are our niche. That’s where our blue ocean is.
I create my own referrals marketing through attorneys. There are 50 attorneys in our system, and we take away their headaches. We take care of the paperwork and bring in other people who like to do what they do best.
I think this is the greatest business in the world. I make a ton of money, more than I ever dreamed of. I’m not bragging about that; I’m thankful for it.
Thinking back to when I worked on the railroad, if I had stayed there, I would have been broken down by now. Knees, hand — it’s physically hard.
But I like education. I like reading. I like being in front of clients in a sales environment and doing what I do best
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