What’s the secret to going from working out of your car, selling insurance door-to-door in rural south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, to becoming your company’s seventh-largest salesman? Building relationships.
What’s the secret to securing, then managing multi-million dollar small business and commercial real estate loans? Building relationships.
Alex Helm (’05, finance) built relationships on Capitol Hill, serving as the first student intern from Auburn to work for the US Treasury. He built relationships in the banking industry, from businesses large and small, and commercial developers. He built relationships on Wall Street, earning the respect of some of the most powerful names in financial planning.
“The secret to building relationships is based on trust,” says Helm, CEO of Acumen Capital Group in Destin, Florida, who built his own insurance/financial planning company from the ground up. “That trust is also based on the understanding that you have a proven track record.”
In 2005, Helm, secured an $85 million loan as a portfolio specialist at SunTrust, a home-run in the banking industry. “I hit more than my quota,” he laughs. His performance at SunTrust landed Helm the opportunity to become vice president at Vanguard Bank in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, where he managed commercial loans in excess of $60 million per year.
Then the banking crisis struck. “I left that nice office life of the vice president of a commercial bank with a secretary and nice salary and bonuses to hitting the street and getting in my car trying to sell life insurance policies,” he says. “It was a huge risk, but I did that because I believed in myself and I believed that I had the relationships and knowledge to not only understand the business, but grow it.”
Helm isn’t one to back down from change. “When people don’t embrace change is when people struggle,” he says. “The more we embrace change and accept it, the easier it is for us to make decisions about our futures.”
In 2010, Helm founded Acumen, which quickly began to flourish.
Not only did Helm strike up relationships door-to-door with folks from Atmore to Enterprise to Fort Walton Beach, but he built relationships with executives from the likes of business giants Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley—financial planning companies who needed to outsource policies to their clientele. Today, he is among the top one percent of all life insurance agents in the US, based on production.
“I built relationships with some of their teams in those private banks who trusted me enough to work with their clients,” he explains. “The types of policies that I do now are called premium finance life insurance policies and probably less than two percent of all agents in the country focus on those. It’s only for the ultra-high net worth.
“The biggest satisfaction I get at the end of the day is that my clients are protected, their families are going to be taken care of, and those businesses are still going to be able to perform and maintain even if they have a loss.”
When asked what the biggest mistake people make when it comes to financial planning, Helm was quick to point out that people don’t start early enough.
“Everybody has a window of opportunity on their estate plan how and when they can do it,” he says. “The later you wait, the harder it is going to be. The most important thing for anybody is how are they going to be remembered and how you can help them when they are not around. It’s not just about what you are doing for your family today, but how can you help that person or family when you are not there for them? We’re not going to