Advisorist Podcast – Episode 17: Strategies to Combat Financial Illiteracy within the Sound of Your Voice


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Jim Silbernagel is more than a certified financial planner and insurance agent; he’s also a fighter. He is fighting to raise the financial literacy of people within the sound of his voice.

In this episode, Jim shares his ideas on diversification, collaboration and communication:

  • How do you approach business: transactional or holistically? And why it may matter.
  • A strategic collaboration that gives advisors a role in estate planning.
  • Why your competition may be getting your business, and what you can do about it.
  • Understanding the power and potential in family financial meetings.
  • The BIGGEST MISTAKE most advisors make may cause you to leave money on the table.
  • Should you leverage a turnkey communication vehicle or start your own podcast from scratch?
  • The POWER OF FORESIGHT: Why it matters, how you can acquire it.
  • Should you specialize or diversify your practice?
  • The app you should be leveraging to book more meetings.

In the process of educating his audiences on financial topics, Jim Silbernagel is getting the word out about who he is and what he does. His vehicle is called Real Wealth Media.

If you have aspirations for reaching your audience, your market, to help raise their financial literacy and promote your practice, Jim shares advice to get you started.

Jim takes a very practical and common-sense approach to building a practice. His innovative strategies may help you find new ways to grow your own business.


Note:  This Advisorist Podcast transcript was created in part by computers – Please forgive any grammatical or spelling errors…or sentences that just downright don’t seem to make sense!  Please compare to corresponding audio if clarity is needed.

Jim: Want to get as many referrals as possible at that family meeting, I will book the appointments. I don’t ask them if they’d like to come in someday. I’d say, you ready to get this started and the parents are there to say, “You guys need to get this done.” So it’s an easy transition.

Jeremiah: Welcome Advisorist Nation. This is Jeremiah Desmarais and I am honored to have another very special guest with us here today in studio. So my special guest today is Jim Silbernagel. I love where he’s coming from because he not only is an independent advisor, but he took his passion for advising and just exploded it. You may have heard of Real Wealth and Advisorist is proud to be connected with Real Wealth, which is an online radio program for insurance and financial professionals. So you definitely want to check that out because it’s all about client education. He also leads power sessions live which is a monthly best practice and sales idea sessions with top industry leaders. Not only that, he just has a wealth of experience in the industry. He’s a 20-year life and qualifying member of MDRT, qualifying for his first top of the table in 2001, 25-year member of NAIFA, member of the FSP, Forum 400. I mean, the list of achievements just goes on and on and we’re going to get to know him a little more today and hear what’s working today in the front lines to grow financial services and insurance businesses. Jim, welcome to Advisorist.

Jim: Hey, thanks for having me. I’m really looking forward to this.

Jeremiah: Jim, one of the things we do is we love to start our podcast by asking our guests, what are you most grateful for today?

Jim: What am I most grateful for today? I’m visiting with you today. This is awesome. I’ve been looking forward to it.

Jeremiah: Awesome, I appreciate that. So it’s really important for us as advisors to have strong minds and strong bodies, and you just have so much going on. You’ve got the Real Wealth Symposium that’s kicking up very soon, you’re producing a podcast, you’re running a practice, you’re running a business that provides tools to advisors, what’s a mind or body hack that you’re using these days to be the best version of yourself?

Jim: Well, I’ve always had a passion for the industry so I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge. I am constantly feeding my mind with new ideas. I attend just about every learning opportunity I can attend and that’s what keeps me going. But I also have a passion for this country. I think one of the biggest problems that we have right now is financial literacy. Government is a reflection of the people and if we don’t have our own financial houses in order, how in the world can we expect our politicians and our leaders to keep our national financial health in order? So what I’m doing with Real Wealth is hopefully educating the public on how to make smart decisions and understanding the complexities of life today and preparing for your future but then at the same time, also educating advisors on how to be more effective in their role in helping their clients reach financial independence.

Jeremiah:  It sounds to me like your mind hack is feeding yourself knowledge, digesting it, and then turning around and sharing that passion with the greater community. Did I get that right?

Jim: Absolutely. I think probably my greatest gift is I’ve learned through the years on how to communicate very complicated situations and put it in layman’s terms that anybody can understand. So probably my greatest gift is my gift of being able to effectively communicate for people.

Jeremiah: Beautiful. That is a rare gift these days in an overcomplicated world where simplicity is so needed today. Let’s move on. You know you’ve got a successful practice in addition to the other businesses that you run. I want to get really tactical here because our listeners have grown to love this podcast because we give them ideas they can work with right away. So curious from yours perspective, Jim, what’s something that is working for you right now? Or if you’re not in client acquisition mode, go back in time to when you were, that was working really well to grow your business, get appointments, or retain clients.

