• Jay Judas

Tier One Interview: Janice Forgays

In our latest Tier One interview, our CEO, Jay Judas, spoke with Janice A. Forgays, Esq., AEP®, CLU®, Estate and Wealth Management Counsel, PRW Wealth Management, LLC. The pair reminisce about their time at Sun Life together, speak about Janice's road to her current position, discuss split dollar arrangements and even touch on Jimmy Buffet. Read the interview in its entirety below.


JAY: Let me set the stage for our readers, Janice. You know more about life insurance and planning with financial products than anyone else I know. If someone disagrees with me, it must be because they don’t know you. Fortunately, I have known you for almost twenty years, going back to when you ran the Advanced Markets unit at Sun Life Financial and I was Sun Life’s Bermuda Country Head of Distribution. Those were the days and we’ll certainly talk about them! First, catch us up on what you’re doing today at PRW Wealth Management outside of Boston.


JANICE: Let me start by saying how much I have been looking forward to this interview. We have been friends for a long time, and I know how much work you put into these conversations. I’m sure this will feel just like any other chat we have!

My road to PRW Wealth Management in Quincy, Massachusetts is interesting and highlights how much we help each other in our industry. I had gotten to a point where I had achieved success in various roles within life insurance carriers and was considering new challenges. One of the people I hired for the Advanced Markets team at Sun Life had moved on to head the Advanced Markets team at Commonwealth Financial. She had been contacted by a recruiter about the role at PRW. Since we spoke on a regular basis, she mentioned it during one of our calls.


What intrigued me was that over my career I had worked with pretty much all of the producers then with National Financial Partners, but I had never heard of PRW. So, of course, I started my due diligence.


First, I called my longtime friend and colleague, James Joyce, now the Executive Vice President at Lion Street. When asked, his first statement was, “you are perfect for them!” I then reached out to Ed Wallack at Sapers and Wallack in nearby Newton, Massachusetts. I had worked with Ed extensively over the years. Interestingly, Ed’s first response to my questions was, “you are perfect for them!” Now even more intrigued, I decided to get in touch with PRW and from the very first interaction, I immediately knew this firm and its leaders were different and a step above. They lead with a deep caring for clients, an unparalleled work ethic, and the goal of creating “Raving Fans” of everyone who comes into contact with the firm.


My role is counsel to the firm. I work with both our life insurance and our investment teams to ensure that our clients get the most comprehensive and tailored planning possible. Beyond planning with life insurance, PRW has successfully tapped into my tax, retirement, and business planning expertise.


What really sets PRW apart is the fact that they made the investment in the firm and its clients by adding someone with my level of experience and expertise. I am not aware of any other firm of our size that has realized the importance of bringing this expertise to clients. It is truly a special place with special people.


JAY: Bill Payne, a co-founder of PRW, was incredibly lucky that someone with your background just happened to live nearby to his company and agreed to come onboard. Let’s go back and start at the beginning. Where did you grow up, go to school and start your career? I know I’m not making it easy for you to be modest but, when you think back, at what point do you feel you became an expert at advanced life insurance planning?


JANICE: We moved to Vermont when I was seven. My father was brought to the University of Vermont to build out several departments. Had we not moved; I am certain my career trajectory would have been very different. After graduating from the University of Vermont, I attended and graduated from the Vermont Law School where I am now in my second stint serving on the school’s board.


Susan Dey as Grace Van Owen

Back then, there was no question in my mind that I wanted to be a trial litigator. Those were the days of the TV show, LA Law, and like many of the few, young female law school graduates in the mid-80s, I wanted to be Susan Dey from the show. I wanted all of the drama of the trial environment. After practicing as a litigator in Burlington, Vermont for several years, I came to the realization that actual trial practice is nothing like what we watch on TV and is more boring than not.


I had a friend from law school who had worked for another Burlington firm after graduating and we would provide expert testimony on attorney’s fees in each other’s trials. She had since left private practice for an attorney position in Advanced Markets at National Life Group in Vermont. She contacted me about a position opening up in that department and I distinctly remember her telling me, “this job is not the best way to practice law, but it is a hell of a lot better and more fun than private practice.” Before I accepted the position, I attended a gathering of NLG’s top producers and had more fun with that group than I ever had in court.


Over my 14 years at National Life, I developed the skills and the reputation for expertise in the world of planning with financial products that I enjoy today. I spent almost all of my time in the field with producers, when I was not taking advantage of speaking opportunities throughout the country.


Because of the reputation I had built, when Sun Life decided to build out its Advanced Markets function, it tapped me to lead the effort. What has shaped me into a different sort of planning attorney is all of the experiences and knowledge I developed by working at these two carriers. Not only did I hone my planning skills, I gained product development and pricing experience, compliance expertise, and financial underwriting proficiency.


Had my family not moved to Vermont, I never would have had the opportunity to build my career within life insurance carriers. I frequently say that I took my first job in the industry as a lark and I remain prepared to go back to private practice at any point. After more than 30 years, I can safely say that I am here to stay!


JAY: You have made a number of positive contributions to our industry and a big one comes to mind. In 2003, you had a role in the development of the IRS’ Final Split Dollar Regulations which determined how split dollar life insurance plans would be taxed under the economic benefit and loan regimes. What part did you play and give me a sense of the impact of these rules on planning?


