Brian D. Heckert, CLU, ChFC, officially became the 90th president of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) on Sept. 1. Heckert, a highly decorated 27-year MDRT member from Nashville, Ill., will lead the 43,000-member organization of top life insurance and financial services professionals through the 2016 MDRT Annual Meeting in San Diego, June 12-15.
Heckert graciously took time to answer some questions about what’s on tap for his term from Insurance Forums Executive Editor Brian Anderson in the form of the following 10-question Q&A:
Path to the Presidency
- Insurance Forums: As a 27-year member of MDRT, can you briefly summarize how your involvement in the organization has evolved over the years, leading you on the path to the presidency?
Brian Heckert: My journey toward MDRT presidency started when I was 21 years old, when I passed the life insurance aptitude test and entered Allen Shmale’s agency, a former member of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT). The combination of training, self-study and exposure to others and their ideas was the right mix to push me to my first MDRT qualification. My MDRT membership and the resources they provided helped me to overcome my lack of formal education. I was able to pick up tips and exchange insight with top, worldwide life insurance and financial services professionals. It felt like I was getting a doctorate in prospecting, presenting and problem solving.
The relationships and tools I’ve gained through MDRT are invaluable, and I knew I needed to give back to the association that gave me so much. My volunteerism over the years has included speaking at the MDRT Annual Meeting and MDRT Experience Meeting, as well as service on multiple committees and task forces. I served on the MDRT Foundation Board of Trustees for three years and was Divisional Vice President three times. I’ve also had my hand in the development of the Annual Meeting Connexion Zone and Resource Zone.
Applying MDRT’s ethics, professionalism and commitment to client care has helped me achieve the coveted career milestone as MDRT President. My involvement and the relationships I build through MDRT continue to help me become a better advisor, community volunteer, husband, father and grandfather.
Agenda for the year
- Insurance Forums: Tell us about your agenda during your term in the coming year – what are your key goals or priorities? Any particularly ambitious plans or initiatives in the works?
Heckert: During the next year the Executive Committee will create and inspire global leaders through educational materials and opportunities. We will offer these to members through our annual meetings, Resource Zone and communications on the total financial planning approach. We will continue to promote success and achievement through connecting people and ideas.
MDRT’s ambitions are to inspire both new and experienced financial advisors, and to provide clients valuable and honest advice to further develop meaningful relationships. During the last year, several strategies were implemented to improve the way the organization operates and to offer members a more personalized experience. A technology focus provided a redesigned mdrt.org that includes more content and the ability to create customized offerings. A new strategy for MDRT’s content offerings is in development, which has resulted in an MDRT podcast series that can be found on the Resource Zone of mdrt.org. Resources have been developed to help members position themselves in their communities and help them discuss MDRT with their clients. We will enhance MDRT’s Mentoring Program and create other professional development resources.
Financial associations are well positioned to motivate and positively shape professionals by delivering exceptional resources across all aspects of their business and lives. Associations are in a very unique position to help the industry promote success among newer and existing agents looking for increased productivity. Our members share best practices through mentoring and study groups to help advisors increase their efficiency. I’m proud to lead MDRT with the Executive Committee to deliver vital, cutting-edge resources we all need to take our businesses to the next level.
The Succession Planning challenge
- Insurance Forums: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing MDRT right now, and what can or is being done to overcome it?
Heckert: MDRT is always looking for ways to serve a diverse membership at different career stages and in different market environments around the world. MDRT is tailoring their educational content, as well as its tools and services to meet the needs of our members. One challenge many MDRT members are facing is succession planning. Succession planning varies significantly from one country to another, and MDRT has gone a long way to address this issue. MDRT developed a mentoring program that connects a young advisor with an older and more experienced mentor. This program helps a new advisor learn about the business while paving the way for the mentor’s smooth exit from the practice. MDRT also provides business development and transition planning resources, as well as helps members maintain a balanced life through their Whole Person concept.
- Insurance Forums: Along those same lines, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial services industry in general right now?
Heckert: One of the biggest challenges the financial services industry faces is compliance and regulation. Advisors worldwide are dealing with different regulatory environments. The educational and compliance standards in Australia, South Africa and the U.K. are among the highest in the world. The solution in almost any heavily regulated environment is to recruit staffers who can properly handle compliance requirements.
Many regions have already implemented regulatory changes, while others are beginning to adopt similar approaches. This is where global organizations like MDRT can be so important – as it provides the ability to learn from and adopt best practices from colleagues around the world who have experienced these changes already. We’ve also seen some advisors with independent practices returning to ties with companies. In a world of more regulations, reliance on ethical advisors will never go away. Members at the forefront of the industry are dedicated to providing clients with the highest ethical standards. Another challenge facing the financial industry right now in developed countries is recruiting and retaining new agents. The average age of the advisor steadily increases and we aren’t bringing in enough new people to the industry.