Jim: I’ll tell you what. Two things really put my practice to a new level. Obviously, you shared about Real Wealth, that was something I was doing for my own practice and it really helped my clients understand my philosophy and how it’s different than the advisors that are just set it and forget it. So there’s a lot of advisors who are just transactional. Sell a product, move on. They’re not really taking that holistic, comprehensive approach and using that medium was a way of getting that word out. The other thing that I got involved in early on was estate planning. It’s not just turning people over to the attorney and telling them good luck, it’s actually getting involved and working together and collaborating with the legal professional by taking the time to gather the information, do the legwork for the attorney, and let the attorney do the legal work because most of the information the attorney needs to do effective estate planning, we’ve already gathered all that. If we can help facilitate that stuff actually getting done because prior to me getting involved, I’d refer people to an attorney, I check back with them a year later, and nothing was done. There’s a whole myriad of reasons but if you work out with the attorney what the process will be and you can tell the client, “Here’s what the process is. I’m going to gather the information. You’re going to meet with the attorney to get it done.” Well, one of the benefits of doing that estate planning and estate planning doesn’t necessarily mean someone has to die because there’s things like powers of attorney for financial health care and then of course, you’ve got the estate planning documents, there’s tax considerations. There are all different things that I look at estate planning as a basic foundation of overall planning. When you go through that process, one of the things you learn is how people feel, and to do effective estate planning you got to know what they have. Well, if you have those two things together, it’s really easy to pivot to doing planning that we do, the investment planning, insurance planning when you got those two items. The other thing that I would mention that became very apparent early in my career, it used to frustrate the heck out of me, and I know with Real Wealth it’s that’s part of the reason and some of the mindset of how that was developed. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding out a client bought something from one of your competitors when you’ve talked to him about and all of a sudden lo and behold, “Hey, we got long term care insurance, or we bought life insurance from this guy.” I’m like, “Jeez, we went through all that planning, then I gave me my services offered brochure, how come you didn’t call me?” That was frustrating, really frustrating. You might do a really good job for somebody, and maybe you sold them a nice policy, maybe a million or 2 million and when they pass away, and it goes to the kids, the kids don’t even call you even though you’re the one that helped create all that wealth that was left behind. So I wanted to have a connecting point and that’s one of the things I use Real Wealth for as a connecting point to drip those kids. But, also, the other thing that’s important about that is I do family meetings. So one thing I tell all my clients when they first come in, I said, “It’s a mandatory requirement that we’re going to do a family meeting. Your kids are my eyes and ears on the ground. They’re my ground troops. If you get sick, I don’t know that unless somebody tells me. There might be some important planning that we need to do to help protect assets or how to do some tax planning or other things so I want the kids to meet me because I’m the person that’s going to probably be helping them guide them through some of this. So I want them to feel comfortable with me, and know that it’s okay to call and then I’m going to take care of them.” The other thing is, I want them to have a basic understanding. I don’t want baptism by firewood. The kids are thrown into some area where they’ve never had experience where they might trip over themselves. So we have the family meeting and invariably, one or two of the kids is interested in getting some planning done and the ones that don’t want to get planning done are the ones that are embarrassed about their situation and the ones that were afraid that we’re going to waste a bunch of time with, don’t worry, they’re going to solve that problem themselves. They’re not going to see you but the ones that do want to see you I found have typically been worthwhile to meet with. And guess what? When I meet with the kids, they’re married, then the spouse, the daughter-in-law or son-in-law are saying, “Well, what about my parents? I wonder if my parents got this stuff done.” Then I get a referral back up, then back down, then back up then back down. Now it’s like a big long ‘W’ of referrals that is never ending. I think I shared with you before we got on here that I’ve actually been trying not to get clients because we’ve been going through some transition here lately and I’ve actually slowed that whole process down by just not asking. And, I still get referrals. I’ll take care of the ones that come in but when I get to the point where I’m firing on all cylinders, and I want to get as many referrals as possible, at that family meeting, I will book the appointments. I don’t ask them if they’d like to come in someday. I’d say, “Are you ready to get this started for yourself? Have you done any of this yourself?” If they haven’t done any of that planning themselves as well, “When would you like to get this together?” The parents are there to say, “You guys need to get this done.” So it’s an easy, easy transition.

