When Lise Allin was hired on by Canada Life at 23, she decided to “give the life insurance business one year.”
Um, that was August 1978.
Forty-one years later, she’s still eagerly at it.
Thriving, actually. Every single day. Thriving on helping make sure her clients are always financially safe; have material comfort for a “more simple, elegant life” in their golden years; and can achieve their goals. From things as simple as “having a budget for nice wine and dinners,” to buying a red 1964 classic car that’s driven only a handful of times in the summer.
Being in financial services for more than four decades wasn’t the original plan. It just kind of happened.
“It was really interesting,” Lise says. “I took a Bachelor of Science and got a Masters in business administration, and I always figured I’d just end up working for the government in something to do with the environment.”
Then she married and her husband got his chance to start a medical practice in Belleville, Ont.
The move that launched it all
“I realized shortly thereafter that the best jobs in the field that I thought I was being trained for were in Ottawa,” Lise recalls.
While she waited for her husband to complete his medical degree, she worked shifts at a local restaurant. “I’d been working in the hospitality industry at a restaurant for four years while I was doing my degree and I really enjoyed it. I liked working with people, I enjoyed hospitality. But I didn’t really like the hours because hospitality folks are up until 2 a.m.,” says Lise.
That was why she answered the Canada Life ad that ended up launching her career in financial services.
“It said, ‘Two candidates needed to train in marketing management.’ I thought, how bad can it be? I’ve done organic chemistry.”
Turns out the ad “was basically to do marketing and sales of life insurance, which I knew nothing about.”
But Lise is a big fan of Sir Winston Churchill. And Churchill was a big believer in life insurance. In his words, insurance is a vital thing so “…families can be protected against catastrophes which would otherwise smash them up forever.”
‘I can do this’
That was enough for Lise. She plunged in head first. She learned how to sell life insurance the new way at the time under a “very progressive” mentor and manager named Jay Merrin.
Jay called it “counsellor selling.” A three-step process of explaining to people why they needed life insurance; showing them with a financial formula what it could do; and fitting life insurance into an overall financial plan. Lise still uses the process today.
“I thought, ‘It’s just like the scientific method in organic chemistry.’ I can do this. It’s so logical,” Lise remembers.
Then she capitalized on the then-male domination of the insurance industry to start building her practice.
“When I started, only 2% were women. And the 98% that were men, they made a beeline for the male breadwinners. So there was this huge, untapped market.”
Starting cold in Kingston, she developed a marketing plan and poured through voluminous municipal directories. “Remember those?,” she asks. “I contacted working women. I just looked for nurses, teachers, managers and doctors that I’d seen in the directory.”
Going it alone — and not looking back
Applying the counsellor selling approach, Lise started talking with, and signing, clients. Her Canada Life practice started building. But she wanted to do a lot more for clients than just sell them life insurance. And at the time, Canada Life was strictly an insurance provider. So, with a $15,000 loan from CIBC, Lise left after eight years to “be able to do it all” for clients.
In July 1986, she opened her own, independent practice. Lise Allin Insurance and Estate Planning Services. Just months later, in October, she bought the twenty-sixth Money Concepts financial planning centre franchise, in Belleville.
Those first Canada Life clients — and their relatives they’d refer — that were the foundation of Lise’s practice? Some of them learned she’d moved and “came over the fence” with her. And some of them are still clients today in her insurance and estate planning practice.
“Now my practice is 50/50 men and women, but I also have a lot of women who’ve been with me 30 or 40 years,” says Lise. “Their husbands have passed away, or they’ve been divorced, so it just grew.”
Chance meeting changes everything
At the same time she was sending out flyers and inviting people to lunch-and-learn seminars to get leads and referrals for her new financial planning practice, Lise was raising a young family.
“I had three kids in three years,” she says. “The last one I had, Scott, I had just before I bought my office. I took a week off and went right back to work.”
A chance meeting with Richard Kizell, another Money Concepts franchise owner in Kingston, changed everything for Lise.
“I said, ‘I’ve been working with clients and training agents for eight years. If you ever have any problems, call me and I’ll help you.”
He called her a couple of weeks later. Richard wanted Lise to discover what he needed to do to make his Money Concepts franchise better and successful.
“He was from the women’s clothing business and was highly successful (in that). But the new financial planning centre he had built wasn’t" says Lise.
