Tier One Interview: Celeste Moya
In our latest Tier One interview, our CEO, Jay Judas, spoke to Celeste Moya, Partner at C3 Financial Partners. Their wide ranging chat touches on a host of topics, including the foreign national market, diversity in the life insurance industry, CrossFit and bulldogs! Read the interview in full below.
Jay: I’ve been looking forward to this interview for a while as I’ve known you for around seven years and continue to learn really cool things about you all the time. First, tell me about C3 Financial Partners and your role with the firm.
Celeste: Jay, I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to be part of your Tier One interviews. It has been a pleasure to get to know you over the years as well.
At C3 I am an insurance advisor, or as most refer to it, a producer. I joined the firm just about two years ago and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
C3 is a life insurance-based firm that focuses on estate, business and philanthropic planning for high-net worth families and business owners. We also work with foreign national clients in all these areas of planning. I have a specialty in Latin America because I was raised speaking Spanish and am also a certified Spanish translator. However, as a firm, we have the capabilities and expertise to work with clients from around the world.
The name C3 is centered around our mantra of providing our clients and advisors, clarity, confidence and coordination. In our experience, clients do not continue their planning for these three reasons: 1.) they do not have clarity in their goals and objectives 2.) they don’t have confidence in the planning they have done or been advised to do, and, in some cases, they don’t have confidence in their advisors and 3.) a lot of people think of their planning as an event. They say, “I’ve done my Wills, I’ve done my Family Limited Partnership, or I’ve done my Charitable Remainder Trust.” However, we know that things change. Their financial situation changes, their personal situation changes, and, we certainly know that tax laws change. With all of that in mind, we emphasize the fact that planning is not an event, but a process. And, as a process, it needs to be coordinated among all the key advisors of the client. That doesn’t mean that we need to be the ones that are doing the coordination. We just want to make sure that the attorney, the accountant, the financial advisor, any other advisors, and we are all communicating and coordinating the process.
Todd, our managing partner, is highly respected in the industry and has over 40 years of experience. Carolyn, our senior partner, comes from a CPA background and has now been with the firm for over 10 years. I have been with the firm 2 years but have over 15 years of experience in the insurance industry.
We also have a phenomenal team with a depth of knowledge in case design, underwriting and policy service, and who combined have over 130 years of experience.
Jay: Your partners, Todd Healy and Carolyn Smith, are two of the most friendly people I’ve come across…..and I don’t just mean in the life insurance industry. It seems like you fit right in and I’m curious to know about how the three of you collaborate.
Celeste: I have known Todd, Carolyn and most of the team for over a decade. They were my clients in my past roles with corporate organizations, including NFP, Pacific Life and John Hancock.
When I decided to step away from corporate America and move into a producer role, I quickly discovered there was not a better firm for me to join. Todd has an incredible reputation in all the markets he has operated in and both Todd and Carolyn have vast knowledge in many areas beyond just life insurance. They are also some of the most kind, caring and sincere individuals I have ever met. Having them as my mentors and business partners is truly an honor.
Collaboration is a key part of our business model. On most of our cases, Todd, Carolyn and I work together. There are at least two of us present in the majority of our client and advisor meetings, and behind the scenes we always work together to find optimal solutions for our client’s objectives and needs. We each bring a unique skill set and can provide our clients superior advisory services when we combine our “brain power.”
I think we work so well together because there are no big egos on our team. No one is trying to outshine the other. In fact, I think we enhance each other and provide our clients and advisor partners a sense of confidence in our firm when we collaborate. They know that it isn’t just Celeste that is advising on a solution; they have an entire team of very experienced individuals that through thorough due diligence and research are helping them protect some of their most treasured assets.
Jay: You’re our second Baylor alumni in a row but where our February interviewee, James Joyce, pursued a Financial Services and Planning degree, you earned a degree in Neuroscience. Talk about how you ended up in the life insurance industry and what led you to eventually becoming a producer.
Celeste: That is always a fun story to tell. When I was a little girl, I never thought I would grow up to be an insurance agent and to have a sincere passion for insurance. But life takes so many funny turns, and before I knew it I found myself amidst an industry that is superficially boring to most, I will admit, but that underneath the layers is complex, exciting, challenging, rewarding and that offers so much more than just insurance.
When I was at Baylor, I took several neuropharmacology classes that I really enjoyed. When I graduated, I decided I would try to get a pharmaceutical sales position. I interviewed with multiple pharmaceutical companies and I kept hearing ''you need sales experience,” so I decided to get this so-called experience wherever I could find it. Farmers Insurance happened to be hiring new agents and I thought it would be a great place to start and then go back and pursue the pharmaceutical sales position.
With Farmers I primarily focused on home and auto insurance but also sold life insurance. Fast forward several months and now I am starting to get the hang of being an agent. At that time, I met with a young a couple who had recently been relocated to Austin for work and had a baby that was only a few months old. They were just looking to get some home and auto coverage. Being the savvy agent I was becoming, I also pitched life insurance and sold them on the home and auto savings it provided. Since they had an infant, they both agreed life insurance was a good idea and purchased a policy on each of them.
About six months later, I get a call that the wife has passed away in a motor vehicle accident and the husband needs to make a claim on his wife's life insurance policy. Here I am, less than a year into my insurance career, and I now have to deliver a death claim check.
When I met with the husband to deliver the check, I was incredibly nervous and wasn’t sure what to expect. However, he could have not been more grateful. He thanked me repeatedly for convincing them to get the insurance and expressed how immensely helpful that money was going to be during such a difficult time. I really did not feel like I deserved his gratitude, but at that moment and for the first time ever, I really understood the importance of life insurance. As cliché as it may sound, it really changes lives. I realized I could be so much more than just another insurance agent. I could help change the direction of people’s lives. This "temporary sales job'' took on a whole new meaning. It could be a meaningful and rewarding career.
Lots has changed since then, but my passion for insurance has only matured and my respect for this industry has deepened. I truly believe that I did not choose insurance. Insurance chose me, and I am very grateful it did. Needless to say, I never went back to interview with the pharmaceutical companies.
At that time, I decided I wanted to focus more on life insurance and left Farmers Insurance. I didn’t go directly back into sales and took an unconventional path through various corporate positions. However, in each of these roles I gained an invaluable amount of life insurance knowledge. I see them as crucial stepping-stones that have helped me be where I am today.
After my daughter was born, I wanted to have the flexibility to provide a great life for her, but also be there to enjoy that life with her. I also always knew I wanted to go back into sales, it just had to be the right time. While I was exploring some options, Todd, Carolyn and I spoke, and I decided to join the C3 family as a producer.
Jay: We first met in-person when I came to Austin to do some foreign life insurance distribution training for you and a group of others at NFP. It was an 8am meeting and I arrived early to find you already there, having finished a lengthy workout out at a local gym. I thought, “Celeste is a crazy, early-morning workout person, too” and I also recognized you are a hard-worker who clearly absorbed a lot of information that day. Fast forward to today and you have a growing foreign national and U.S.-nexus practice. Why did you make that a focus and what are some of the different nuances of working with non-U.S. clients?
Celesete: Yes, I do love working out in the morning! I am glad I am not the only crazy person. Working out in the AM is my coffee and gets my day off to a positive start.
The foreign national market is very underserved, and yet, they have a big need for life insurance planning. Unfortunately, most foreign national clients that we speak to and even some of their advisors are not aware of the various estate and business issues they can face if proper planning does not take place for their U.S. assets. They are also not aware of how valuable life insurance can be in their overall financial plan.
The foundation of the problem is that there is a serious lack of education for clients and advisors on foreign national planning. I had the opportunity in one of my past corporate positions to gain in-depth knowledge on this sector of the market and really understand the correct way of approaching it. Therefore, based on the need and my knowledge, I saw this as an opportunity to diversify our firm while also providing our foreign national clients and their advisors with crucial planning information.
There are a lot of nuances when working with foreign national clients. Many have limited nexus to the U.S.; therefore, it is important that we do our due diligence and really understand the client’s global financial profile and need for the coverage before engaging the insurance companies. Our firm is responsible for ensuring the client is a qualified candidate, with a clear need for the coverage, and that we can advocate on their behalf with the U.S. insurance companies by being prepared with all the pertinent information. There are only a small amount of U.S. based life insurance companies that are really competitive for foreign national clients; we have to stay-up-to-date with their guidelines, requirements and overall competitiveness so that we can find optimal solutions for each of our clients unique needs.
Additionally, since medical records can be limited in other countries or hard to obtain, their U.S. insurance exam is a crucial part of the underwriting process. Beyond just coordinating their exam, our underwriters pay meticulous attention to preparing the client for the exam.
Lastly, most of these clients are only in the U.S. a few times a year, and since all conversations and planning around U.S. life insurance must be done in the U.S., when we meet with the client we need to be prepared to take care of as much as possible at each meeting. This allows us to keep the process moving and be ready to address the next steps during their future U.S. visits. Otherwise, there could be unnecessary delays and a very lengthy underwriting and application process.
These are some of the key things to consider when planning for foreign national clients, but there are a lot of other unique aspects to this process. Working with insurance advisors that really understand the market and the life insurance process for foreign nationals will streamline the client experience and help ensure they are being advised properly.
Jay: This is a bit of a serious topic and I know you think about it all the time. Our industry is an aging one and while we may be addressing this to a degree, we have a surprisingly low number of women and minorities in producer roles, especially in the high-end of the market where you and C3 Financial Partners work. First, did that give you either pause or motivation when becoming a producer and then what do you think the industry can do to impact our lack of diversity?
Celeste: It definitely gave me motivation to become a producer. After being in the industry for many years, it was clear that there is serious lack of women and minority producers. And yet, our clients are diverse, and many like to work with people they can relate to, whether that be from a gender or cultural perspective.
I saw this is an amazing opportunity to make a difference in the industry. I am not your typical life insurance agent. I am a woman, I am a minority and I am a millennial, all things that are generally uncommon among producers in the current state of our industry. But I do not see any of these as a limiting factor. I think I am uniquely positioned to reach a much larger market, and help more clients understand the value of life insurance.
Attracting more women and minorities is a major feat. It is going to require that the entire industry come together - insurance carriers, industry organizations, producer groups and large brokerages - and invest in the recruitment and growth of women, minorities and younger producers. The majority of our producers are near or at retirement ages. If there is not a serious and significant financial commitment from the industry, everyone will be impacted. There will be a shortage of producers which means a shortage of revenue, and ultimately a potential shrinkage of our business. It is in everyone’s best interest to find way to come together and develop solutions to attract and retain these individuals.
I do not think it is a one size fits all plan. There may need to be more financial support at the front of end of some one’s career. There definitely needs to be better centralized training that prepares folks to enter the industry and eventually grooms them to join the high-end boutique life insurance firms. It may also take being more open minded as far as where these individuals are being recruited from. Just because someone has life insurance experience does not mean that they are qualified to work with high-net worth clients and their advisors.
I know that is a pretty broad answer, but it going to be a process that needs to start today and needs the commitment of the entire industry.
I also think in general we need to be more supportive of each other. There is enough business for everyone, and the more we help each other, the more awareness there will be around our industry and the valuable solutions we provide. When someone reaches out to me to ask for guidance, advice or ideas, I always make the time to talk to them. Too many times I have reached out to other advisors and unfortunately been ignored. But I have also met some incredible people who have taken the time to mentor me and to which I attribute a lot of my success. Therefore, I want anyone that reaches out to me to know that if they are committed to our industry, I truly want them to be successful and am happy to help however and as much as I can. I think this is particularly important for the women, minority and younger producers who are looking to enter our industry.
Jay: You do two things I know I should eventually do—go to CrossFit and own at least one English Bulldog. I feel if we got a bulldog, my husband would love it more than me. Am I being paranoid? Seriously, how did you find your way into entering the CrossFit culture and inviting incredibly adorable bulldogs into your home?
Celeste: That is hilarious! Yes, English Bulldogs are incredibly lovable. I do not think your husband will love a bulldog more than you, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself competing for hugs with the dog. Don’t hold it against your husband, they are just so irresistible.
I had always grown up with pets, and when my husband and I purchased our first home I was ready to have one again. I wanted a little dog and he wanted a really big dog, so we compromised and upon researching breeds we agreed on an English Bulldog. That is when we got our first English Bulldog, Tank, who definitely lives up to his name because he is quite stocky. He was so lovable and sweet, that it made us want another. Our second English Bulldog is a rescue who we adopted at 6 months old; his name is Archie. Not only are they an adorable breed, they are very sweet and make great snuggle buddies.
Regarding CrossFit, my husband has been doing CrossFit for several years and he had invited me to attend many times, but I was fearful based on what I thought I knew about CrossFit. I was intimidated by the thought of being surrounded by really strong people, throwing around heavy weights, and doing some insane gymnastic movements. After my daughter was born, I wanted to do something different, so I sheepishly decided to try out a class. I was blown away by how kind and helpful everyone was, not just the coaches. There were scaled workout options for every person’s fitness level, and no one was forcing me to do things that made me uncomfortable. I could go at my own pace and progress when I was ready.
Two years later, I am a CrossFit fanatic. I tell people “I drink the juice, buy the shoes, wear the clothes.” But for me CrossFit is far more than just a workout. With every class comes a new challenge, and when I can do something I was unable to achieve before (ex: pull-ups), as ridiculous as it may sound to some, it makes me feel invincible. And that feeling extends into my professional life, allowing me to push through any obstacles I may face. Additionally, it is a key part of not just my physical health, but also my emotional and mental health.
CrossFit also provides an incredible community in which we have been able to forge some amazing friendships. And it is also something that my husband and I share a passion for and can do together. With such busy and fast paced lives, it is nice to have something that brings us together.
Jay: This interview did not disappoint and we’re finally to my restaurant question. You just relocated from Austin to Dallas and they both have such great spots. Without mentioning steak or a steakhouse, give me your best recommendation and what I should have to eat.
Celeste: You are right, there are so many great restaurants in both towns and some incredible food options. But honestly, one of my favorite things to eat is just a good ole hamburger. There is a hamburger place that originated in Austin named Hop Doddy. I am lucky they have also expanded into Dallas. They only use fresh ingredients from local sources. All their hamburgers are great, you really can’t go wrong with any of them. My go-to’s are the Llano Poblano hamburger and the green chile queso fries. They also have delicious margaritas with local organic ingredients. I recommend the Doble Fina margarita. Go do some CrossFit then go to Hop Doddy. It will be a hearty meal, but it will be delicious!
Read our companion Tier One blog by clicking here.
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.