Jeremiah: There’s a wealth of knowledge you just shared there and I want to try to parse out just a few key learning points that I’ve been taking notes on. I want to get to the Real Wealth Podcast radio show in just a second but something I want to make sure our listeners don’t miss is the leverage of authority that you get when you’re sitting around the table, and you ask in front of the parents, “Let’s get this taken care of. When’s the next time you can meet?” Then you have that parental figure basically saying you could do this. You’re tapping into decades of psychology and authority that have been cemented between that child and that parent that you can leverage ethically to do the best that you can for that group. I think that’s phenomenal. Just a high level gut check, the implementation of the Real Wealth system, partnering up with attorneys, and implementing family meetings, which are three strategies you outlined. What would you say that’s done in terms of your commissions before and after, and if you want to use fees, a dollar number, that’s great. If you want to use assets under management, that’s great. If you want to use a multiple, like it was 3x or 4x.

Jim: Well, the thing is, when I first got in the business, it took me three months to make my first sale and I was starving. Getting into the estate planning is what really helped me in honing that skill and then leveraging that skill because it was a differentiator. Most advisors, they don’t want to bother with this because they’re not getting paid directly and I think that’s the biggest mistake most advisors make. If they don’t get paid directly, they’re not interested. So I don’t get paid directly to do family meetings, I don’t get paid directly to distribute Real Wealth. I don’t get paid directly on that, but it’s constantly planting those seeds and the payday is instead of doing one transaction for one person, I’m doing all the transactions for all the people. I’m in a town of 4,004, which if you do it backwards it’s still 4004 and it’s all middle class people. Very few, high end, high net worth, very few high income earners. I mean, my average couple is maybe touching $80,000 to $90,000 of income. My average client maybe has a quarter million to half a million of investable assets. Now, that’s not to say I don’t have some bigger clients but that’s where most of them are and I’m taking care of their kids, which might just be first starting to put away two, three grand a year into their IRAs. So I’ve got a big mix of clients and the thing is, since I started doing this, my income is way beyond whatever my wildest dreams would have been. I think my first couple years in the business, trying to get to MDRT to level which back when I qualified for my first MDRT was back in 1994 production or 1995. I believe my production there, I was within dollars of the minimum production which back then was like $53,000. Well, now I’m making top of the table, which is six times that amount and I’ve diversified into other revenue sources. Now I’m at a point in my life where I don’t care to keep making more and more money. I’ve actually added some Junior Advisors and I plan on sharing that growth with them and do more to being able to give back. I’m not looking at what I can take out of the business, I’m looking at what I can reinvest to make more of an impact on more people. The multiples are whatever you want to make them. I’ve chosen to kind of not look to multiply my personal production, but I topped off at the top of the table level production, and you’re making a pretty good living at that level.

Jeremiah: Outstanding. Can you walk us through the process of the Real Wealth? I want you to share this in a way that if somebody heard this, that they could actually go and do it themselves. I know that you offer it as a service and we do recommend that people tie into the Real Wealth system because it shares a fantastic podcast on a regular basis with your clients that doesn’t bring up any competition. But, what was the Genesis of that? What was the first two or three episodes and how did you get those going?