Going to battle after a takeover
Lise coached Richard to build a “stepping-stone” market; build his product knowledge; and “earn the right” to pursue his natural, high-income clientele market.
“He became highly successful and we became fast friends. And he said, ‘We should develop the region,’” Lise remembers.
She didn’t want to do that. But ultimately Richard convinced her. “For 16 years we worked together and built Money Concepts franchises with seven offices from Oshawa through to Kingston. And it was a lot of fun building a great region with seven financial planning offices and over 30 advisors” says Lise.
The fun ended after Money Concepts founder Grant Sylvester died and the company was sold to a European firm trying to gain a foothold in North America. The firm also purchased Transamerica Life Canada and tried to force Money Concepts franchisees to sell only Transamerica life insurance.
Lise and other franchise owners — all top producers — refused. Things got complicated. It ended up in court with a mediated settlement awarded to the franchisees. When the franchises won their settlement they finished their contractual year, and then moved a billion dollars to mutual fund dealers who were better fit.
“Eleven of us went with Partners in Planning out West, and Richard went with Independent Planning Group in Ottawa because he wanted somebody local,” says Lise. “I happily went with Partners in Planning for about five years. It was a good fit, and then we were bought by Investment Planning Counsel (IPC) in 2010, where I’ve been ever since.”
Supporting her main focus
Lise’s main business — her financial planning practice — is what she spends 90% of her time focusing on. She has two other business interests that both support her practice. “And both are staffed with great people,” she explains.
There’s St. John’s Inn, where she frequently holds educational seminars for her clients. Then there are the books she writes, which are on financial topics and useful for clients. The “experience” section of her LinkedIn profile bills Lise as a “part-timer author and editor in areas supporting my main role as a financial advisor.”
Got all that? You might call her career…diverse.
When you ask how the wealth management and estate services businesses function so well, and in turn, are supported by St. John’s Inn and her book writing, “It’s all about the teamwork of excellent staff, and they deserve to be paid well. Delegating is key, and our staff are second to none,” Lise affirms.
Devoted to staff and clients
She adds, “I’m eternally grateful for how good my staff is. Because they really do rise to the occasion, and they appreciate the culture.”
In all her businesses the people come first. There’s a supportive culture.
“If somebody needs to go home because their child is sick, go home. I had a bookkeeper who was peeved at me because I didn’t make my employees give me notes from their doctor. We really needed to defend upgraded support for staff in the early years, but it worked,” Lise says.
Um…that book-keeper is no longer in Lise’s employ.
Lise is also devoted to her many clients. “I think they know they can trust me,” she says. “And I think they know I care. And they also know I’ll tell it to them straight, if something will work or it won’t. We need to be solution oriented. If they want something, we’ll try to figure out a way to do it.”
She is deeply committed to making sure all her clients are financially safe and comfortable through every stage of their lives. “There’s a big difference between materialism and material comfort,” she affirms. “Everyone deserves to have material comfort.
Generations of financial planning
Lise calls it “a super-cool thing” to have multiple generations of clients from the same families. “It’s a privilege and an honor to deal with them. I have people who are 35 years old, and I remember when they were born. I remember one of my clients’ dad bursting into my office and saying, ‘It’s a boy!’. And now that little boy has his little boy, and we’ve just placed life insurance for them.”
Clients’ portfolio size doesn’t matter. She’s equally devoted to her high-net-worth clients; her “clients between $100,000 and $1 million;” her “little acorns starting out that are between $25,000 and $100,000;” and her “pro-bono clients who have less than $25,000.”
“I think we’re charged with understanding that we’ll be judged at the end of time by how well we treated our weakest member,” Lise muses philosophically
What clients can’t do
There’s one thing Lise never wants her clients to do. “I don’t want them to waste their money. I don’t want them coming in and saying, ‘Oh, I should’ve come in 10 years ago.’”
Whenever she starts a financial plan for clients, they get homework. It could be finding ways to cut expenses. Or finding a way to earn more income. So they have enough money for their goals and that material comfort.
“I’m thrilled when clients do their homework. They don’t always do it, but they’re people. They’re not robots. But they generally try to do their homework, and they like getting it,” Lise says.
Actually there’s another thing Lise never lets her clients do. “I have a rule that nobody gets to laugh at each other’s goals,” Lise says. She recalls a meeting with one couple who’d been her clients for 30 years.
“She had a million goals, and the fellow, he was the house-husband. And I turned to him and said, ‘Don’t you have any goals?’ And he said, ‘Well someday I’d like a new JennAir oven.’”
