I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with George Chambers, Lee Barlas and Ryan McCarty, the principals of Megastar Advisors – a leading FMO providing marketing, training and support to advisors. We discussed the state of our industry, including recent advances in technology and the essential supports advisors need. Here are some excerpts.
Megastar is known as being forward-thinking on marketing and technology. What has changed in that landscape since you started Megastar?
Lee Barlas: We all know we need to help advisors get in front of more prospects, but FMOs can’t succeed just by pushing product, running illustrations, or offering third-party mail house workshops. We need to be more advanced and stay current on trends and social security. Ten years ago, it was all about social security workshops, and FMOs who were at the forefront of that were very successful. But the writing was on the wall that we’re at risk of being a copycat type of industry, and eventually that approach became overused to the point of saturation. So how do you stand out? Our approach has been to refocus and become a niche-based marketing & technology company. Our goals include speaking directly to the consumer, more so than ever before. Direct consumer marketing is the way of the future for us.
Let’s talk about tech trends like EAPs and robo-advice. What will have the biggest impact on Megastar Advisors in the next three to five years?
Ryan McCarty: I think virtual selling will be the next tech trend. Some carriers haven’t embraced this technology yet, but it will soon become common practice. In the medical field for example, you can now get an app, set an appointment, and suddenly you are speaking with a doctor. We could use that type of technology in the financial industry. Just imagine bringing in a CPA or an estate planning attorney for an education session and live streaming the appointment. I see the opportunity of having an app and live streaming and having appointments from anywhere. Producers, CPAs, Attorneys and even consumers would no longer have to be local with each other.
You provide a number of services, such as your bootcamp, training and coaching. How do you expect those services will evolve going forward?
Lee: We’re an advisor-driven organization; that’s what we are known for. Our competitors may be teaching techniques that they haven’t practiced themselves in front of clients. We have our own practice called Barlas & Chambers, and we do more than 2,000 tax returns each year. We recognize there is great value to having a live working office to bring in advisors individually, or even along with their support staff, to train alongside us. They learn sales techniques and the successful processes the office has developed, such as our workshops and integrating tax services. We act as a live training office at Barlas & Chambers, which sits right next door to Megastar. In addition, at offices across the country some of our top advisors who own tax practices will also open their doors to fellow advisors. That is one of the things that sets us apart from a training and one-on-one coaching perspective.
Please describe the value Barlas & Chambers offers Megastar and why a producer would care that you have this offering.
Lee: Think of it this way: George and I have 2,000 pre-booked appointments every year. Some are financial clients; some are tax only clients. The most valuable opportunity for any advisor is to sit in front of as many prospects as possible. So our value is that Barlas & Chambers is a top model office for the advisor for the pre-booked appointments. The opportunities are endless when you’re sitting in front of 2,000 appointments a year.
What advice would you give an advisor entering the business today and starting with Megastar?
George Chambers: That’s a good question. The number one advice for new advisors is in fact some of the great advice I got from the beginning – “Don’t be a community service,” meaning “don’t be a person that wants to answer all the questions without also asking for the business.” Answer questions and make sure you encourage them become a client. Be loyal to everyone you touch. Say you’re going to do client reviews, and do the client reviews. If you’re going to call clients twice a year, do what you say you’re going do. Don’t do it as a sales pitch; do it as something that you really do and be engaged in their lives. Be a sponge. Focus on mastering one thing at a time. For me, when I first started out it was Medicare Supplements and advantage plans. Then it went to annuities, then very little in life insurance, but I found my way by learning how to talk to people. The other thing is, focus more on why you do what you do, not so much on what you do. Lastly, pair yourself with an FMO that can get you where you want to start and where you want to get to. Have the end in mind. That’s what we help our advisors do here at Megastar.
Can you describe how Megastar started and how Brokers International helps your business?
Ryan: Around 2013 we started Megastar by purchasing a firm that was under Brokers International called USA Tax & Insurance Services (USA Tax). Long story, short, I worked for USA Tax at the time as their marketing director and Lee and George were our top producing office within the organization. Our connection came about because I recruited them into the organization. We’ve had a close relationship ever since. When USA Tax decided to sell, we felt together we had the key ingredients to approach USA Tax for a buyout.
Lee: In regards to your second question, the way I see the synergy of our partnership with BI is that we get to focus on what we do best, which is sales, training and mentoring. It’s the whole one-on-one experience in working with the advisor and getting their practice up and running, and prospecting for them to get them in front of new clients. BI allows us to operate on a much larger scale in the industry, because of the back-house support that happens behind the scenes from product support, to making sure we’re aligned with the proper products in the industry. A huge component is making sure our advisors are staying compliant along with the contracting and all of the additional things in the pipeline that BI helps cover for us. This allows us to do what we do best, which is to focus on sales.
If I were to ask you to provide the reason why an advisor should approach Megastar, not even knowing what market that advisor is in, what would the presentation look like?