Jim: Well, it actually kind of happened by accident because I had a radio show and we actually were working at a trade show called Senior Fair in our area that was being hosted by a local small radio station that was known as the Polka Place. So they weren’t a financial station or anything. A lot of people in this area listened to that station because it was a local community type station. We did a seminar on estate planning and we filled the house and it happened to be and I shouldn’t say filled the house, filled the parking lot because it was outside. The day that we did this was a dreary, rainy day and you could hear crickets outside of where our seminar was. When we did our seminar we had like over 300 people showed up. Now this was 30 years ago, before a lot of people had heard about trust and stuff like that. It was still something that only the rich did as far as the common folks looking at that. The radio station invited us to be guest on the program and we decided that instead of being a program that said call us and everybody else’s idiots, it was, “Here. Here’s some things you should be thinking about. If this is something you might want to go back to your current advisor, if they’re not offering that then call us.” It was about a soft of a soft sell as you could make and we really focused on being educational. The thing is, it used to be that we do all the preparation ourselves, we used to outline the program and figure out the topic and it was us doing everything. I had a business partner involved in that. Unfortunately, we’ve gone our separate ways but as I’ve taken over the remains, I’ve decided to bring guests in. What’s been unique about it is I’ve got a pretty good command of a lot of different areas of knowledge of how that all works so I know what questions to ask, I know what clients are thinking, what’s important to them. Being able to make that connection from a guests that I have to have a goal to the clients in a meaningful way that’s going to motivate and inspire them to take action is something I’ve developed over the years. Now, someone wants to do this for themselves, what ended up happening is, we were exploring with a couple different companies going nationwide with our radio program. We had gone over the entire state of Wisconsin, and we’re looking to go nationwide when 2008 happened. We had a bunch of corporate sponsors, we had a multimillion dollar budget, and we were going to be in a bunch of major metropolitan areas. When 2008 happened, someone just flipped the switch and nobody’s closed the door. All of a sudden, we’re here and we’ve got oodles of money having to go out and all of a sudden our revenue dried up overnight so it was face bankruptcy or reinvent. About that time is when the internet was becoming more widely accepted with folks that were at retirement or in retirement age and thought, “Well, there’s a medium where you can get unlimited distribution with no more additional costs.” So that’s where the transition happened to the internet. I will tell you with technology today, it does not cost you a lot to set this up. Even if you wanted to distribute something to your clients, even if you’re just recording it on some of the apps that are out there, you could do that. But, one thing I would strongly suggest, consistent persistency. If you’re going to do it ad hoc once in a while here and there, you might as well not do it. You’re going to hurt yourself more than you’re going to help yourself. You need to be consistent. If you’re going to do it once a month, and it’s going to be released on the first at two in the afternoon. Well, you better do it every time all the time that way if you plan on getting good results. One thing is, I’m not here to pitch what I’m doing but what we’ve done is we’ve taken all the pain points that an advisor has. I mean, us as advisors, probably the biggest problem or shortfall that we have is we get all these great ideas, but we never implement any of them. One thing we’ve done for advisors is we’ve taken all that implementation and we’ve created a turnkey system, where they don’t even have to think about it. It’s just on autopilot. My goal was to help advisors and to help the general public out and we’ve done it in a way that the pricing shouldn’t be a barrier for it, it’s to help you so that you don’t have to dedicate the time that it takes to do a quality job but it’s not to say if you’ve got the motivation, and you’re willing to do the consistent work, it’s very easy to use technology today to keep in touch with your clients and leverage your time.

Jeremiah: Outstanding. I just want to mention for those of you listening who are members of Advisorist, we do have a strategic partnership with Real Wealth. In the Members area, there’s a special link you can use to get access to special bonuses and insider deals exclusively with Real Wealth as part of your Advisorist membership. This is really exciting. If somebody wants to get started, one really cool app that we recommend is Zencastr. It is a tool almost free you can use to start your podcast and then distribute it really anywhere you want. So for those of you wanting to get started, that’s great. Sometimes our greatest breakthroughs, Jim, come through our greatest struggles. I’d be curious to know, can you tell us a little bit about the biggest struggle you had growing your business and what was it that you learned from it?

Jim: Well, I’ll tell you what. I got into the business doing Medicare supplements, a little bit of long term care because people weren’t buying long term care that I’d be more than happy to sell it to them but there wasn’t really a big market for that. I was working for an agency and decided to strike out on my own because I really didn’t get the support that I should have gotten. The gentleman was kind of a control freak when it came to. He didn’t want us talking to companies direct, and he spent a lot of time going on vacation. Back then you needed applications to write business and he’d be gone and he didn’t order supplies for us to write business. So a lot of times he would be on vacation, I’d be on vacation. So I decided to go on my own and started my own firm. I started in December of ‘89. Here, one of the things he had always promised me and I took his word for it that as long as I didn’t replace the business, I’d always get my renewals. I had about 3,000 a month coming in renewals and then I struck out on my own and back then on a Medicare supplement, most companies would pay a 50 to 60% commission up front, and we might get a 10% or 15% renewal. Well, January 1st, a month after starting my business, the state of Wisconsin changed the rules. They said, “You can only have levelized commission.” So where I was expecting to get 50% or 60% on a new sale, now I’m only getting 15%. So they took away the upfront and we just got a levelized commission. Same thing with long term care, they somewhat levelized those to where it could be no more than four times the renewal commission. So they brought that down but my bread and butter was the Medicare supplements. So here, I’m really dependent on the Medicare supplements, the place where I used to work, I never got my first renewal check and we didn’t have a contract so I was kind of between a rock and a hard place there. At the same time, I was starting a family, had kids born, they had medical bills, we had medical insurance, but high deductibles, and we didn’t have pregnancy coverage so a lot of that was on our own. I had racked up about $50,000 in credit card bills my first year in the business and what I learned from that, number one, I’m a big proponent of NAIFA and making sure you understand what’s coming down the pike and what the rules are and influencing hopefully that our legislators and our congress make good decisions when it comes to the products that we are providing our clients and the solutions. The other thing I learned is I never wanted to be dependent on just one product anymore. That’s why I’m as diversified as I am. I know a lot of advisors will say, focus on one thing be an expert on just that one thing. Well, if I did that in my community, I would starve. Now, I will say like Medicare supplements or something I started with, I’ve got an expert in my office that does that. I haven’t done health insurance in 10 years. I took that off my plate, I don’t want anything to do with it. I do focus on certain areas but I do have the broad range of knowledge and I have experts that take care of the areas where my time might be better spent in another place.

