Tier One Interview: Julie Pinkerton
This month, our CEO, Jay Judas, sits down with Julie Pinkerton, CLU®, ChFC®, LUTCF®, CEO, EVOZEN. The pair talk about Julie's journey through the life insurance business, her exciting new venture and how it can help the industry, photography and the Hallmark Channel. Read the interview in full below:
JAY: Julie, you are one of those rare individuals who I never bother to ask someone in our industry if they know you – I just assume they do. You have an incredible reputation as being a hard worker, calm and friendly and highly ethical. This month, I wanted to sit down with you because after a long career working for life insurance companies, you have launched your own venture, a company called Evozen. In fact, I don’t think I’m off by calling Evozen a technology company.
While I have started a few companies that have leveraged technology, I’ve never taken quite the jump you have to create a business which uses technology to improve connections in our industry. What is Evozen, how did it come to be and where is it headed?
JULIE: Jay, thank you for the kind words - they mean so much to me. Evozen emanated out of a long tradition that I have had since starting in the industry in 1986. In lieu of New Year's resolutions, I always had a Plan B as to what I would want to do if I was no longer content in the professional role I had at the time, which initially was my own insurance practice. Each January, I would pull out the plan and update it as time passed, new roles emerged and my knowledge increased. In 2017, I had just pulled out the plan on January 10th and updated it to reflect my interests in unifying the financial services industry - creating a bridge between RIA firms and traditional insurance producers, tax and legal professionals and all the other advisors that impact the flow of money.
Additionally, I felt that the industry had talked about championing women and minorities for over a decade, but that the needle had not moved. You know when you get the thought that "somebody ought to do something about that" and then you realize that perhaps you might be the "somebody", well, that all went into that 2017 update.
On January 20th, I received word that the entire team I was leading was included in a large corporate layoff. Once I knew that my teammates were okay, I unfurled Plan B and voila, Evozen LLC and the ClientFirst technology platform was born. My vision is big, but it is tackling a big problem. The good news is that the answer is far simpler than people imagine.
JAY: I’ll admit to being in awe of what you have accomplished in starting Evozen and I have a few more questions about it. First, I want to hear about your upbringing in Texas, how you entered the life insurance industry and the path you took leading up to Evozen.
JULIE: I am a native Texan to the core, although living outside of Nashville TN for the past decade has been an absolute blessing. I grew up in Arlington TX and have worked since I was 9 years old. Ironically, I was quite good at caring for newborn babies, even though my husband and I never had children. I found I could charge a premium to babysit as a result, which taught me to find the most profitable niche in any career. I even asked a court to give me a hardship driver's license so that I could start formally working at age 15 and drive myself to my job. Before college, I worked for a solo law firm.
My parents were wonderful and encouraged me to aim for the top position in any career, for instance, to become a lawyer instead of the traditionally feminine role of paralegal. I chose
to attend Baylor University in Waco TX and majored in Business/Marketing. There, I not only found my Theta sorority sisters for a lifetime, but also, poolside in my adorable striped bikini, my husband, David. We both knew on our first date that we would get married and just celebrated 35 years in May with a vow renewal ceremony in Sedona NM. I had planned to go on to law school; but, at graduation, my Mom brought me back to reality when she told me that I would have to pay my education above a Bachelors degree. David was still in law school, so I sought a position with a Waco-based insurance carrier.
I was proud to say that I was actually using my newly conferred degree. The carrier was small enough that I learned a bit about every aspect - marketing, financial, operations and field training - before David's impending graduation. He earned an excellent position with a McKinney TX law firm, so I went back to Baylor's Career Placement Office and found MetLife's training program for MBAs. The interview went well until the man asked me when I was receiving a MBA. I told him I had no plans for such, and I think that sealed the deal. Out of the 50 or so people who went through Met's training, there are only 2 of us remaining in the industry.
Eventually, I went independent through Transamerica, where I also concurrently started in brokerage. I believe that was one of the best lessons in my career as I learned to truly understand the perspectives of all parties. Later, AIG recruited me, then Pacific Life beautifully rounded out my corporate employee experience for almost 20 years. I have never looked back on the detour in my law school plans. The knowledge gained and relationships formed from each of these roles truly prepared me for creating Evozen and I am most grateful for the experience.
JAY: A major challenge the life insurance industry faces is with succession planning. Either producers do not have a succession plan in place or, if they do, they don’t seem to want to abide by it. Bob Carter, the CEO of Lion Street, once asked me and four others around a table to name five producers who had retired by not dying. We couldn’t come up with five names collectively! You have some thoughts about succession and a solution, and I’d love to hear both.
JULIE: I have been writing fairly extensively now with US News & World Report regarding succession planning because it is literally the most important plan a financial advisor and an insurance producer can create in their lifetime. Ironically, a May 2021 study by the Investment Planning Council showed that almost 90% of advisors do not have a fully completed plan. The results of lacking such can be absolutely devastating. Most advisors are challenged to create a successor within their firm and few have a realistic idea of their firm's valuation for a buyer outside the firm. ClientFirst is designed to address these barriers by facilitating the activity that drives firm value significantly higher immediately in the first tier. As we launch each ClientFirst tier, we will be introducing proprietary services that will continue to really help an advisor stand apart and differentiate themselves. Everything that we have created gives an advisor the flexibility to make the best succession decision at the right time.
