May 28, 2007

The Seven Components of Dynamic Personal Influence

“It takes tremendous discipline to control the influence, the power you have over other people's lives.”
--- Clint Eastwood
Wouldn't you like to move people on the basis of your personality alone?

I've been thinking about persuasion techniques recently --- soft skills which weren't part of my actuarial exams. As luck would have it, I came across a good list. The Law of Attraction works ;)

Dynamic Personal Influence
Here are Dan Kennedy's components of influence.
  1. Celebrity
    • being perceived as having celebrity status
  2. Credibility
    • being respected and trusted
  3. Expertise
    • having legitimate, extensive, superior knowledge
  4. Mastery of Emotional Triggers
    • hitting more of your client's emotional triggers
  5. Good Sense of Humour
  6. Independence
    • not needing constant reassurance and recognition of your competence by others
  7. Bias for Action
    • getting off your duff, out the door and into gear
What do you think of the list? Naturally, we can all improve.
“The secret of my influence has always been that it remained secret.”
--- Salvador Dali
While I don't think Celebrity should matter, we know it does. How can we achieve celebrity status? Here are four ways
  • presenting (e.g., to prospects, not peers)
  • writing (e.g., magazines, newspapers, blogs)
  • public recognition (e.g., media attention, awards)
  • advertising
For more Dan Kennedy, visit (my self-development site). For my contrarian take on The Secret by Rhona Byrne, read The Unsecret.

Feel free to leave comments (which you can even do anonymously).

May 22, 2007

Creating a Memorable Seminar

A limp polluted flag
Flutters sadly in its death throes

While crippled trees in leg irons

Wearily haul themselves

Through another diluted acid day.
--- The Strawbs,
Impressions Of Southall From The Train

Today, could have been another a routine seminar on "10-8" leveraging. There were a couple of twists: travelling with a colleague for the first time and meeting at a winery.

Here's what made the seminar great:
  • a small, interactive group of the right advisors
  • discussing several actual cases as a group
  • having enough time (nearly 3 hours) for good discussions, including "off-topic" items
  • delicious lunch and interesting conversation on a patio
Here's what made the day remarkable ("worth remarking about" in the sense of The Big Moo an excellent book by 33 authors):
  • the hosts had visited my personal website (both flattering and embarrassing) and brought pages of printed content to quote some memorable passages
  • After the seminar, I got an initiation gift (a loud shirt) with a card in a gift bag
  • After the wine tasting (which followed lunch), I got a parting gift, a mug
Frankly, I don't expect gifts and am rarely disappointed. I don't give out what most would consider gifts either. I prefer to give the precious, personal, intangible gifts of knowledge, attention and time. I received those too.

From good to great to remarkable. A day to remember.

Sadly, my family is squabbling over the shirt. So I may not get to wear it ;)

May 15, 2007

The Prime Minister And The Producers

Well, the annual CALU meeting is over for another year. Next year's theme is "Share The Wisdom" --- this blog's goal. I'm amazed at how sharing CALU members are. That's motivated me to reciprocate.

The Prime Minister Returns
Prime Ministers don’t address many organizations. Stephen Harper was back again for his second time as PM. Liberal leader Stephane Dion also spoke. That alone tells you the political influence that CALU wields. The Department of Finance sends a representative every two years. The reception for Members of Parliament and Senators was well attended.

Meet The Producers
The conference ends with Meet The Producers, in which three noteworthy advisors share their wisdom. I especially valued Barry Pascal of Bell Pascal Financial Services, who gave insights from his 24 years of experience. He initially had a product focus, concentrating on contract wording, spreadsheets and technical analysis. He realized that while looking down at the pages of details, he wasn’t looking at the right place: into his client’s eyes. He wasn’t understanding their goals, where they wanted to be.

The technical skills were not wasted. When clients receive an insurance proposal, they often turn to their accountant or lawyer for advice. Barry helped those professionals by decoding the proposals free of charge. Sometimes he’d get referrals. By reviewing files and asking questions, he saw needs and opportunities. By working with professionals, he could build consensus on solutions before the client saw them. This team-based approach has proven very effective.

The competition is not other advisors. It’s the markets, land zoning, family issues, lack of time. Whatever's on the client's mind. Clients build what they know how to build. Understanding their priorities helps in building a plan of action for them. Clients want future security for what is most precious to them. Insurance can be a big part of the solution. It’s magical when a client says, “I’ve never told this to anyone before …”

Why did Barry’s message resonate so deeply with me? I didn’t understand until writing this post. It’s because my path has been so similar. Actuaries start as skilled technicians. I naively thought that what I did in head office mattered most to clients:

  • designing innovative products
  • drafting clear policy contracts
  • making accountable illustration systems

Spending the last two years in the field has shown how wrong I was. What really matters is sitting with the client, listening with your heart and creating proposals with your head.

The old man had a vision but it was hard for me to follow.
I do things my way and I pay a high price.
When I think back on the old man and the bus ride
Now that I’m older I can see he was right.
— John Mellencamp, Minutes to Memories

May 7, 2007

The Cost of Low Reinsurance Rates

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows I'm miserable now
--- The Smiths

Satisfaction with reinsurers has dropped from 67% in 1995 to 15% in 2005.

