Jan 03 2023 / Round the Table Magazine
By Matt Pais
Gina C. Stormont, ChFC, CLTC, has rarely worked in an office in the last three decades, all the way back to when she worked in publishing for California-based Disney from across the country in New York. And the ideas that now help the 10-year MDRT member from Brooklyn, New York, USA, thrive reflect a knack for turning small adjustments into big wins for her clients and her practice, which handles financial planning for about 300 business owners, doctors, attorneys and creatives like producers, artists, website designers and restaurateurs.
A few days before each Zoom meeting, Stormont sends out the agenda and invites clients to add any additional items they want to cover. If anything is added, Stormont moves those questions to the top of the agenda and addresses those subjects first before talking about her own planned topics. The items could be any unexpected life changes — from a family wanting to know what to do with their 529 savings plan now that their child received a full scholarship to resolving an income gap after a salary reduction — but the benefit is clear: Make the client’s pains and goals the priority, and show you are there to help, not lecture.
If a client has a baby, Stormont asks for a picture of the newborn and sends the client a mug with the baby picture on it along with the message “Good morning, sunshine.” Stormont explained, “Every time they pull the cup out, they think of me.” She added that mugs are more evergreen than items for kids that get discarded as they grow up. And this concept isn’t just for an expanding family; if a client moves into a new house, Stormont uses Google maps or an online listing to turn the house into a puzzle. The mission is the same: Use technology to personalize people’s milestones.
Like many advisors, Stormont uses a variety of software, including eMoney, Envestnet, Riskalyze and Morningstar. Unlike most advisors, Stormont calls a different technology company weekly to learn something new. Recently, she scheduled an appointment with Riskalyze and gained a better understanding of how the risk assessment tool could help her with presentations, and she also learned how Envestnet can run four additional reports she didn’t know about. “All of these tools are really robust,” she said, “but very little training happens on any of them. These calls help me in my practice and help clients understand what they have a little better.” Additionally, Stormont and a group of eight other New York Life-employed MDRT members have started a monthly virtual meeting to discuss practice management topics, share techniques for using technology and more.
When meeting virtually with her staff, it can be easy to merely get right to the point and move on with your day. For Stormont, though, virtual staff meetings can be an opportunity to foster connection. So she uses Monday mornings for participants to share both weekend stories and something they’re grateful for, and Fridays for a positive wish for the weekend (such as “Have fun at that wedding”). That format helps personal matters stand out from professional goals and reminds everyone about the nonwork-related priorities that they’re working for.
Pull up “The team” section on stormontfinancialstrategies.com and you’ll see Travis and Rosie Stormont, the practice’s “gratitude and attitude ambassadors.” Indeed, the pair is a 4-year-old mini-Bernedoodle and a 3-year-old Aki-poo. Not only do they make frequent appearances during Stormont’s video calls, but she also often talks about them with clients who have little kids or simply any client who is an animal lover, which is most of them. “They just bring joy, and people hear them a lot in the background while we’re all working at home,” Stormont said. “You can’t shut the dogs off.” This can also lead to conversations about clients’ pets and additional ways to connect for a deeper personal relationship than just client/advisor.
Digital meets analog
Stormont is always looking to improve client experience. She is currently working with her compliance department to see if she can use Handwrytten, an app that enables her to send birthday cards and New Year’s cards (featuring her dogs with party hats on, of course) to her top clients and centers of influence in her own handwriting without having to actually write the cards herself. The program utilizes the user’s handwriting to capture the intimacy of a personal note without the time it takes to write one. If compliance is not willing to approve it, Stormont already has a back-up plan in place to have her handwriting turned into a font so her staff can do it themselves.
Behind the camera
In a virtual meeting, you, of course, look at the other person. When you are recording a video of yourself, you can only look at … yourself. Not Stormont — if recording, for example, an onboarding video or a video presentation, Stormont has her 21-year-old daughter, Elizabeth (who has done marketing and project management for the practice, while her 22-year-old brother, Nicholas, has worked as operations manager), sit behind the camera so Stormont can look at and talk to her daughter. “You just become more natural when you’re not talking to empty air,” Stormont said. “Plus, you get feedback. My daughter is very organized and matter of fact, and if something doesn’t come off well, she’ll be like, ‘No, mom, don’t say it like that.’”