Creating trust relationships with accountants helped advisor build thriving business

By Rosemary McCracken | March 19 2011 06:29PM

Today, at the age of 70, John Copeland stands at the pinnacle of his career. He’s president of a full-service Vancouver insurance business, Copeland Insurance Consultants Ltd., and a partner in the managing general agency, The Copeland Ledding Group. But his success is the result of the energy and perseverance with which he carved out his career in financial services, learning the basics of the insurance business, prospecting diligently for clients and forging bonds with other professionals.As a young married man in Winnipeg, Mr. Copeland bought a $25,000 enhanced life insurance policy from North American Life in 1965. When his sales job with Proctor and Gamble took him and his family to Vancouver, he got in touch with North American’s Vancouver branch manager, who took the opportunity of asking him to take an aptitude test for life insurance sales.
Mr. Copeland began working for North American in 1969, taking evening courses after days of cold calling. “I was new to Vancouver,” he said, “so every call I made back then was a cold call.” But that first year, he wrote more insurance applications than anyone in the entire company.
“I was learning good habits,” he said. “I tried to make 20 calls a day. I didn’t get through to everybody, but those I did get through to opened up new business for the company.”
He moved to Zurich Insurance in 1970 as field managing assistant and, two years later, was running to the company’s branches, in Vancouver and Victoria.
Rising to the challenge of building something completely new, he joined Toronto-based Abbey Life Insurance in 1975 when its president asked him to set up a branch in Vancouver. “But Abbey Life wasn’t ready for a branch system,” he said. “There wasn’t an infrastructure in place for training agents, and I was heading for a heart attack, training people and generating sales.”
Deciding to break out on his own, he set up Copeland Insurance Consultants in 1980 with his wife, Marilyn, as his partner, and started to build the company single-handedly the way he knew best – through sales. “Sales are my strength,” he said. “I love to sell, and prospecting has never been difficult for me. In the next six months, I made more money than I ever made in management.”
And in the next six years, he twice became a member of the Million Dollar Round Table’s Court of the Table, and a member of the Top of the Table in 1986. “I was generating a serious amount of business,” he said.
In 1986, the manager of Colonial Life’s Western Canada region asked Mr. Copeland to become an MGA for Colonial Life. “And I did, with Greg Ledding,” he said. “We became Copeland Ledding, and we’ve been together for 25 years.”
But the master of prospecting reached a point where he no longer needed to drum up sales. Looking back, Mr. Copeland attributes this to the ties he built with accountants and accounting firms, right from the time he incorporated Copeland Insurance Consultants. “Back then, an accountant approached me who didn’t understand the insurance policies her client held,” he said. “I reviewed the policies and gave her a report. We ended up doing more and more business together. She also referred her clients to me and I did the same for her. A junior accountant at her firm moved on to other firms, bringing me business along the way. He’s now a senior partner at a large Vancouver accounting firm, and we still do a lot of business together.”
Good working relationships with accountants can be instrumental in building ongoing relationships with clients, he noted. “If an accountant refers you to a client, that client knows you are trustworthy. Accountants’ corporate and professional clients are so completely focused on their own businesses that they rely completely on their accountants for corporate tax reviews and tax planning advice. I’m a specialist in insurance, so if one of their clients has an insurance need, my phone will ring. If that client decides to buy the product, I’m in the driver’s seat.”
“And that person will spread the word to family and friends. Pretty soon, you reach a point where cold calls are no longer necessary.”
Building ties with other professionals, such as lawyers who specialize in estate planning, can also help build a financial advisor’s business. “But there are only so many hours in a day,” Mr. Copeland said, “and I found it best to focus my attention on one group.”
It’s also important to keep as many people in the industry in your court by remembering past favours and doing good turns whenever possible. When he was new to the business, he said, a prominent Vancouver insurance executive was generous in providing advice. “One day, I was making a cold call at a firm in Richmond. I made my pitch to the president, and then I asked, ‘You’ve been in business awhile. Who’s been looking after your insurance needs?’ When he named my mentor, I said, ‘You’re dealing with the best in the business. You don’t need me.’”
Networking works
Networking with other professionals can also boost an advisor’s business, Mr. Copeland noted. In 1980s, he joined Vancouver’s Terminal City Club, a private club for the city’s business people and professionals, and became involved in its plans to build a new home for the club. “We ended up putting up a 30-storey tower, selling off condominiums and hotel units to finance the club,” he said. The new building opened in the heart of Vancouver’s financial district in 1990.
“Was it good for my business?” he asked. “You bet it was. I was working on a volunteer basis with other professionals who were also giving up their time. And I made a lot of good friends.”
With two of his four adult children now established in the insurance industry, Mr. Copeland said he’s frequently asked when he’s going to retire. “Hopefully, never,” he said. His partnership with Mr. Ledding allows him to spend six weeks every year in Australia where one of his daughters lives. While no longer looking to add volume to his business, he still takes on eight to 10 new clients every year, some of whom are referred by existing client, others by accountants. “I still look forward to going to work every morning.”