Why? Underwriter Ross Morton of RGA and actuary John McKay of PPI provided answers at CALU XVI earlier today.

More Reinsurance Fewer Reinsurers
The amount of risk reinsured has grown from 0.4% to 80%. The number of major reinsurers has dropped in Canada from 11 to 3.5 (RGA, Munich Re, Swiss Re, and the smaller Optimum Re). Guess what happened to YRT reinsurance rates? Let's look at males.
  • 1975: $4.00 (per $1,000)
  • 1981: $2.32
  • 2001: $0.72
  • 2007: $0.37
These rate drops were not as jarring when Ross presented them during his keynote at the Canadian Reinsurance Conference in April 2006. He spoke just after lunch but maybe wine was served first :)
The reinsurers have been in a price war, spurred by . There are consequences from low prices:
  • less service
  • less flexibility (e.g., for foreign travel, avocations, market capacity)
  • more audit of insurer underwriting practices (as of 2002, an estimated $3 trillion of risk was in the wrong classes in North America)
  • less profitability for reinsurers
  • less training for underwriters
  • loss of expert underwriters
The last major sale of a reinsurer took place in 2004. ING Re, the fastest growing US reinsurer, was sold for ($800) million: Scottish Re was paid $800 million to take the business.

Maybe our clients are better served with (slightly) higher reinsurance rates and more service?

May 6, 2007

Advisor Succession Planning

The annual CALU meeting is underway in Ottawa. Today's topic was advisor succession planning. Business owners aren't the greatest at planning for who will take over their businesses or how the buyer will pay (e.g., if selling to employees). Well, advisors aren't either.

The presenter was Mark Tibergien of accounting firm Moss Adams.

The median age of an advisor is 50. Among CALU's 400 members, that's 53. Clients are typically about the same age or older. What about successors? The age gap between an advisor and a potential successor is often 20-30 years. The owner probably considers that person too young to take over. Besides, how could be as good as you?

That's the problem. If your business is dependent on an expert --- you --- then what is it worth to a buyer? A business that's built to last is a business that's built to sell. If there's uncertainty in the consistency and predictability of future cash flows, the value of the business drops. You need systems, the capacity to grow and a profitable client base.

Wonder To Plunder
A business goes through four phases
  1. Wonder (startup): enthusiasm and inexperience; no profits or cash to speak of (same for clients)
  2. Blunder (growth): long hours, high stress; profits but reinvested back in the business
  3. Thunder (maturity): success at last! nice clothes, nice home, nice car; well-regarded
  4. Plunder (renewal or decline): short hours, have wisdom but fear obsolescence, death, loss of esteem
Businesses are typically sold in the Thunder or Plunder phases.

If most of your business comes from referrals, watch out. Your marketing muscle is starting to atrophy. You need to continue developing the business.

Keeping Clients
Do you understand what your clients want and need? Annual client surveys can tell you (e.g., survey half your clients each year). They're best conducted by outside professionals. Unless your clients are very satisfied, you risk losing them. A typical survey shows that 29% of clients could be lost. What if they're the clients you most want to keep?

Naturally, there's much more to this topic. The key takeaway? Build your business to last and you've built your business to sell.

May 3, 2007

Mobile Broadband

Do you need Internet access in your hotel room while traveling on business in Canada?

Different hotels have different instructions for connecting. Sometimes you need to setup an account with a third party provider. The speed of the connections isn't consistent and sometimes the service doesn't work. Older hotels may not have proper wiring. If you call the help numbers, you're asked to unplug all the phones in your room, stand on your head, reboot and try again. If your hotel offers wireless access, does your room receive a strong signal?

In short, Internet access in your hotel may not be reliable enough for work --- even if you pay $10-$15 per night. Wouldn't you love to have portable Internet access?

Enter Mobile Broadband
There is a solution if you travel to major cities in Canada. Rogers calls it Portable Internet and Bell calls it Sympatico Unplugged. It's really the same, a form of Wi-Max. Fido was building the network when Rogers bought them. Rogers decided to share the service with Bell.

I've had the service from Rogers since mid-December. It works very well. It's simple to use. You buy a $100 modem, which is about the size of a paperback. You plug in the modem and then connect it to your computer via an Ethernet cable (supplied). Done. The connection is fast, perhaps in part because there are so few users. There are five lights on top of the modem to show signal strength. Being close to a window helps

The service costs $50 per month for downloads up to 1.5 Mbps, 25x the speed of dialup. National roaming is included as is 30 GB of data. Be sure to check if cities you visit are among the 50 with this service.

Other Uses
What if you don't travel much? If you live alone, you could use mobile broadband as your only Internet service. If you have a family and find Internet access slow in the evenings, you now have a backup. If you do presentations, you now have the option to use the Internet. You can even connect a wireless travel router to create your own hotspot to share access with others.

Not Perfect
Mobile broadband is more sensitive to signal strength than a cell phone. The modem is relatively large, though not ugly. Having mobile broadband built right into your notebook computer is more convenient but much more expensive. Dell charges $180 for the modem and Telus charges $67/month for only 30 MB of data, then $6 per MB. The most expensive plan cost $382/month for only 1 GB of data. Ouch!

I'm heading to Ottawa for the annual CALU conference this weekend with my Internet service.