You might say that dispensing financial medical advice is in Liza Sullivan’s blood. You would definitely say that it runs in the family. Her father was also an IFA, so Sullivan had her first encounters with financial services during childhood, giving her a pretty solid grounding for the trade.
And she believes that, to a certain extent, she’s a natural in this sector: “I did take to financial planning well,” she laughs. “My sister always says that there is no way she could have done it, but I seem to have managed!”
To sell long term care (LTC) though, perhaps takes a bit more than foresight and a propensity for figures. According to Sullivan: “You really have to believe in LTC if you are ever going to be successful at selling it. You have to understand what people go through when they get older and start to become ill.”
Once again, her upbringing has had an influential role in how she has approached her occupation. Her mother was a nurse by profession, introducing Sullivan to the characteristics, values and traits of the medical sector. “We even had elderly people staying at the house sometimes,” explains Sullivan. “My mother used to look after people at home as well as at the nursing home, so I had a lot of contact with the whole area. It has definitely helped me understand the issues.”
She adds: “I’ve always said that, when you’re selling LTC, the most important thing is empathy. You can learn the figures and the policy details. But if you don’t have empathy, people are less likely to trust you.”
Empathy is not something Sullivan is lacking. During her teenage years and early 20s, she worked in a nursing home for six years, so her awareness and sympathy with the elderly is well founded. “I know everything that goes into caring for someone, from lifting them out of bed, to how they worry about money, to how the family feels. So I am in a good position to advise,” she says. “It’s very important to have such thorough knowledge.”
But Sullivan has also found that her in-depth insight into the nursing home system has given her an extra ability: “Being able to talk about facilities and treatments to the staff, really helps the relationship with the nursing home,” Sullivan explains. “It might just be that I can talk about a certain type of bath, but with so many people suspicious of financial advisers, showing them that you do know and understand what is involved, really helps.”
Before specialising in LTC, for which she established Windward Investments, Sullivan worked with her father’s financial advice firm. Completing the full training and gaining the necessary qualifications, she then moved on to start her own business: “I wanted to concentrate on just the one area, and LTC is such a large area, it requires a lot of commitment and a lot of extra knowledge.” Laughing, she adds: “To be honest, I am so busy now with the clients I have, I don’t have time to look at other areas in financial services.”
Since Sullivan first became involved in the LTC market, she has seen many changes, but still feels the market has a way to go. “Providers are starting to market better products and the fact that they are looking closer at features such as enhanced benefits and tax free benefits is really good. There is still a need for more improvements, but plenty have been made since I started out.”
Windward Investments was established at Sullivan’s home and she ran the business from a small office on the side of the house. Swift growth meant that the arrangement was not to last. “Basically, the business grew so much and I became far busier,” she says. “There was just not enough room, so I took an office near by,”
She adds: “It is much better having the office away from the house. When you work from home, you never stop working. I would always be working on a client’s applications or looking at policy details. It also got to the point when people would phone me at all times, even on Sundays. You have to relax sometimes, take time off. And having my office away from home makes that a lot easier.”
But if you ask Sullivan what she has been up to over the past couple of years, relaxation doesn’t seem to be a chief feature. In 1997, she was the chair at the Life Insurance Association (LIA). “I was quite nervous at first, but quickly got used to speaking in front of lots of people.” But she was still unprepared for the cancellation of the speaker for an event in November that year. And she was certainly not prepared to stand in as the substitute and speak about LTC for an hour. But with the support of friends, she did it. And not only did Sullivan capture the audience’s attention for the hour, she also received a standing ovation.
It was the beginning of a series of public appearances that Sullivan is still in the habit of making. Since then she has spoken at IFA Care meetings, where she was a member of the council, as well as being a main platform speaker at the LIA international annual convention at the Birmingham International Convention Centre. “I am also a LTC trainer which means that I run training sessions for providers such as PPP lifetime care and Scottish Widows,” Sullivan says. “So I tutor IFAs in selling LTC and teach them about all the extra knowledge you need to have.”
As if this wasn’t enough, Sullivan increased her workload further when she established the Care Fees Planning Group, the umbrella name for a group of IFAs specialising in LTC. The establishment of the group followed a flock of enquiries that Sullivan received as a result of her frequent communication with the press and the group now has 27 members. “I have plenty of leads that I cannot deal with,” she says. “But all too often it would be someone calling me from completely out of my area. If someone in Scotland wants advice on their LTC, I can’t really help as there is no way I can know enough about the nursing homes or facilities available. So I set up this group where I refer cases to IFAs in the right area.”
Helen Phillips, who directs leads towards an IFA local to the enquirer, manages the group. Sullivan continues: “I didn’t want to be a manager, I like being out and about and talking to my own clients. I don’t really want to direct other people – which is why I employed Helen.” “Every month, the group meets and we discuss issues and educate each other, and make sure we’re all aware of what’s going on.”
This focus on the wider context is invaluable to Sullivan. She feels that IFAs must be aware of the Community Care Act, other legislative details and the truth about the benefits the elderly are entitled to. Such knowledge, says Sullivan, is crucial factor to her success as an IFA.
“Knowing enough about legislation and entitlements gives you the conviction to sell LTC. Because you know that people really do need it.”
Sullivan recruited most of the members of the Care Fees Planning Groups while tutoring or speaking. She is adamant that she personally approves each member. “IFAs do call me because they want to join the group, but I don’t take people on in that way.”
Sullivan continues: “The most important thing is that I know the IFA the client is referred to will have all the necessary expertise and will give high quality advice. I make sure that all have passed the necessary exams and understand the market. But what I also look for is that empathy I talked about earlier. If they have that, if they really care about the client’s situation and understand it, they’ll be successful.”