Tier One Interview: Alex Gramatic and Zach Taylor
This month is a two-for-one special as our CEO, Jay Judas, sits down Alex Grammatic and Zach Taylor, the founders of Blue Herring, a life insurance brokerage based in New Hampshire that serves affluent families and businesses throughout the country. The trio discuss Blue Herring's unique approach to the life insurance industry, the generational shift that is occurring within the industry, working with family offices and fishing!
JAY: In the past, I have interviewed producers, brokers and general agents and their approach to interacting with clients has been similar. This is not the case with Blue Herring which, in my opinion, is at the forefront of a generational shift in the life insurance industry. The way of attracting clients and their advisors as well as how to communicate with them is changing as a younger demographic moves into these roles.
Let’s start with learning more about Blue Herring. Why was it formed and how are you serving clients differently?
ALEX: Thanks, Jay, for having us! We appreciate the opportunity. We formed Blue Herring as a niche brokerage that serves advisors to the high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clientele. Blue Herring comes in as an expert in complex life insurance for estate and business planning while using technology to be efficient with clients’ time, make recommendations backed by objective data, and simplifying the complex life insurance strategies to ensure non-industry folks understand the ‘whys’ of their insurance purchase.
ZACH: Thanks again, Jay, for selecting us to be a part of the Tier One Interview Series! I guess, to cut to the short of it, we saw an opportunity to create a better experience for people seeking life insurance. There are a lot of talented insurance advisors out there that have had a big impact on people’s lives in the space but overall, the experience hasn’t changed much for the end user in the past couple of decades. And, unfortunately, there is still an alarming amount of life insurance that is mostly sold to clients with the primary objective of big commissions verses a client’s best interest. What originally started as an interesting opportunity to show people a better way, has turned into an obsession for us.
JAY: What I found interesting is that you both have career agency backgrounds and came to the realization that there had to be a better way. I know that Zach didn’t even start out in our industry. Tell me about your upbringing and your paths to the life insurance industry.
ZACH: That’s right Jay. I kind of came out of left field and fell into the industry later in life. After graduating from college, I spent some time down in New Zealand and Australia chasing surf and exploring. Student loan bills started caching up with me, so I came home and ended up taking a job with a marine construction company as an interim plan while looking my first big career position. I ended up excelling and moving up the ranks for this company as it rapidly grew. I ended up as the Director of Ops, helping run the company.
Around 2015, I was beginning to start a family and looking for a change. I made the jump into financial services. Although I was rapidly learning and growing my practice, I had developed a bad taste in mouth about how this career agency approached helping people. It could be summed as a big commissions sales machine thinly veiled as “helping protect people”. Though, two pivotal experiences came out of this. First, I saw exactly how I didn’t want to “help” people and developed a passion to find a better way and, second, I met Alex who shared a similar philosophy, and this led us to building Blue Herring.
ALEX: I started at 23 years old in the life insurance industry in a career agency system. I learned the ins and outs of insurance planning and how to sell directly to clients. I credit one specific individual that helped mold my ethical and moral compass as it relates to the industry. Looking for career growth opportunities, I had short stints with a couple more general agency systems for big mutual insurance companies. At my second stop, I came to the realization that I wanted to own and run my own independent firm and began looking for someone to launch this venture with. I met Zach when I was at the same general agency and his moral compass, drive for independence, and complementary skills to mine gave me confidence to launch Blue Herring with him.
JAY: A key differentiator for Blue Herring is the investment you have made in technology. In layman’s terms, when a lot of firms tout a digital interaction or experience, it is very limited in application. You are an industry leader in this area, and I want to hear more about this as well as the thinking that led you to make the investment. What occurs to me is how valuable this is in the high-net-worth space. The family offices, wealth managers and attorneys who handle much of the life insurance transaction for wealthy clients do not necessarily want unnecessary human interaction.
ALEX: I will start with the initial push to incorporate technology into what we do. This started out of necessity due to our clientele residing all over the country and with limited time, we needed to make it easy for clients no matter where they were to complete underwriting, complete and sign documents using automation, obtain status updates, and view and decide on final options. This has since grown to also incorporate an advisor portal that gives the family office, wealth manager, and others full visibility into the insurance process including a real-time one-of-a-kind insurance policy ranking system based on the priorities of the advisor. This is incredibly valuable to our partner advisors as face time with their high-net-worth clientele is limited. Our current and future technology is designed with the advisor in mind to bring value to their practice and streamline communication, while providing the white glove service they are accustomed to.
JAY: I want to stay on this topic and focus on the generational shift in the life insurance industry. Are golf outings, steakhouse dinners and trips to Las Vegas still the way to build relationships with younger centers of influence? I’m not exactly a young person and these all sound horrific to me. How else do you make Blue Herring visible to key decision makers?
