| 14 minutes read |
"Joyce, I've got good news." my manager (the guy is awesome and I'll write about his management style soon), Raymond Sim, said to me in August 2018, barely 4 months into my career as a Financial Consultant. "You're on track to qualifying for Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT). If you qualify by December, it'd mean that you hit MDRT in just 8 months!"
I remember my face flushing for a moment and I was really embarrassed about my ignorance when I asked, "Eh, what is MDRT ah?"
I've heard about the term from the facebook posts of my Financial Consultant (FC) but never really knew what that meant. My layman perception before I joined the industry was simply, "Wah, my FC is doing well. This means that she has a lot of clients that trust her and that she won't be leaving the industry anytime soon." Yes, it may be a superficial impression but in an industry where the turnover rate is notoriously high (a client mentioned that he was handed over to 4 different FCs in less than 2 years), it was a source of comfort for me, as a client, to know that my FC was doing well.
The other thought that popped into my mind was, "Did my FC earn a million dollars?" Being trained to analyse information, I brushed away the thought and reckoned that a MDRT member should earn about 10% of a million dollars a year (turns out, I wasn't too far from my guess).
So, apart from my layman perceptions (and reading somewhere - maybe an instagram ad - that only the top few percent of FCs worldwide qualify for MDRT membership), I did not have any clue about what the membership meant.
Raymond took a deep breath (since then, he has taken several other deep breaths when speaking to me over the year), sat me down, and explained to me what MDRT is all about.
What is MDRT?
"MDRT is a prestigious award in the industry that only the top 3% of Financial Consultants worldwide qualify for." Raymond then went on to describe the qualifying criteria and what it meant to him. I absorbed the information like a sponge and went back home to research about it (because one should always analyse information - that's why the fake news committee was set up).
As someone who is constantly seeking to level up my knowledge, I was pretty impressed with what MDRT members had access to (see screenshot from MDRT website below). I then asked around and was even more impressed with the positive reviews fellow FCs (across different companies) shared of MDRT - trust me, when FCs across different companies agree that something is good, take their word for it.
Truth is, while there is a standard qualifying criteria, MDRT really means different things to different people. I won't go into the technical details of MDRT qualifying standards but you can read up on Seedly's and D&S's write-ups on it. Each article holds interesting views and here's what MDRT means to me and why it matters to my clients and I.
4 Reasons Why MDRT Matters to My Clients and I
I left a ~$90k/year income and turned down a ~$120k/year offer to join the Financial Consulting industry. While I think of myself as not financially motivated when meeting my clients (most of my colleagues know that I have no idea how much I earn from each policy), it simply would not make sense for me to stay on in a job that did not at least remunerate me as well as my last job. We pay employees for two things: their time (a.k.a. effort) and their intellectual ability to analyse things. Given that my effort in my work and my intellectual ability remains the same, or as the economists say, "ceteris paribus", I should value myself and be remunerated accordingly.
In weighing opportunity costs, if my income in this industry falls way short of my last income and potential income from company x, it'd objectively make more sense for me to leave the industry (just like how most parents will tell their children to go for the "better job offer"). I'm a huge softy, and I know that even if I don't earn as much, I'll stay on as long as I believe in what I do. That doesn't change the fact that objectively, I should be working hard(er) to ensure that I am paid my value so that my future self won't kick me in the a*se for "working for passion".
"Your future depends on what you do today." - Mahatma Gandhi
When I hit my MDRT (I can't remember when, but I know it was before December), and shared with the clients that I met about the achievement (and how I was still grappling with what it meant), one of my clients said, "Ok, now I can buy my policy from you." A few days later, another client told me the same thing in the exact same words.
I was absolutely perplexed by this. After all, D&S's 2017 article seemed to suggest that the MDRT accolade does not matter to clients. My client's words were a slap in the face - did she mean that my values and ethics (which I absolutely pride myself upon) don't matter as much as this accolade?
Being the straightforward person that I am, I asked her about it and she said, "I know that you have a very strict set of values but I've seen too many FCs come and go and it turns out that FCs who have MDRT achievements have more stable incomes to enable them to stay long in the business."