National Life Group HQ

JANICE: The folk lore at National Life Group is that it was one of its agents who created split dollar life insurance planning in the 1940s. National Life had long held a top reputation for expertise in split dollar life insurance planning. One of my many responsibilities at NLG was to run the split dollar life insurance program. I had the opportunity to work on hundreds of plans every year. Because of this, I was tapped to join a group charged with drafting testimony for the split dollar regulations of the early 2000s that still guide split dollar arrangements today. There is not a question in my mind that the testimony we developed had a substantial positive impact for the life insurance industry on the final regulations.


JAY: At least one skill set at which you excel, and which sets you apart from other life insurance technicians, is your ability to apply what you know with the end client. At PRW I understand you have championed a client discovery procedure that leads to highly effective customized planning. Can you talk about this process and what it means to the planning process?


JANICE: One thing that has been very apparent to me over the course of my career is that too many producers push the product and/or planning strategy “du jour” with little knowledge of who the client really is and what the client actually needs. This has led to the low policy retention rates the industry has traditionally experienced. In thinking about what we needed to best serve our clients, I tapped into my litigation days and the trial discovery process. Using that as a framework, I developed questions we use for every new client. I fondly call this approach, “seek and you will perceive.”


The questions are separated by topic and include questions about: self and family; professional; financial; retirement; leisure, community, travel, political, charitable, spiritual and hobbies; values and legacy; future, goals, opportunities, challenges, risks, and fears. You would be surprised at how much clients open up in response to these questions. We all believe at PRW that having this protocol has helped us to better serve our clients.


JAY: When we spoke a few weeks ago you commended me on the number of women I have included in these Tier One Interviews. I believe you said, “I’m surprised you found so many!” Usually, I might just ask to hear your thoughts on improving diversity but I know you have at least one example from earlier in your career of an awkward situation you endured as one of the few women in the industry. And, of course, what do you think can be done to attract more women to client-facing roles?


JANICE: I truly wish I could say that things have really changed for women in our industry, but I just don’t see it. I have experienced so many untenable situations, its hard to narrow down. I remember going to producer group meetings with other women from the carrier and being asked to come out at night and be “the party girls.”


More times than I can count, when I was the invited speaker, I was the only woman in the room. In fact, several times I was invited to speak at clubs which only allowed male members. As I walked through these places to the room of the presentation, you would have thought I was an invading alien. Male club members were apoplectic at seeing a woman in their hallowed halls. And there were no bathroom facilities for women, which made for even more uncomfortable moments!


I believe what has to happen in order to encourage more women to pursue client-facing roles in our industry is for the industry and individual firms to understand that men and women often have different sales styles. I am speaking in generalities, but women tend to be more personable but less “jokey.” They tend to take more time in getting to know the client. They are more likely to see the client holistically and are often more thoughtful in serving the client’s needs.


These traits are commonly seen as a waste of time and antithetical to the sales tracts that new agents are trained on. I have long advocated for more one-on-one mentoring for women by women in the industry. Many carriers pay lip service to this approach but few really take implementation seriously.


JAY: We had a lot of fun in our Sun Life Financial days together and you and I reminisce about that period all the time. We got to work with so many legends like Imants Saksons, Michele Van Leer and Bob Salipante. Why do you think we look back at that time with such fondness?


JANICE: Sun had done a remarkable job of hiring talent. We were all at the top of our games and seen as the best at what we did. The entire team at Sun was really smart, confident and competent. The synergies this created were exhilarating. We had the best of the best in product development, our underwriting was exceptional, and our sales team had penetrated all of the top producer groups. It was a very heady time!


JAY: You and your husband, Bill, are the ‘fun couple’ everyone wants to hang out with. High up on Pete and mine’s list of post-COVID activities is to come over to your house to eat your food and drink all your liquor. Put Bill in the spotlight for a few minutes and talk about him and interests you share.


JANICE: Best true story ever – about 20 years ago, I was volunteering at Sugarbush ski resort on the weekends. I was doing some free skiing on a double black diamond trail one afternoon and literally skied into Bill, not once, but twice, wiping him out both times. We had not met before but, under the guise of keeping your enemies close, we decided to ski together the rest of that day and have been together since!


Bill is a Worchester Polytech graduate, so when the Sun Life position came up, he was happy to come to the Boston area with me. With an engineer’s personality, he is the perfect yin to my yang. We share so many passions. One is collecting wine and we have a pretty extensive cellar; though, like so many, the pandemic has put a bit of a dent in the collection! We also share a passion for sail boat racing and we have raced together all over the world. Bill has really honed his craft cocktail skills and this has certainly made us popular in our neighborhood!


JAY: It is no secret you are a world traveler and prone to spending as much time as you can in warm climates, so I know you have plenty to say to my restaurant question. In thinking about a non-steakhouse restaurant and a non-steak dish, tell me where I need to go and what I need to eat for both a business meal and a date night.


Le Select in St. Barts

JANICE: Because fine dinning restaurants come and go, I thought it might be fun to focus on two of my favorite things: Best cheeseburgers and best drinks.


For cheeseburgers, I cannot get enough of the cheeseburgers at Le Select in St Barts. This is where Jimmy Buffet wrote his iconic song, Cheeseburger in Paradise. The burgers have stayed pretty much the same and just as good over the past 30 years.


I also will make special trips to Newport, Rhode Island for the Chanler burger at the Chanler at Cliff Walk.


For drinks, the espresso martini at Teatro in downtown Boston is the best I have ever had. And back to Newport for the Monkey 47 gin martini with herb infused olives at Fluke Restaurant. It is a real treat!


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.