Even more importantly, we have powered our platform with behavioral analytics. We partnered with DNA Behavior in Atlanta GA to integrate their 20-year expertise in financial communication styles. I felt so strongly about their work that I put their analysis in the very first tier of the ClientFirst platform, so that the advisor/producer can learn more about themselves and how they communicate to their clients and teams. If one subscribes to the ClientFirst Tier 1, they will immediately get their money's worth just in this feature alone. For a maturing advisor that is looking to craft a succession plan, this analysis may literally make or break their success in doing so.
JAY: Although we usually have a question about diversity and the life insurance industry, I didn’t have to craft one for you because you often express the importance of diversity and inclusion and are actually doing something about it with Evozen. Talk about why diversity is critical for any industry and the actions you’re taking.
JULIE: My brother and I were raised in the 60's, a time when Martin Luther King Jr. had so eloquently stated that, "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." During this decade, my mother attended college at the height of the feminism movement. She became a professional high school educator and I saw firsthand the profound personal impact that she made on so many lives, which continues to this day even though she has been retired for many years. David and I have been fortunate to have traveled the world and learned that no matter the color of your skin or your religion or your sexual preference, we have so much in common simply by being human - we want to have dignity in our lives, our children/loved ones to be happy and a safe place to call home.
Then, I went to work. It was hard to believe that there were so few women and even fewer people of color, much less LGBTQ+ advisors in our industry. Much like babysitting infants, I soon realized that advanced life planning was where the industry rewarded people more generously, but also where even fewer women were to be found. But, while DEI has become negatively associated with "pale, male and stale", I was also raised in Texas where "we dance with those who brung us." I have been truly blessed to have met excellent men that have given me letters of recommendation, hired me, mentored me, coached me, partnered with me and walked with me on my professional journey. I certainly had an amazing father, an aeronautical engineer that taught me how to draw and read a blueprint to build enduring structures that could fly, but then could paint oil portraits with the deft touch of an artist. I have been blessed with a spouse that partners with me in every sense of the word.
True diversity means that we all share the pie, not eliminate any one from the table. So, I went to work on ClientFirst to integrate DEI into the financial community in a way that would honor this perspective of diversity. In my initial research, I realized that existing advisors are fighting over the same 15% of the market - the high net worth Caucasian male. The statistics on how much wealth is controlled by women is staggering, yet too few advisors want to work with women. Even wholesalers, both men and women, shy away from calling on women advisors.
The statistics for minority groups drop precipitously from women's figures. I have first-hand met a 32 year old successful entrepreneur that had already amassed a $2.2 million net worth, had a 6-figure income and was actively searching for an advisor as he had come into an expected cash inheritance. Firms typically fight hard for a new client with this profile. Yet, he had been essentially turned down by three firms as he was both black and gay. Is it more worthwhile for an advisor to duke it out for the 15% of the HNW with three other firms, or to create a niche that captures the wealth needs of the other 85%? The latter, when enacted in a fully diverse community, is a very logical choice.
To find diverse advisors, we have to elevate their profiles. While their numbers are certainly smaller, they are often hidden in plain sight. Many have felt the sting of discrimination in the larger firms that predominate both the financial advisory and insurance planning universes. These women, POC and LGBTQ advisors have learned grit in these prior encounters and have soldiered on to find success in their own boutique firms. However, the industry continues to consolidate into larger groups to achieve scale, which leaves these firms limited in their scope and adrift in new resources. ClientFirst recognizes how to bridge the needs of the few while achieving scale for all.
JAY: I can’t let this topic go just yet because you have personal stories about discrimination you faced as a woman in our industry. When you shared them with me, it really blew my mind because the events weren’t that long ago. While conditions have improved to a degree, there are still inequalities in the way women, people of color and LGBTQ people are treated in our industry. Do you mind re-sharing one or two of the stories for our readers?
JULIE: I have had my fair share of experiences, including the deli owner who told one of my teammates that "it wasn't right for a man to report to a woman." The businessman was pretty much my age and this was only 5 years ago. That one stung a slight bit in the moment, but there was also some important levity in the way my teammate stood up for me and with me to him that allowed us all to walk away on a good note.
However, the encounter that still stands head and shoulders above the crowd was in the 1990's and involved "Richard", a 70+ year old insurance producer. I had taken on the task of becoming an expert in long-term care insurance, a new and fast-growing product line for Transamerica. I had invested several meetings with Richard educating him on how to expand his practice with LTC as an extension of his natural clientele. We had generated one of the largest cases he had ever worked, so I was happy to walk into the agency after lunch and find him waiting in the lobby the day he was supposed to close the case. Bowing his head, he waved me off and said that he was being taken care of already. An hour or so later, my male counterpart came into my office. Turned out that Richard did not believe that any woman should be compensated for their work on his business; he insisted that I did not receive the override for his case.
