The only technology-enabled IMO, Signal Advisors is now the fastest-growing IMO, too...
In 2019, Signal Advisors launched with a simple vision – to be the first IMO built on a technology backbone. And they’ve certainly lived up to that vision. Today, advisors are leveraging a unified technology platform to manage all aspects of their business across annuities and life insurance – from electronic applications, new business dashboards, and case design to commission management across 30+ carriers, marketing analytics, annual review preparation, and more.
“It’s becoming the operating system for my insurance business,” says Bob Smith, founder of RCS Wealth. “Having everything in one place has been a game-changer. My firm is way more efficient and the platform is simple to use.”
The fastest-growing IMO
Smith was an early adopter of the Signal platform, moving his business just over two years ago.
And in those two years, Signal has earned another accolade – they are now the fastest-growing IMO in the country. “In the past two years, we’ve 10x’d the number of advisory firms we serve, and we’ve 10x’d the size of our team,” says Patrick Kelly, Co-Founder and CEO of Detroit-based Signal Advisors. “It certainly makes us proud, but we are truly still in the first inning.”
Kelly is keenly aware of the risks that come with that level of growth. “Whenever you go from 10 team members to over 110 team members in just two years, it’s easy to dilute your culture,” says Kelly. “For us, however, I think the growth has actually strengthened our culture.”
Building a winning team
Kelly started his career as a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual, and then moved on to Kelly Capital Partners where he built a successful independent advisory firm alongside his mother, Janie Kelly.
“Anyone who has ever built a company will understand that it’s all about the team, whether you’re building an advisory firm or an IMO,” says Kelly.
Even at first glance, it’s clear that Signal’s team is unique, with its blend of deep industry expertise, having courted some of the top executives from rival IMO’s, combined with fresh perspectives from industry newcomers who bring experience from blue-chip companies.
Brian Nephew recently joined the team after 18 years helping build Johnson Brunetti, one of the largest independent advisory practices in the industry, where he most recently served as Chief Operating Officer.
“I had a great job working with great people,” says Nephew. “But I joined Signal because I get a chance to build a company that will change the way the next 100 Johnson Brunettis scale their business.” That’s exactly what Nephew will do at Signal as the Head of Coaching, where he will provide one-on-one mentorship to other advisors in the industry.
“I saw a team at Signal that was poised to shake up the industry,” Nephew says. “I saw industry veterans coming from great IMOs like Advisors Excel, FIG, TrueChoice working side-by-side with industry newcomers from Google, Deloitte, JP Morgan. Now that I’m here, I can see what they all have in common — they are all obsessed with finding a better way.”
A focus on culture
“This is our long-term competitive advantage and it’s the only way we know of to build a lasting and great company,” says Jacob Cohen, Co-Founder and President of Signal Advisors. You might assume the “competitive advantage” Cohen is talking about is the industry-leading technology that Signal has become known for in recent years. So, perhaps it’s surprising to learn that the founders are completely fixated on something different – culture.
Cohen has learned a thing or two about building great culture. He spent the past 11 years managing venture capital investments for Dan Gilbert, founder of Rocket Mortgage. Gilbert scaled Rocket from 3 people in a shared office, to over 30,000 team members, and has become the largest mortgage company in the world along the way.
“Obsessed with finding a better way. Do the right thing. Always raising our level of awareness. Every client, every time. The inches we need are everywhere around us. Urgency is the ante to play,” Cohen rattles of the values that are ingrained in every team member at Signal, and reinforced at every turn.
“Culture is something you have to work at. We look for these traits in our hiring process, and then we obsessively reinforce our values day in and day out. You can’t build great technology or great service without a great culture.”
Taking a big swing
“People may be surprised to see the Signal logo on a former #1-in-the-world PGA Tour golfer this season, but I guess it just goes to show how far we’ve come in two years!” Kelly reflects.
He’s referring to Signal’s new partnership with Luke Donald, which he sees as symbolic of the “big swing” that is the company’s long-term vision. “We aren’t just building an IMO. We are building an end-to-end platform encompassing annuities and life insurance and then securities. From new business, to case design, to marketing and lead generation, to providing working capital for advisors, we are building something that simply doesn’t exist,” says Kelly.
For Kelly, success stories like Bob Smith’s are clearly what it’s all about.
“When I first started hearing the buzz about Signal, it was all about how they pay commissions in 24 hours. That made me curious – how are they doing things that all the other bigger IMOs haven’t done?” says Smith. “Turns out, it’s not only about the commissions. They are just obsessed with finding a better way of doing all the little stuff we’ve been doing the old way for years. And it’s making a real impact. I’ve tripled my business in two years.”
“2022 is all about helping more advisors like Bob. Plus, we get to play some golf with Luke!” says Kelly with a laugh. “After all, if we’re not having fun along the way, what’s the point?”