In our latest Tier One interview, our CEO, Jay Judas, spoke to Victoria Mayer and Fernando Pou of Passerelle Partners. The trio discuss running a business with your spouse, Victoria and Fernando's unique roads to the HNW life insurance world, their recent business merger and melted cheese. Read the interview in full below.
Jay: This is the first Tier One Interview with a married couple who work together in the life insurance industry so thank you for being a part of this experiment. Since I work with my husband in a couple of ventures and others are always curious about how that works, I know our readers will be interested about your relationship and how it has played a role in making your firm, Passerelle Partners, a leading producer in the United States. Let us start there—tell me about Passerelle Partners, which was launched in 2016, and your roles within the organization.
Victoria: First, we would like to thank you for the recognition and the privilege of being selected to be part of your Tier One Interview Series!
Fernando: Jay, the insurance industry greatly respects you. We are honored by your invitation to contribute to the series. The concept of Passerelle Partners was born years ago during our wealth management days when we worked as a team. The vision is that everyone is a partner; all on the same playing field, equally as integral in the process, and all striving for the same end-goal of bringing value to our clients.
Victoria: We are a boutique insurance advisory firm, specializing in premium financed structures for US and international clients. We cater to entrepreneurial families, assisting with their asset protection, wealth transfer, and succession strategies. There are so many moving parts in the solutions that we provide, that we must be laser focused. The best way to do that is to work together as a team of specialists, a team of partners.
Fernando: Metaphorically embedded in our name is the spirit of our culture. A Passerelle is a footbridge, most commonly known as the footbridge that deploys from a yacht where the passengers board and start a journey where they are in control of their destiny. At Passerelle Partners we onboard our clients to a unique client experience focused on what matters most to them.
Victoria: The experience is tailored, catered and different for every client. That really is Fernando’s focus, he develops new and deep relationships with his clients, discovers and develops opportunities, and brings them to fruition.
Fernando: Victoria focuses on execution of our strategies. I am blessed to have her (Victoria) as my partner in business and life.
Victoria: Fernando is macro, while I am, totally, micro. He loves the client-facing and deal creation side, while I love the challenge of bringing all of his hard work to fruition in the execution process.
Jay: Prior to starting this interview, you let leak some big news for Passerelle and, in my opinion, for the life insurance industry. Since this news will break a few days before this interview is published, may I pressure you to share some details?
Victoria: Yes! We are very proud to announce a new business marriage in our lives. Passerelle Partners and Midnight Financial Group have merged! We are so excited to begin this new chapter and embark on this new journey with Chris Daniels and the brilliant team in Charlotte.
Fernando: The merger and collaboration unifies the team under the Passerelle Partners brand, catering to all segments of the advanced life insurance planning market, which includes both partnering with professional advisors and working directly with private clients.
Jay: If I can add some more background—which I will because the two of you are too modest to say what this merger means. Midnight Financial Group was founded by Chris Daniels, an expert in arranging premium financing for life insurance policies. Both Passerelle and Midnight are Owners in the Lion Street producer group and, in fact, were both Top 10 firms in production last year. What many may not know is that Passerelle Partners was the number one firm in production out of over 180 firms and that is quite a feat. The combination of Passerelle’s domestic and international reach and the technical expertise that Chris Daniels and his team brings will create a powerhouse in the life insurance industry.
Victoria: Thank you so much, Jay. You are correct, the integration of the teams bridges synergistic skillsets, access and experience, delivering a dynamic and formidable offering. The breadth of experience Chris brings to Passerelle in designing, executing, and managing premium financed strategies is second to none. Not to mention the incredible relationships he has forged with major players in the life insurance industry based on trust and reputation.
Fernando: I know I can speak on behalf of my partner, Chris Daniels, in saying that he is excited in how this merger strengthens the Passerelle Advisory Platform offering to his valued advisors. Expanding the team brings additional capacity, knowledge, and perspective, allowing Chris to now offer premium finance solutions for international clients from a leading team in the space.
Jay: Your headquarters are in Miami, the gateway to Latin America. Some might therefore assume you work with mainly clients from Central and South America. That is not necessarily the case, is it? You have clients from all over the world and often have to apply unique and highly specialized solutions. Share with me the most common buying motivators your clients have and how you serve them?
Fernando: Sure, we focus on a segment of the market that is not really delineated by being titled domestic or international. Our clients are global. All our clients have some sort of global tie, whether through homes, family, businesses, love for travel, or all the above. This cross-border dynamic brings an extra layer of challenges and complexities for planning, which we welcome.
Victoria: Over the past ten years, Miami has become an access point to these clients by the nature of its beauty, thriving economy, cultural diversity and proximity and ease of travel to the rest of the world. We are agnostic in our business development efforts and find that no matter where our clients are from, they are all concerned with taxes, wealth preservation, business succession, and family legacy.
Fernando: We are also in a unique position to serve our clients, as our team collectively has lived in over eight countries spanning four continents and speak five languages.
Jay: Fernando, you are an ex-private banker and it was in that role that I first met you over fifteen years ago. If memory serves, I was managing Sun Life’s international distribution from Bermuda and was in Miami training with a producer group to whom your bank sent life insurance referrals. You recognized the value of life insurance for your clients, learned all you could about it and then brought in a record amount of premium—much of it premium financed. How did you make that journey from banking to life insurance? What made you wake up one day and say, “I am going to pursue a career in life insurance?”