My associate was a truly good guy and offered to work the case through underwriting, but give me the full credit since he knew how much time and energy I had put into both Richard and this particular client. Refusing his offer, I gave up 100% of the override and immediately had Richard transferred to his unit. If Richard truly felt that way about women, then I wanted no part of his ugliness.
While it wasn't the first nor last time I had experienced raw discrimination, this was different. Richard was more than willing to take my knowledge, experience and influence at Transamerica to get his needs filled, but literally could not look me in the eye when he defiantly stood in the way of my earning my rightful due. I have heard so many stories from others; I know that many have endured far, far worse than me. Each story that has been shared with me reinforced the need for us to see people as real humans, having that same Venn Diagram overlap of desiring dignity, success and meaning, no matter the circumstances of our birth and upbringing.
JAY: You and your husband, David, have made the Nashville area your home for the past decade. I know the two of you like to travel and, if possible, take your dogs along for the ride. I also recognize you haven’t had a lot of free time while preparing to launch Evozen. When you do have some spare time, how do you like to spend it?
JULIE: Long ago, we traded material goods for incredible experiences, so travel is absolutely our jam. We literally thirst to explore new places and travel is the natural extension of our love of being behind the camera lens. My camera has been an indispensable appendage for decades, but David's appreciation for photography came after he retired as an attorney to care for his parents. He has an amazing natural style in motion photography, while I continue to seek perfecting multidimensional experiences into 2D images. We have both turned several of our photos into original oil or encaustic paintings.
We have been to all 50 states and many incredible international destinations. In my opinion, Italy is the best, but Portugal is the secret beauty. Atlas Obscura is our source for weird and unique places that you would likely never find otherwise, but richly adds to any trip. Next on our list is an A&K cruise to Japan to see the cherry blossoms, temples and shrines in the countryside.
During COVID, social distancing was simple because our home is in the countryside on wooded acreage. We thrilled in the smallest natural activity, such as antics of the deer, wild turkey, fox and box turtles that daily cross our property. My gardening and cooking skills went up dramatically during this time, as I discovered things like Passiflora and pecan-crusted trout.
Yes, our two border collie mix pups are amazing and far more intelligent than us. David found them dumped as 4-month-old puppies. Now 10 years old, they have thoroughly enriched our lives and we would dearly love to travel with them more. Alas, the bigger brother is not all that fond of cars, although we make it a really comfy ride when he acquiesces.
JAY: Before the restaurant question, I’d like to confess that part of the reason we seem to click together is our fondness for reasonably average television shows. Is that fair to say? Rumor has it, that on your office television, it would not be uncommon to find Hallmark movies playing in the background. If you are willing to admit to this, I will acknowledge that perhaps the television at Life Insurance Strategies Group seems to be stuck on the Bravo channel.
JULIE: Oh, I am so dying laughing over this question! Yes, yes, I must confess that Hallmark has been known to flash on the screen more than once. When you work from home, that mindless noise perfectly mirrors office buzz. Movies cannot be too loud, action-oriented or complex, and Hallmark hits that note beautifully. Kevin Costner's series, Yellowstone, was an unexpected pleasure in this realm, too. You and Pete have been quite inspirational in keeping our Netflix list current - thank you!
JAY: You told me you are not a foodie but are capable of listing a few non-steakhouses and non-steak dishes, something about half of our interviewees can’t seem to manage! In thinking about Nashville and all of your travels, where do I have to eat and what should I order?
JULIE: The entire Nashville and surrounding area is such the fount of incredible food places, even for a non-foodie like me. Much of the food here is true Farm-to-Table and incredibly fresh. Where should I start?
Henrietta Red: Nashville native/ New York trained chef, Julia Sullivan, was the most eagerly anticipated new opening in 2017 and she has surpassed all expectations. Located in quaint and super-trendy Germantown and specializing in oysters and anything seafood, HR was named in America's 50 Best New Restaurants by both Bon Appetit and GQ. Sullivan was named one of the Best Young Chefs in America (Robb Report) and Best New Chefs (Food & Wine).
Pinewood Social: Avocado toast, grain bowls and fried hot chicken are the mark of this bowling alley / workspace / craft cocktail bar that happily exists next to my downtown Nashville office.
House of Cards: HOC is not only a place to dine but is truly a dining experience celebrating the art of magic. Located below the Johnny Cash Museum - worth every penny -, patrons are treated to top American magicians performing entertaining illusions and tricks, with a final staged performance. This is one of the very few restaurants that enforces a strict dress code - women in cocktail or formal dress attire and men in sport coats and dinner jackets - but it is totally worth the effort. Cigars allowed and yes, you can get a steak if you must, but don't let the lamb go by without a taste.
Nashville: Adele's, Etch, Hampton Social, Mere Bulles, Patterson House , Virago, The Southern (brunch), 404 Kitchen, The Treehouse, Acme Feed & Seed
Brentwood & Franklin: Perch (breakfast), Wild Ginger, The Rutledge, Grays on Main, Red Pony, Puckett's
Leiper's Fork: 1892 (dinner), Country Boy (breakfast)
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.