Growing diversity is a good thing
Lise has had many clients, and seen many industry changes over the decades. A couple of things stand out for her.
“I think the financial planning industry has a lot more women now,” she says. “When I first came in…older white men were dominating the industry. And now, it’s ‘welcome to the United Nations.’ Which is pretty innovative and necessary. All the six gender preferences (male, female, gay, lesbian, trans or in transition)are involved and many religions are involved. And that’s healthy because that’s what our population is. The public can identify with this. There’s been a real evolution and revolution, and I think that’s good for our culture.”
The other thing is, “The oversight in the industry is much, much better than it was in the old days. If the people are honest, you don’t even need the compliance. But if they’re not, you need to protect the client. And you need to make sure people are covering the disclosure they need to do with the client,” says Lise.
The downside to more industry oversight
There is a downside to this for Lise, however. “There’s much, much more paperwork. The industry hasn’t yet been able to go paperless, and now it’s even more documentheavy. I hope the advent of digital documents and signatures will arrive shortly. It’s really needed to simplify oversight and record keeping.
Setting sights on retirement
Lise hopes the new compliance and paperless record keeping will be in place soon. Say, somewhere around August 2028. That’s her planned retirement date. Which Lise set for herself the day she started in the industry. She picked 2028 because her mother ran her own company until she was 74. Lise believes many advisors could do what she did.
“Set your retirement date the day you come in,” Lise affirms. “Are you going to work 30 years? Ten years? What are you going to give this career? And then work backwards from that. So if you take the long view, you’re not going to waste time. You’re going to develop your relationships, and plan your education, and plan your money. Because as soon as you set your retirement date, you realize how fast it goes by. And you’re looking forward.”
Up-and-coming advisors today have one big challenge, Lise believes.
“It’s making sure you’re a continual student. You have to understand things are changing daily…if there’s a course you need to take, you need to put that in your calendar,” she says.
Time for learning, time for finding balance
Over the decades, Lise has packed in lots of continuing education and designation courses. She’s a Chartered Life Underwriter® , a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® practitioner and a Chartered Financial Consultant.®
“You can’t do it all through the school of hard knocks and by the seat of your pants,” says Lise. “You do need to have a baseline of knowledge, and I think that’s what designations do. They give a firm foundation.”
But advisors also need to make time for themselves in between continuing education and daily running of their practices. Lise learned to divide her days four ways. There are “focus days” when she’s working on client files and making money. Then there are those “free days” for “recharging your batteries.” “Buffer days” for running errands. And all-important “family days.”
On her free days, Lise says, “I like to write books, work in my garden, walk my little dog, play with my grandkids, I get to ride my bike, ride horses, swim, go for a drive. I like road trips.”
Still writing, still thriving
Writing books is big with Lise. She has been doing it for over a decade. Her latest and fourth book, The Life Insurance Diaries, is due out this fall on Amazon and Kindle. The Millionaire Woman’s Successful Divorce was published last fall. She wrote her first book, a financial-planning primer titled How Money Works, in 2006. Lise also coauthored Divorce isn’t Easy But it can be Fair with Debbie Hartzman, in 2009.
She’s still full of energy and professional passion. And ever-thriving on helping her clients achieve their goals. “They can’t have everything at once, but they can have everything they want if they have a plan,” Lise says.
Answering that Canada Life ad all those decades ago saw things work out quite fine. “If a truck hit me on the highway tomorrow, I wouldn’t have any regrets,” Lise says. That’s how she describes her success.
In retrospect, would she do anything differently? Not really. “Everything that I’ve had to learn a hard lesson from, I learned the lesson well. I’d probably do a few more speaking engagements, they’re pretty fun. And I’m glad that I only married once. So far.
Dean Askin is a B2B and non-profit content writer/consultant with more than three decades of experience in journalism and communications.He’s worked in radio current affairs; written for and edited national trade magazines; and taught journalism.
Dean learned to master the craft of telling powerful stories with words under the guidance of Canada’s master storyteller – the late, great Stuart McLean.
This commentary is provided as a general source of information and is intended for Canadian residents only. The views and opinions expressed by advisor in this commentary and does not reflect those of IPC Investment Corporation.
IPC Investment Corporation - Lise Allin 1 Catharine St. Belleville, ON K8P 1K8 (613) 968-6751