Fernando: If you would have told me 20 years ago during my private banking and trader days that I was going to end up in the life insurance business, I would have thought you were absolutely crazy. That said, I have always had an interest in discovering and developing new solutions. This is how we are able to be creative in the world of finance. Asset protection and tax efficiency were always at the core of my structures. As you remember, I came across the concept of life insurance early on in my career and fell in love with the flexibility of what life insurance offers. It was a hidden gem to me.
I felt back then, and still feel today, that life insurance is misunderstood. I think it is one of the greatest opportunities and financial assets to complement a balance sheet. I mean, effectively what we do here today is very similar to what we used to do – only with a different underlying asset. We manage an asset called life insurance. We structure the trade called premium financing, and we monitor and manage the strategy on an ongoing basis. So, it's not very different from what we were trained to do.
Victoria: It’s the new alternative.
Jay: Victoria, your background certainly is not related to life insurance. I do not think I know where you grew up or went to school so help me out and talk about your background a bit.
Victoria: I grew up not far from Miami in Palm Beach. After graduating from the Carroll School of Management’s Honor Program at Boston College focusing in finance and economics, I came back to Florida to be part of a management training program at UBS AG here in Miami. That is actually how, when, and where I met Fernando! At UBS, I worked in different areas of the institution, with a focus in business management and strategy development through sales programs and product campaigns.
I took an 180-degree turn from private banking when I was introduced to, and partnered with, a seasoned heavyweight in the live entertainment world, and embarked on a very interesting path of conceiving, creating, structuring, funding, and executing multi-faceted live entertainment productions in Las Vegas and on Broadway.
At the end of 2017, Fernando and I thought it was time for me to take another 180-degree turn and join him at Passerelle Partners. The only thing I knew about insurance was what we spoke about at the dinner table! But through the incredible guidance and teaching that both Fernando and Tiffany Hyde, the Head of Underwriting at Lion Street, gave me, I was able to hit the ground running pretty quickly.
Jay: Global tax transparency has emerged as a major planning opportunity for international producers. Finding advisors who understand the Common Reporting Standard and FATCA is rare and I know the two of you spend a lot of time understanding country-specific rules around mandatory financing reporting. What are some of the ways life insurance plays a role in being compliant with tax transparency among your non-U.S. clients?
Fernando: One of the main reasons why our team pivoted from a traditional wealth management offering into this space was because we recognized very early on that the foreign national client was in desperate need of a solution that not only was tax compliant in their country, but that also had the flexibility and portability to address decisions in the future.
International clients tend to have exposure to multiple jurisdictions. As that space started changing in 2013 and 2014, we realized that the U.S.-style approach of planning and using life insurance as a tool was extremely relevant. There are obviously country-specific regulations and considerations which are essential but, in general, these clients have complex balance sheets, which can benefit from U.S.-style life insurance products.
The U.S. dollar is still the reserve currency of the world, and our clients gravitate toward the its stability and strong foundation. The United States offers cultural freedoms, legal and regulatory infrastructure, and excellent way of life which is incredibly attractive when compared to other parts of the world.
Jay: The last time I was out for dinner with the two of you, you each told me separately the story of how you met. Of course, in Fernando’s version, he was considerably more romantic than in Victoria’s. Now that I have both you at the same time, walk me through how you got together and what it is like working in the same business? Can you separate your personal and professional lives?
Victoria: If I tell the story, it will take two hours. Maybe Fernando should tell it…
Fernando: If it was possible to go back in time and meet Victoria earlier in life, I would do it. We met working together at UBS in 2007. Everything about her caught my attention. It was the day my life changed. She is my keel.
Jay: That is adorable, and I sense that is the extent of the details I will be hearing.
Victoria: (laughing) Yes, Let’s leave the full story to be shared over a glass or three of wine! But the bottom line is, that since 2007, we done everything together as a team. Whether that was working with Latin American clients at UBS where Fernando brought investors to the table for our theatrical productions or, now, to growing Passerelle Partners into a twelve-person team through the merger with Chris Daniels, Fernando and I have been so lucky to be able to value each other’s different experiences and opinions, grow together, and accomplish what we have accomplished together.
Fernando: When it comes to separating our business and personal lives, I do not think that is possible. If you are both passionate and entrenched in what you do, there just cannot be a separation. This is not to say we do not try to turn it off. But overall, it is so nice and refreshing to be able to have my life partner involved in the trenches with me every single day.
Victoria: I think there are three key ingredients to any successful relationship.There has to be a lot of love, a lot of respect and great communication—with that you can accomplish anything.
JAY: In South Florida, you have access to so many international cuisines. It is a bit of a secret that I love to sit at the bar at any Novecento Restaurant and order the provoleta appetizer—which is basically melted provolone cheese—eat the entire thing myself and wash it down with a Quilnes beer from Argentina. So far, I have fought the temptation to do this in front of other people and to keep it my hidden shame. Where are your favorite spots and dishes for business meals either in Miami or elsewhere?
Victoria: Sounds like you and I have a similar love of melted cheese! My go-to is the queso fundido with chorizo at a chill Mexican restaurant near our office called, Tacology. I typically wash it down with a spicy passionfruit margarita!
Fernando: One of the best hidden gems in Miami Beach, which offers a spectacular menu, wine list and experience, is Stubborn Seed. We love taking clients, family, and friends there. They have a warm celery root appetizer and a ceviche which are both insane.
Victoria: Stubborn Seed also serves brunch.They have a pesto cauliflower steak with a fried egg on top that is so delicious.Their pancakes are also the best I have ever had.Can you tell I am a breakfast person?Oh, and you cannot miss out on their baked to order warm and gooey chocolate-filled snickerdoodle cookies—that is a must for dessert!
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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.