I rebutted, "That's not true though. I know of a lot of FCs who have never achieved MDRT but who stay on long in the business." Her reply was, "But I don't."
Turns out, my layman perception was somewhat right - to some clients, MDRT is an indication of an FC's sustainability in his/her work and we definitely all want to have a FC that stays on long enough to service our policies. Not only does achieving MDRT send a strong indication of my commitment to my clients, achieving it actually does mean that I am remunerated my worth and that I can objectively stay long in this industry.
"You very li hai (Mandarin for clever) leh, can achieve MDRT in 8 months!" This is what most people in the industry are telling me. My respectful self smiles politely before saying, "No la."
My response is not humble bragging. If you've read the book by Angela Duckworth, you'll know what I mean. In this industry, it's hardly about how "clever" or "talented" one is, but about how much passion and perseverance one has.
"Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, then succeed on purpose." - G.K. Nelson
Most people have no idea the amount of work that committed FCs put in and the amount of grit you must have to stay afloat in this industry. In an industry that is still shrouded with a somewhat negative reputation, it takes a lot of determination and hard work to do the right things right. After all, if we must choose between doing what is easy and doing what is right, always do what is right.
My client base is not in the High Net Worth (HNW) category (industry rumours has it that some people can have just 5 clients and achieve MDRT) which means that I have to meet a lot more people, go through a lot more reviews, and do a lot more work before I can achieve the MDRT accolade. While it is work that I enjoy (clients, you guys are all HNW in values and life), meeting and helping people plan right takes a lot of time, analysis and effort.
In January 2019, I looked back at my work and realised that I had done thorough reviews with more than 100 clients, protected more than 80 lives and helped process 6 successful claims. I posted this on instagram:
Shortly after, my friend (who was then not yet my client) texted me, "I'm impressed that you did reviews with so many people!" To her, that meant that I had met enough people and had encountered enough scenarios and learnt enough to be competent in my financial analysis and planning. Indeed, she was not wrong. (A shoutout goes out to my first 20 clients - thank you for giving me the space to make and learn from rookie mistakes, and for entrusting me with your plans nonetheless. You gave me the confidence to approach and plan for a lot more people.)
To me, achieving the MDRT accolade means that I had the mettle to go through what I went through. To my clients, having the grit to meet all those people and go through all those financial reviews means that I now have a lot more knowledge and skills from the collective wisdom of all my clients and my interactions with them.
3. Placing Myself in an Environment of Positivity and Constant Growth
Unknown to the layman, the MDRT environment is worth your grit. I say this as an advocate of lifelong learning.
Prior to registering as an MDRT member, I had the impression that the MDRT conferences were just going to be sales, sales and more sales talks - I was not hyped up over it and like my officers scrutinising me on my first day as Team Leader, I had the "wait-and-see" attitude towards the MDRT membership.
Soon, I started to receive bi-monthly emails on topics that ranged from human resource to becoming a more holistic person (see sample below). I dug into those emails and started seriously exploring the MDRT members' website and realised that the most prestigious part of the membership was having access to the resources - years of collective wisdom put together by financial practitioners and other public figures, available on the MDRT members' website and MDRT conferences.
I recently attended a Prudential MDRT Conference in Kuala Lumpur and amongst the platform speakers were Hou Bin (a paralympian from China), Jason Hewlett (a comedian from the states), Jiang Jia (the olympic doughnut guy who tried 100 days of rejection from the states) and our very own Eric Feng (sales strategist from Singapore), just to name a few. I was sitting in the audience and realised that even though we hailed from countries all across Asia, we were all there to learn. My fellow participants were mostly scribbling notes (and clarifying points where translation was needed) and I found myself surrounded by a community of learners.
It's like running a marathon with people who are motivated to run faster. When you are in the group, you are naturally motivated to run faster. I pride myself as a keen learner but have not found a keener group of learners in all the courses that I attended back in the civil service. The MDRT conference was different - everyone was there to share and learn - the environment breeds positivity, selflessness and promotes constant growth.
