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Act II: Financial  services
Act II: Financial  services

Sep 01 2023 / Round the Table Magazine

Act II: Financial services

Eichhof applies a manufacturing mindset for continuous improvement in his new role.

Topics Covered

Arnold Eichhof, CFP, AIF, was a mid-career manufacturing executive without a company asking himself what was next. 

He had returned to the family tool and die business to take the reins of an insolvent operation after his father had a debilitating stroke. During the next four years, Eichhof significantly slashed debt, grew revenue and kept many employees on the payroll. After his father died, he bought out the other beneficiaries of the estate to pursue the dream he had since he was a teenager working summers at his dad’s shop: to own the company and continue the family legacy. 

Unfortunately, the customer base changed. Automakers and other original equipment manufacturers demanded steep price cuts from suppliers, and cheaper foreign competition was formidable. Just breaking even was a struggle, so he sold the company through an asset sale in 2014 with a clause to stay on for three years. The new owners closed the shop 11 months later. 

Eichhof was left asking himself, what do I do now? Where do I want to be?

Selling real estate was a possibility as Florida was booming, or he could work for another manufacturer. But he was leaning toward leveraging the finance degree he earned in 1997 while working full time and raising a family.

“I always had an affinity for the financial health of anything, whether it was individuals, families or businesses. So, I said, ’What does it take to do that?’” said Eichhof, a two-year MDRT member from St. Petersburg, Florida, USA.

Shifting gears

Eichhof transferred his manufacturing mentality for delivering value and striving for continuous improvement to financial advising. He had observed that the advisors who serviced his manufacturing employees’ retirement accounts didn’t relate to the workers’ struggle of making an hourly wage and paying bills. They merely told leery employees that putting money in an employer’s retirement plan was good for them, but they could have gone further and explained how that account could help them have a healthier financial strategy.

“You can be really helpful and good in this profession if you put the effort forth, and that goes way beyond just getting a license. I approach every day with what can I do better today than I did yesterday, last week or last year — it’s continuous improvement planning, aka CIP or Kaizen,” Eichhof said, referring to two principles related to improving processes in business and even one’s personal life. “In manufacturing, a widget, product or service must be improved upon, or no one is going to want it. Improving a product or service really means improving the processes. Every moment of every day includes my self-assessment of my processes and relationships with clients.” 

During his six years in the profession, he has earned three credentials, including a ChFC designation. He started prospecting by joining a local Business Network International chapter — where he became an education coordinator, two-time president, vice president and mentor — engaging with local chambers of commerce and a business alliance organization, and cultivating clients from his social network. 

One of his early foibles starting out is that he would catch himself going too quickly and deep on a subject in a meeting that he risked losing the client’s attention. 

“I learned I can communicate and get a better perspective of the client’s financial picture by working at the client’s pace and asking questions. The adage that clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care holds true,” Eichhof said. “I’m striving to bring value during the first conversation so when they leave that meeting with me, I’ve either saved them money or made them money. But I’m doing it in a much softer, less overwhelming way. One of the things I get used to asking is, ‘What do you expect from your financial advisor?’ and then behave in a way that supports their expectations.” 

During a recent meeting with a couple to discuss securities investments, they mentioned that their son will be going to college next year, and they’re trying to figure out how much his housing would cost during the next four years. Eichhof presented a real estate strategy where they could make money during their son’s college residency and offered to connect them to friends who have bought off-campus property and realized income and tax benefits by treating it as a rental.

“Financial advice is not just limited to stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs,” he said.

Leveraging business ownership experience

Providing value as an advisor also includes being a resource to business owners and entrepreneurs about continuity, succession, exit and legacy planning, buy-sell agreements, business valuations and employee benefits. Having been a manufacturing executive, he can relate to their struggles. 

“When I was selling my company, I learned firsthand what the business broker, the lawyer and the CPA does, and none of them bring the I’ve-been-in-your-shoes value to a conversation like I do,” Eichhof said. “I’ve been down the street that (business owners) are on, and trying to monetize their decades of hard work, commitment and sacrifice is a very scary proposition for owners. They have a bias to discuss those matters with a CPA, not because they don’t trust a good, qualified financial advisor, but because they have known advisors to be the person that provide 401(k)s or whatever.”

Business owners are overwhelmingly busy, and spending time with an advisor on a cold call is not among their priorities. So, Eichhof makes those contacts through attending meetings of the associations mentioned above, at dinners and other settings where owners are more open to prioritizing a conversation with him. That target market is an opportunity, and with help from a team of three other advisors and six support staff, he intends to get the word out and scale up his practice.

“I love this profession and the opportunities that are available,” Eichhof said. “Advisors can become better than they ever could imagine if they put forth the effort, and clients can get the benefit. I’m very pleased with my decision, my team and the pace of my improvement each year. Being associated with MDRT is a key ingredient in my continuous improvement, and it’s amazing how life can improve from very tough situations.” 

Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) membership in the U.S. for 2023 is based upon a minimum of $120,000 in annual gross income from the sale and service of insurance and financial products. MDRT membership is no guarantee of future investment success. Insurance guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.
Advisory services are offered through Cornerstone Financial Group, LLC. The firm is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC and only conducts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded from registration requirements. Registration is not an endorsement of the firm by securities regulators and does not mean the advisor achieved a specific level of skill or ability. Cornerstone Financial Group is not engaged in the practice of law or accounting. All insurance and investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss.