David Jones, son of a preacher, has a master's degree in theology from Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. Although he's not and never has been a minister, he says that like his father, he ministers to people—not as a spiritual advisor but as a Primevest financial advisor at Lake City Bank in Warsaw, Ind. "Both my father and I are serving the people in our community," he says.
Despite his theology degree, the 36- year-old—who grew up in Portland, Ore.—is quick to say that he's not "selling God." There's no framed seminary diploma on his office wall. "It's a small town. People know I went to a religious school," he says. "My belief in Jesus is important to me but I think my financial advice stands on its own. I don't need God's endorsement."
But given Jones' enviable production, some might say he already has that backing. His GDC jumped from $770,000 in 2009 to $1.2 million in 2010, even though his average client income is about $48,000. Jones has $45 million under management and reaches up to 50,000 people in a 10-branch territory that spans a 30-mile radius around Warsaw.
So just how did he do it when 60% of his 300 clients are blue-collar workers? "I'm certainly blessed. And I guess I'm pretty driven." Jones says he talks to any wholesaler that comes by, asks a lot of questions and attend lots of conferences. "I've worked with clients long enough that now they trust me and refer their families and friends to me," he says. "That kind of trust takes time." Last year he also started selling some life insurance, which helped boost production.
And it isn't just about selling a product. Jones' educational approach to clients has won him a lot of loyalty and converts, he says. Just last summer he met with a group of clients who had "bounced around" with a few financial advisors. They ended up holding variable annuities, which were moved into cash earning about 0.1% interest. "Between the low interest and all the fees associated with the VA, [the clients] were losing money," Jones says. He met with each client several times, and last September shifted their investments to equities. "No one had explained anything to them," he says. "I told them 'I want your trust, but not your blind trust.' They've done well since, and have been referring more people to me."
Jones is guided perhaps more by his undergraduate degrees in communication and business than by theology. In fact, he says seminary school was an afterthought. "I met my wife in college, and when I graduated, she still had a year to go," he explains. "We decided to wait until she graduated to get married, and seminary school was a free master's degree and something I could use in my life, so I went."
After graduating, Jones tried working in the marketing department of a company, but didn't like it. "Since my wife, at that point, had a job, I decided to take a gamble and try working as a financial advisor," he says. After getting his licenses (Series 7, Series 63 and later a Series 24), he was hired by a small local bank, where it was sink or swim. "I didn't get any on-the-job training," Jones says. "They just put me in an office and said, 'Do it!' It was all a process of trial and error, learning on the job."
Jones inherited a small book of orphaned accounts from a rep who had left the company two years earlier. "My clients were the last-ditch people who were walking out the door," he says. "It was like a person had a CD maturing and didn't like the bank's rate, and as they were leaving someone would say: 'Why don't you talk to David?'"
After five years, Jones figured out how the system should work, and when the much larger Lake City Bank—Warsaw's hometown institution, with 45 branches covering a 100-mile radius and $2.5 billion in deposits—started courting him, he jumped, signing a non-compete clause on the way out the door. That was about five years ago. "A few of my old clients found me, but it was two years before I actually could go to former clients," he says. The new position opened up a new world. "It was a striking contrast," he says. "I took over a bigger book, and the bank was really supportive, so my practice took off."
The bankers at Lake City have referral and quality-of-referral goals to meet, Jones says. "Plus the bank is always talking to staff about the importance of the investment program." In the beginning, he got 65% to 70% of his clients through bankers.
Jones meets with representatives of each of his 10 branches monthly and visits each quarterly. "If a branch can put me in front of a client, it's about their whole financial life," he says. "There's lots to talk about, not just investing, but mortgages and other lending, annuities, end-of-life planning, college funding, etc." Jones generally sees his clients at his office in Warsaw, but if a client prefers, he also makes appointments in the branches.
While referrals from bank staff have gradually fallen to about 40% of his new business, about one-third of new business now comes from existing client referrals. Jones is also active in the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and serves as chair of the town's annual parade, which help him meet the town's movers and shakers.
Variable and fixed annuities are about 60% of Jones' business and this helped his clients survive the financial crisis. As he tells it, clients with individual stocks and mutual funds didn't have a good time, and he did plenty of hand-holding. Fortunately most of them stayed in the market and have since recovered their losses. "I'm an educator at heart, so I liked the job of talking people through the crisis," Jones says. "People knew a downturn was possible when they invested, but I would remind them that when these kinds of things happen, they do come back. We didn't have many people jump ship."
So did God come up in those market crisis discussions? No. "You know, money is the most talked-about thing in the Bible," says Jones, who teaches classes on how the Bible views business and finance at his church. "It talks about how you can't serve both God and money. Finance is important, but it should not be something that we worship or serve."
Nonetheless, Jones keeps church and work separate. He has deliberately avoided recruiting clients at his church—a large congregation of 3,000. "You could count clients from my church on one hand," he says. "There may be more—I don't know all the people in the church, so some of them may be clients but haven't mentioned the church. In general, I'm very careful not to mix the church and business."
Name: David Jones
Bank: Lake City Bank
2010 production: $1,258,000
2009 production: $770,000
2010 AUM: $45 million
2009 AUM: $40 million
Product Mix: 55% VAs; 20% mutual funds; 10% fixed annuity ; 10% stocks and bonds; 5% life insurance
No. of clients: 300
No. of branches: 10