Jul 01 2022
Reaching for a seat at the top
By Timothy Inklebarger
Achieving MDRT status is no small task, but it’s a goal that many financial advisors dream about. Tripling that benchmark to qualify for Court of the Table, however, might seem out of reach, and earning six times that of an MDRT member to attain Top of the Table status — well, many never expect to achieve that level. But three MDRT members who have consistently earned Top of the Table status say anyone can do it with the right skills and mindset. So how did they catapult themselves to the upper echelons of the profession? There is no one-size-fits-all formula for success, but these industry leaders shared their journey and advice for growing their business to new heights.
Expose yourself to big ideas
Sim Gakhar, CHS, BSc, a five-year MDRT member from Markham, Ontario, Canada, had been in the life insurance business for about nine years when she attended her first MDRT meeting in 2019. She learned three simple concepts at that conference that tripled her production, propelling her to Court of the Table and Top of the Table in just two years.
Among her biggest takeaways was the concept of collaborating with specialists. “I learned that I don’t have to know how to do it all; what I need to do is find out who can do it for me, collaborate with the specialist, bring them on my team and use their expertise,” she said. These experts include tax and compliance specialists and assistants who manage her social media accounts. She currently works with six specialists, half of whom are licensed advisors she occasionally splits commissions with, depending on the amount of time they worked on the assignment.
Hiring specialists wasn’t Gakhar’s only method of seeking outside help to boost her business. She also learned at MDRT the importance of seeking the guidance of coaches. “I was talking to everybody at that first meeting, and I found a pattern with the most successful advisors — they all had coaches,” she explained. Gakhar now works with four coaches who guide her on tactics, business and communicating with clients, among other topics.
“I never knew I needed a coach, but coaches manage your success. They monitor you. They motivate you. They count your numbers, and with a coach, there is somebody who is always there for you,” she said.
If I could qualify for Court of the Table by April, it may give me the courage to reach for Top of the Table
— Izumi Osada
Gakhar’s third piece of advice is simple: “Ask for help.” That can come in the form of joining study groups, attending MDRT meetings and generally keeping your mind open to new ideas. It was at Gakhar’s first meeting that she created a study group with four other Canadian MDRT members. They still meet every couple of months to share advice and support one another. “All five of us track each other’s performance and help each other — we’re growing together,” she said.
Who sets your limit?
Izumi Osada, a 20-year MDRT member from Tokyo, Japan, qualified for MDRT for 12 years in a row before making it to Court of the Table status, and all it took was a couple of inspiring conversations to help him triple his business. “I was doing well, having a good life and I was somewhat satisfied. However, during a casual conversation with my mentor, I found out that his renewal commissions were more than my first-year commission. That was the wake-up call,” he said.
Osada had always considered Court of the Table out of reach, but that conversation inspired him to triple his sales goals. He pushed himself hard the following year and barely qualified. “I wasn’t sure if I could continue it the next year,” he admits — that’s when a second inspirational moment with MDRT Past President Tony Gordon, a 45-year member from Bristol, England, UK, inspired him to go even further. It was at a dinner with Gordon and other MDRT members where Gordon asked a member, “When do you qualify for Top of the Table this year? Which month?” The member said December, and Gordon replied, “Then why don’t you qualify in November next year? And in October the next year and September the year after that?”
Osada was already set to qualify in October of that year, so he set a goal to qualify in September the following year and then August. “If I could qualify for Court of the Table by April, it may give me the courage to reach for Top of the Table,” he said. It took a few years, but Osada has now achieved Top of the Table membership for four consecutive years. “It was a small conversation that (Gordon) might not remember, but it was a magical moment for me,” he said.
Six steps to success
It was during a less-magical moment for Curtis L. Matlin, CLU, ChFC, a 26-year MDRT member from Northbrook, Illinois, USA, when he learned the first of what became his six keys to reaching Top of the Table. Matlin was four months into his first year of business when he was involved in a serious automobile accident. After the insurance was paid and the matter was resolved, Matlin got an idea. “I called the gentleman who hit me and invited him for coffee,” he recalled.
Here is how the actual phone call went:
“Hey, Jeff, it’s Curt Matlin, remember me?” [pause] “Yeah, I know … ”
“Listen, just because we met by accident doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Let me buy you a coffee.”
He met with Jeff, and although they didn’t do business, he did introduce Matlin to a doctor who became a client and referred several of his colleagues. “That car accident and subsequent phone call led to over $1 million of revenue,” he said.
Matlin’s second key to reaching Top of the Table is hard work. His third key is own the products you’re selling. He learned that lesson three years into his practice, when he was diagnosed with cancer. “We need to be our own best clients,” he said. “By having purchased insurance policies before my cancer diagnosis, I had options in my policies to buy additional insurance without a physical exam. You can rest assured, every time an option came up, I took advantage of it and increased my coverage.”
Matlin stresses the importance of patience and persistence as his fourth key to success. In the early days of his business, 90% of his calls to clients were unsuccessful, but before he hung up the phone he would ask if he could call back in six months, and many of them said yes. His patience and persistence turned leads into clients over time.
The fifth key is education and motivation. These attributes became vital components of a successful business model after a colleague loaned him a set of cassette tapes with MDRT meeting presentations early in his career, and he continues building on his own skills.
Matlin’s final piece of advice for reaching Top of the Table might be the most difficult, but he says it works surprisingly well: Prune your book of business and upgrade your clients.
Between 1990 and 2010, his client base covered more than 500 households representing 1,000-plus insurance policies and 2,000-plus investment accounts. “We cut back to just 35 households over a period of seven years, and now, I only work with those who meet our ideal client criteria,” he said.