Julian Wise has used acting skills to build successful insurance career

By Red Bolton | August 18 2008 01:34PM

Julian Wise, of Wise Advisory Group, is averse to cold calling and doesn’t consider himself a salesman, yet in his more than three-decade long career he has achieved twelve Court of the Million Dollar Round Table qualifications for production and three Top of the Table qualifications.

So what is it that he does that allows him to thrive in a world of competitive sales? Answer: stand out from the crowd.

“All the world’s a stage” is Mr. Wise’s philosophy. “Life is acting,” he says. For him, acting is not about being phony. It’s a legitimate skill and method of communicating with people. “If your job is to touch somebody’s heart to illicit emotions and feelings and trust in them so that they share stuff with you that they’ve never shared with anybody else, then whatever strategy that you can use that’s genuine and honest is a healthy way of getting them to share it.” Mr. Wise then takes that information and translates it into insurance products that “have purity and meet the intent properly and are of excellent value.”

Acting was actually his first career choice. He studied at the Banff School of Fine Arts and at the University of Toronto Theatre School. He also completed an undergraduate degree at Emerson College in Boston majoring in mass communication and propaganda analysis. “I was going to be a real big hit in the theatre world, then I looked around and I saw all these people making $12,000 per year and I figured I might as well continue and get an education first rather than dive straight off onto the boards.”

He vividly remembers the day he entered the insurance industry. It was February 1, 1976 when he drove through a blinding snowstorm to get to the London Life office in London, Ontario. The one year he spent with London Life proved a tremendous learning curve and provided the framework from which he built his career. The big lesson: work hard. “Way, way, way back I was really fortunate to learn that you couldn’t take holidays in your first year in the business,” he reflects, “that you had to work.”

There were also a few specific lessons Mr. Wise took from his initiation: always be learning new information and do it in your own time; hit the phones everyday, regardless of how much you hate it; set and achieve the number of appointments needed to reach your goal. Other advice he has for new players is to join and be active in associations and groups that you can learn from and grow with, such as Advocis, Conference for Advance Life Underwriting or simply a study group of like-minded people.

After a year with London Life, Mr. Wise became a managing general agent for North West Life in Ontario while also developing his own career as an advisor. For insurance brokers looking to go into management, he suggests they continue their practice on the side. “That’s the piece that will allow them the freedom of movement later on in life,” he says.

It was actually his position as managing general agent that allowed him to embrace an opportunity that followed much of his brokering career. In 1979 the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) decided to offer their doctors a particular insurance product. Initially it was going to be provided by a rival company, but negotiations fell through. Mr. Wise, in his position of managing general agent for North West Life (now Industrial Alliance Pacific), stepped up to the plate and delivered what they wanted. Several years later he was able to move the focus away from the specific product to receiving a general endorsement by the OMA for Mr. Wise and his firm. “Suddenly it moved from a product piece to a relationship piece,” he explains. “That’s what I wanted from day one, a steady flow of people.” He would do a mail out to the 10,000 or so doctors and would usually hear back from about 3% of them.

The doctors in the OMA were his main business up until about 5 years ago. It was then that Mr. Wise found himself tired from a grueling routine of appointments. He also felt he was not putting enough focus on the area he felt most comfortable: developing relationships. Inspired, he closed the door to his office for three months and developed an integrated estate and wealth management program. In 2007 he separated from his business partner of nearly two decades, Kevin Riddell, (Wise Riddell Financial Group), to form Wise Advisory Group. The new approach is to team up with other advisors of different skill sets. They sit down with a client for three or four hours then provide him or her with a complete financial overhaul.

For Mr. Wise, this new approach is all about using his communication skills to develop lasting and favourable relationships. “Isn’t our job to create experiences for clients?” he asks. Although his approach may not be for everyone, he encourages advisors to get their own winning act together. “What is it that you’re going to do to differentiate yourself from your competition and create an experience for the person that’s in front of you?”