Jeremiah: Terrific.

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Jeremiah: So switching gears just a little bit, I think our listeners would love to know a little bit more about you. You’re such an engaging guy, you’re really creative, highly entrepreneurial. If your life was a book, Jim, what would the title be?

Jim: I’d have to think about that a little bit. Nothing springs to mind right away. Maybe something like ‘Empowerment’.

Jeremiah: I love it. And if your life had a theme song, what do you think it would be?

Jim: Oh my god. Jeez, you should have gave me these questions ahead of time so I had some time to think about that.

Jeremiah: That’s why I didn’t give them to you.

Jim: Probably ‘Celebrate’.

Jeremiah: Oh, celebrate.

Jim: Either Kool & The Gang, or Cassie.

Jeremiah: Nice. Nice. Nice. Love it. Love it. You live in a small town. Curious, if I was going to visit your small town and we were going to hang out what restaurant will we go to and what should I order?

Jim: Oh, geez. We have so many good places around here. There is a restaurant near us that’s called Crave and whatever their special today is awesome.

Jeremiah: Nice. Now, if you take a look at your phone, we all have an app that we just can’t live without for business or pleasure. What’s the app on your phone that you just can’t live without, Jim?

Jim: I’ll tell you what, it’s probably my Outlook calendar because I can set appointments, and I can see what my schedule is. I am terrible when it comes to carrying business cards around and I’m a guy that I don’t say call me or my people call you. I mean, I do that a little bit but the thing is, if you’ve got someone who’s interested, why not be ready to set that appointment immediately? I just find that when the iron is hot, you got a strike. So that’s been an impactful app for me. Probably second is my radar app because I’m a pilot and I like to go fishing out on Lake Michigan as well and the weather plays a real key role in either of those activities. So seeing what the weather looks like is probably a close second.

Jeremiah: Beautiful. I’d love to jump in your plane with you one day, we’ll go fishing together. That sounds like a lot of fun.

Jim: Absolutely. We’ll fly into one of the best fishing spots in the world.

Jeremiah: Wow. Wow, I can’t wait. Alright, wrapping it up here, Jim. If you lost everything, you had no more contacts, you had nothing more than your insurance license, a laptop, a phone, and 500 bucks, what would you focus on for 30 days to reboot your business?

Jim: I’ll probably sell my laptop because I’m computer illiterate and then try to build the business until I can hire someone to run and then I buy a new laptop. But first thing is I’ll probably look at focusing on connecting with some and collaborating with folks that I could grow the business, whether it’s CPAs, attorneys, other agents like health agents or whatever, where I could collaborate with them and do some joint work.

Jeremiah: Brilliant. Jim, if people wanted to learn more about you, or the services that Real Wealth offers, where can they do that?

Jim: Well, they can go to the Real Wealth website and if they go to [email protected], that will give them a lot of information or they can call our office. We’ve got a team here that can help them out at 877-825-7579. Angela is here and Kayla and Jade are service folks that will walk you through the system and how you can use it and leverage it in your own practice.

Jeremiah: Jim, thank you so much for being part of the podcast today. It’s an honor to have you here. Thank you so much for everything you’re doing in the industry, just providing tremendous, tremendous value. We share very similar value systems with your team and we just love collaborating with you guys. So for those of you who would like a transcript of the episode, please go to, click on podcasts, and look for the episode with Jim Silbernagel. I just love the takeaways I got from today’s podcast. We talked about the power of being an eternal student like Jim, how he used a combination of podcasting and radio with estate planning, and setting up family meetings to explode his practice where now he takes it to a level where he’s helping other advisors do the same and all of that in a small little town of 4,004. If you’re looking for the transcript and the execution sheet where we have a step by step guide on how to implement the things that Jim has been talking about, they’re available exclusively to members and if you’re not a member, check out how to join, Once again thank you for listening to Advisorist, we’ll see you on the next episode. Bye for now.

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Jeremiah Desmarais

Jeremiah Desmarais

Jeremiah is the founder and CEO of Advisorist® and is a 23-time award winning financial marketer, a TED speaker and philanthropist. He’s been featured on Forbes, CNN, and Worth. His work has generated over $2 million insurance leads and helped advisors in over 51 countries generate over $300 million in sales commissions. He is the author of the best selling book, SHIFT.

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