I posted lots of instagram stories throughout the KL conference and a one of my clients asked me to share more about what I learnt from the conference. I was so primed and hyped up to share that I may have spoken for a little longer than expected. At the end of the conversation, my client said, "I'm really impressed that they have such holistic speakers for Financial Consultants. Share with me more when you come back from Miami."
It turns out that when you benefit from an environment of positivity and constant growth, so do your clients (because you'll pass on the knowledge somehow, knowingly or unknowingly).
"When you learn, teach. When you get, give." - Maya Angelou
The KL conference was a tiring but fulfilling conference and I'm already looking forward to learning from the MDRT Annual Meeting in June. I can't wait to learn both life and financial planning skills from attendees and speakers all across the world.
4. Doing the Right Things Right
"Do the right things right" is Raymond's motto and he has built it into the DNA of our team. Turns out, the MDRT community has the same motto, distilled into more words. This is the Code of Ethics that is found in the MDRT Membership Requirements page:
As Eric Feng aptly puts it, MDRT should mean "Must Do Right Things". When you're governed by four "code of ethics" that sing the same tune (my personal values, Raymond's motto, Eric's spiel and the MDRT code of ethics) - you know that you have placed yourself in the right environment.
A wise man from the SPF once told me, "Temptations will be everywhere. What's important is that you put yourself in an environment that does not give you opportunity to give in to those temptations. When you have no opportunity, there is no jeopardy."
"You can't make positive choices for the rest of your life without an environment that makes those choices easy, natural and enjoyable." - Deepak Chopra
A close friend of mine once told me, "When people buy from you, you know that it's because you have done the right things and gained their trust." She must have seen my puzzled face because she continued (in jest), "Because I'm sure that they won't buy from you because of your looks (okay, thank you, friend). And you're so new in the industry that you can't use your experience to convince people (basically saying that I was, back then, a noob - thank you once again, friend). So what's left is your character and values." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Either way, I was still proud that my friend gave me those compliments.
When I listened to the Financial Practitioners giving their spiel in the MDRT KL Conference, I realised that all of them made the same points - about placing client's interests first and doing the right things right. Through their genuine care and actions, all of them have sustained in the industry through their reputation (allowing them to be highly referable).
Does it matter to our clients? Definitely.
I've just crossed my one year mark in this career and most of the people I've met in 2019 for financial reviews were through referrals. To me, that is the strongest indication that I have been doing the right things right.
Does MDRT really matter?
I thought a lot about writing this article. My insecurities were yelling, "Please don't write this article. It will be very paiseh if you don't hit MDRT this year." I decided to write it in the end because I wanted to share with others what MDRT means to me and how it has positively impacted my view towards this industry.
I will continue to strive for MDRT every year because I want to constantly place myself in the right environment. If I fall short on any year, I'll just pick myself up, continue doing the right things right, continue the grit, and continue the pursuit towards excellence.
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill
At the end of the day, things are only meaningful because we put meaning to them. MDRT is now more than an achievement to me - it is an attitude towards work and my clients, a positive environment of constant growth and a trademark of grit and excellence.
This does not mean that FCs who have not (yet) achieved MDRT are not as good (I was a fellow non-achiever until I became an achiever). As clients, if you are satisfied that your FC has presented the four points above (sustainability, grit, positivity and constant growth, and ethics), trust that FC with your plans - you will be a part of his/her MDRT journey eventually and I'm sure that he/she will be proud to share the knowledge and skills he/she picked up along the way.
If you are a fellow FC who has yet to achieve your MDRT, aim for it by simply doing the right things right over and over again. It sounds easy but most of the time our insecurities and fear of rejection overcomplicates it - but hey, there's nothing to fear if you're constantly doing the right things right and placing your client's interests first. As a FC, the feeling you get when your client is not covered when something happens is way worse than the rejection you feel when somebody doesn't reply your message. At the end of the day, as long as you live by the four points above, you're already a worthy FC and I'm sure your clients will see it too.
Does MDRT matter? My answer: Make it matter, make it count.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely my own. Help share this article and expand its reach if you found it useful. 🙂 You can also read up on a fellow FC's take on MDRT here.