ZACH: We agree whole heartedly Jay. That’s actually why we set out originally to build a direct-to-consumer model utilizing digital marketing. We wanted to see if it was possible in the business owner and high-net-worth market to build a highly successful brokerage without the traditional elbow rubbing. We cracked the code with our marketing strategy as a young start up and were able to have new conversations with successful business owners every day that were deep into the buyer’s journey. However, we were finding it hard to break through the existing financial advisor and insurance broker relationships.
We made the call to shift our model to B2B by partnering with the right centers of influence, particularly top tier wealth managers and family offices that aligned with us philosophically. I think that is the key here. People are expecting better out of the advisors they surround themselves with and the trend toward transparency and doing the right thing for consumers continues to accelerate. Nextgen advisors are either embracing this or are being forced to appear to embrace this.
Our best partners have been the one’s proactively embracing the sea change and they tend to be more open to hearing and learning about new opportunities to become deeper value ads to their clients. For us, this meant first finding the right type of advisor, and then working to form connections, get face time – either in person or digitally - bring value, deepen the relationship, and then leverage the deep relationship to find more like-minded advisors. Listen, I like to golf and certainly enjoy a good steak dinner, but the center of influence partnerships we are forming do not come with them as a requisite.
JAY: In doing my background research on Blue Herring, I discovered that not only are you called upon by a lot of family offices for your expertise but your relationships at these offices are raving fans. If I had been doing a reference check on the two of you, you would come highly recommended! What are your keys to success when it comes to working with family offices?
ALEX: Our family offices love that we are taking a new and fresh approach to the high-net-worth plus space when it comes to life insurance design and implementation. We have designed our underwriting process, technology, and recommendation strategy using real feedback from wealth advisors at family offices. We take what traditionally has been painful about what they are used to and solved those pain points.
ZACH: Alex pretty much said it here. The only thing I would add is that we felt it was important to find a way to modernize the client and advisor experience through thoughtfully utilized technology married with a white glove insurance advisor and service approach. Striking the right balance has allowed us to accelerate in the family office space.
JAY: When we recently spoke, Zach had awakened at 4am and completed a three-hour bike ride and Alex was about to head out on his boat to do some fishing. It sounds like you both keep busy in the few hours spent each week outside of Blue Herring. Fill us in on your families and your non-life insurance pursuits.
ZACH: My wife, Rachel, and my two little girls are my life. Balancing what it takes to build an enterprise like Blue Herring and being the best I can be for them is one of the hardest things I do every day. But when you are in it, I guess you just make it work. I’m lucky to have Rachel who is A-Team and incredibly supportive, including when it comes to letting me take time to pursue my personal hobbies such as surfing, skiing, and multi-sport racing. She’ll tell you that I can’t sit still so she finds it more productive to let me get my energy out training for triathlons than to drive her nuts at home!
Both of my daughters are little fishes, so we spend most of our time in or near the water whether that is the pool, beach or the lake when the weather is warm. During the winter we spend a lot of time in the mountains skiing. We are very fortunate here on the Seacoast in New Hampshire to have access to both the mountains and the beach.
ALEX: When not thinking about our business and coming up with mostly crazy ideas, I spend my time on the open ocean or at home with my kids and wife. At home, I fully credit my wife with planning our fun family activities which include hiking, playing made up games, watching live shows, and day trips to various outside attractions. And yes, I am an avid offshore fisherman. I love trying new things to catch fish I haven’t before and am a local legend by doing some crazy things….like catching giant bluefin tuna using a handline! The unknown of the ocean is what drives me to go time and time again.
JAY: If I had to choose between doing a triathlon with Zach or fishing for bluefin tuna with Alex, you’ll find me out on the boat! It has been wonderful to speak with both of you. It is time for the restaurant question and where our SEO tracking tells us that many readers scroll to right away! Without naming a steakhouse or a steak dish, tell me where I absolutely have to go to eat and what I should order.
ALEX: Shalimar India in Portsmouth, NH. You need to try their tikka masala, it is absolutely to die for.
ZACH: Saved the tough question for last I see. This one is a bit obscure as it is not a main dish, but I would recommend stopping by the Anju if you are ever in Kittery Foreside and grabbing a pork bun. Actually, you might as well order two out of the gates to save the hassle. After the first, you’re going to want more.
Since its inception, Life Insurance Strategies Group has solely focused on the individual high net worth life insurance market. We do not sell products. This allows us to offer unbiased, pragmatic advice. Visit us at www.lifeinsurancestrategiesgroup.com.