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Becoming a Go-To Advisor

By building a brand within the legal and accounting community, one advisor opened up a new avenue of income.

By Lucretia DiSanto Jones

Success breeds success.

Perhaps that explains why much of what Philip Harriman, CLU, ChFC, commits himself to flourishes: Harriman has attained MDRT status since 1983. He served four terms in the Maine state senate. He is charismatic, well spoken and one crackerjack of an entrepreneur.

Harriman’s practice, Lebel & Harriman, LLP, in Portland, Maine, specializes in retirement and estate planning. That’s the first and foremost purpose of his professional life. But Harriman stumbled upon something in 1998 that has become a lucrative source of revenue and referrals. He recognized a need and a market in his community for a trusted insurance advisor to serve as a consultant to attorneys and accountants. He advises them on their clients’ decisions about the purchase of life insurance and other products.

What made you realize there was a market for such a consultant in your community?
“I was involved in a potential sale where my approach to the attorney was to let me show him what the client already had in place for coverage and how we could make strategic improvements on it. My goal was to show him my professionalism and expertise, to earn his endorsement of what I’d recommended.

“When that original case was nearing completion in 1998, he called and asked if I would speak with him on a different matter—look at the file and give him some direction. And he said, ‘By the way, how much do you charge to do this kind of work?’

“I realized that attorneys and accountants have cabinets full of files where their client, the policyholder, has a potential for taking them to task for the policy not performing.” In other words, they could be at risk for errors and omissions claims.

What happened next?
“I realized that if I could build a brand within the legal and accounting communities, there was a market out there for someone who was a life insurance expert, was confidential and wasn’t selling something.”

Harriman began mentioning in general conversation with other attorneys and accountants that he’d been retained by an attorney to provide advice on cases involving insurance protection. Harriman’s consulting capabilities became known and business blossomed.

To what do you attribute your success?
“My success has come from a three-point formula.

“One, I work for the attorney or the accountant, not their client; I empower them with the knowledge they need to solve problems for their clients.

“Two, I honor the industry. I don’t look for problems or play “gotcha.” Rather I look at solutions to concerns.

“Three, I provide confidential advice. They trust I won’t weave myself into the sale. I serve as their advisor for making the best decision for their client. In this arena, I’m not a salesman; I’m an expert witness. I do it in honor of the industry. If we don’t help people solve these problems, the public will have another reason to doubt our integrity.”

Does the consulting lead to sales and referrals?
“If the options available to solve the client’s problems still leave a risk, the attorney or the accountant will tell the client to go to the original agent and talk about it. If there’s no agent involved, they often recommend me.”

Harriman then meets with the client for an hour at no cost. He is very careful about taking on a client this way, however; it can defeat his efforts to brand himself as a neutral party not out to make a sale.

Over the years, attorneys and accountants have referred clients to him outside the consulting process. It’s the best of both worlds: Harriman’s consulting service maintains its brand, and he receives very qualified referrals.

What caused the need for this type of consulting service?
“Ten to fifteen years ago our industry was an environment where agents were career or captive. They sold whole life, term life, DI and annuities. Mutual companies were dominating. The industry developed a reputation for consistent guarantees and dividends. Pricing was driven by 1958 mortality tables. Then one morning we all woke up to variables, adjustables, new mortality tables, tax law changes. Thus my original statement that many professionals have files that have errors and omissions written all over them.”

Is this type of consulting role appropriate for all insurance and financial advisors?
“A person relatively new to the business should not tap this market. He does not have the sophistication or depth of knowledge necessary. It takes a long time to be able to talk about this stuff.”

Harriman comments that brokers and bankers selling life insurance probably don’t have the expertise to serve as such a consultant, either. “If you look at it from the perspective of the attorney or accountant, we are the dawn on a new day. We can help them go through these situations with clarity, direction and precision.”



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