Ryan: The biggest value Megastar has today is the ability to help advisors get in front of more prospects. We’re more focused on niche-based marketing and technology that speaks to the consumer more than to the advisor themselves. For example, we have two consumer-based companies that attract advisors for us. One is solely marketing to the private sector while the other markets to the public sector.
On the public sector, we’ve established exclusive relationships with two leading Federal publication companies. Through them, we generated over 15,000 leads that advisors are currently working in their portals. That’s over 2 billion in potential premium opportunities! We’ve just added a call center to help our advisors set those appointments. This is just in the public sector alone.
On the private sector, we have advisors who focus on different topics, whether estate planning, taxes or social security. These essentially go to the same demographic that we’re all going after with the Boomer market, but it’s aligning themselves with that consumer brand that really makes it special, as it becomes more of a national experience versus something that is just local to their area.
At the end of the day, advisors are attracted to us for our ability to be forward-thinking. We provide programs that generate leads, and the fact that we’re doing what they do every day, with Lee and George in the field. An advisor will feel confident utilizing the teaching and training we give them when we personally experience living it ourselves each and every day.
Since there’s three partners in the firm, describe each of your roles and how a producer interacts with the three of you.
Ryan: I’m more operational-based. I work on R&D, developing the programs and really building the culture inside of the firm. I focus on the marketing department, our servicing department and our contracting department. George travels around the country doing sales presentations for advisors. If they need a speaker, he’s there for them. He does a lot of training and mentoring, and works with them individually on a lot of their cases. He’s a liaison to the industry.
Lee: I oversee firm operations as a whole, and additionally, on a one-on-one basis, I do training with advisors that want to come and experience the Barlas & Chambers model. So a combination of one-on-one training and mentoring, as well as overall operations of both companies.
Do you think there’s a way for Megastar to do more business with millennials and have them enter the insurance industry?
Ryan: Yes! It means taking the millennial advisor and partnering him or her up with somebody who is more seasoned and showing them the route to opportunity. If you look at the books of businesses that are mostly annuity-driven or life business-driven, that’s where the opportunity is for a millennial since they can conduct the Assets Under Management. If we are going to connect with the millennials, we need a clear path for them to enter this market. With DOL and the ever changing regulation surrounding our industry, what better opportunity for someone to enter this market and fulfill a need when the seasoned producer doesn’t want to become securities licensed.
George: In my travels, I’ve been to several of our offices where when they’re transitioning from the senior to the junior. Family members are now thinking about coming in to the business. They’re using technology more, making appointments online, and so we’re showing them how to make that transition. But you also have to remember, and we remind them of this, that this is not a technology business. Rather, this is a person-to-person business. You have to be able to connect with clients, because they have to believe in you. The difference between you and the other person will not be the app or the website. It will be your personality and the person that they’re seeing in front of them. They either trust you or they don’t.
How do you determine federal market versus tax practice versus seminar selling? You guys offer a lot of turnkey processes and solutions for the agent. Is there an intake? How do you decipher which method you’re going to provide the path of the agent?
Ryan: It depends on the fit. There are advisors who travel around the country, and they want to do presentations based on a certain area. They don’t necessarily have an office that they want to build a clientele around.
Lee: So in acting as their consultant, if there’s infrastructure in place and they have an existing office and staff, we are going to show them the path to the tax model as one of the strongest models we offer for integrating into a full service tax office. If they’re more geared toward an independent advisor role where they travel and do workshops, but not potentially take on the role of staffing a full office, then we’ll start plugging them into the different workshop programs.
Ryan: It just goes back to the fit. Some people want support warming clients up through a workshop. Do they want the ability to have somebody else speak for them and then just have that third-party reaction? It really depends. Again going back to the lead route, if they plan to work a portal and then start calling leads, we can do that too. We try to find what works best for them and then tailor-fit that for each individual advisor.
Lee: The way of the future for us is taking that advisor, generating the lead for them, setting the appointment for them. That is where we’re going in the future.
Last question gentlemen. It’s Saturday morning, you have no responsibilities. Please describe for me your ideal Saturday morning.
Lee: Well, you know being that being that we live in Florida, you always want to start off your morning with a cup of coffee in the beautiful sunshine. Maybe head over to the driving range and hit a few balls…By noon, gather the family, fire up the barbecue, and jump in the pool. That’s a good Saturday for me.
George: I wake up at 7 a.m. because my son puts his fingers in my eyes and opens them saying “Daddy, are you up and are we going out yet?” Getting on the golf course is great, or going out for a little breakfast time and spending time with my son or daughter, whoever wakes me up first. Go to the beach, go to Universal Studios, just have a great time and do family stuff.
Ryan: For me, it’s taking the kids and go to the park or heading to the beach, coming home and putting on a movie or go into the pool. It’s just about our families. I don’t get out a whole lot anymore because I have a three-year-old and an eight-month-old so I’m quite stuck! I love going around the neighborhood, too with Maddox – he’s got his bike, so it’s one of those Strider types. So to follow behind him and seeing him grow…
Lee: Or call me at 8 at night with his latest and greatest idea. That does happen on Saturday…
Ryan: Occasionally that does happen…