MDRT’s elevator speech
- Insurance Forums: Having attended several MDRT Annual Meetings over the years, I have witnessed first-hand the enthusiasm attending members have for the organization. To potential members who may qualify but are skeptical of joining, what would be your “elevator speech” for MDRT’s value proposition?
Heckert: MDRT helps advisors become successful and helps them deal with that success by providing the tools to add balance to their lives. We show members efficiencies and how they can be a whole person while also being a success.
The knowledge-share within MDRT is truly invaluable. Members inspire each other to improve their sales and practice management techniques, which directly translates to stronger client service and results. The willingness amongst members worldwide to share cutting-edge ideas can have a profound impact on your career, and help deliver exceptional service that clients deserve.
Importance of professional development
- Insurance Forums: What is your philosophy on the importance of professional development and continuing education?
Heckert: As financial professionals and advisors, it’s essential to stay on the forefront of industry changes and developments to offer clients exceptional service. Membership in associations such as MDRT, offers us a vast array of tools and opportunities to better serve our clients and effectively grow our business. Membership will not only help validate your role as an invaluable resource to your client, but can also help take your business to the next level.
Continuing to learn and exchange ideas is what makes someone successful. One of the benefits of MDRT membership is the ongoing opportunity to tap into the elite network of members who regularly share best practices and help one another improve sales and practice management techniques. You have to listen to those who have gone before and adapt their strategies to your individual practice.
It’s also important to consistently work on new certifications and renewals to keep yourself educated in your practice area. Consider enrolling in continuing education classes that are relevant to your business and have a practical application to help you with your certifications.
DOL proposed rule
- Insurance Forums: Do you have any thoughts to share about the DOL’s proposed fiduciary rule or its potential impact on MDRT members?
Heckert:My concern about the DOL’s proposed rule is that it is meant to eliminate through regulation what the marketplace has determined as acceptable. If you provide ethical service and continuously educate agents on ethics, clients should be the arbiter of what products and services they want to engage from advisors. Ethical advisors put the best interest of the clients first. This is what makes MDRT members trusted advisors – we constantly re-affirm this approach and dedication to an ethical practice.
The problem with the robo-advisor
- Insurance Forums: What about the rise of automated financial advice services. Is that an area MDRT is keeping an eye on at this point?
Heckert: I have seen a dramatic rise in the robo-advisor trend. Robo-advisor is a useful tool and idea, but as any advisor and almost every client will tell you, there is no simple matrix that will solve the life-changing advice and solutions financial professionals provide.
If developing a financial plan was so easy, there would be one simple solution for everyone to best invest their money and make changes to their portfolio based upon whichever model or metric says. However, everyone has a different need for cash that cannot be determined. A client’s need for investment philosophy varies, month to month and the robo-advisor method does not help keep up with changes for those types of clients. For clients that simply need an allocation, it can be an option and it is probably close to what most advisors use as a financial assessment.
For example, similar to a doctor administering medicine, they cannot just take a textbook and apply the same dose of medicine to everyone. They really need the face-to-face contact to make sure the medicine matches what they actually see with their own eyes, and use a human touch to apply the correct medicine.
In my own practice and in my role at MDRT, I have not observed any big shifts in people using a robo-advisor, or practices impacted by the robo-advisor at this point. It doesn’t mean we’re not monitoring it individually to make sure we can’t continually improve what we offer our clients.
Whole Person philosophy
- Insurance Forums: Please tell us a little bit about how you are dealing with the challenge of balancing your MDRT duties with the needs of your own practice – not to mention time away from work.
Heckert: I balance my duties by following MDRT’s Whole Person philosophy. I try to live a well-rounded and balanced lifestyle. Becoming a Whole Person is the foundation for ongoing happiness, loving family relationships, strong friendships, self-confidence, good health, financial security and intellectual fulfillment. While we value hard work and appreciate the income and prestige that comes with it, we also want time for our families and ourselves. This is certainly a tough and time-consuming business, but with the adoption of the Whole Person principles I have achieved balance and can give back to MDRT what they’ve given me.
What’s really important
- Insurance Forums: What’s one thing most people don’t know about that is important to you?
Heckert: It’s no secret my wife, four children, three grandchildren and my MDRT membership are very important to me. Another important factor that has helped me succeed is the passion to consistently improve who I am. I’m not perfect but I’m always searching to be better. It’s a daily struggle to become better at the person I want to become. Although the role of MDRT President takes a lot of time away from my business and my family, I have adapted my business to meet my needs and what’s important to me. For example, I expanded my office into an area that puts my wife and I closer to our children and grandchildren. This allows me to combine work, pleasure and family at the same time.