Wealth of Information
One Source Financial Focuses on Dollars and Sense
When asked to describe what his company does and how it does it, Robert Berriman talked at length about wealth management, retirement planning, insurance, benefits packages, and how One Source Financial works to educate clients about making smart choices within each realm. He then summed it all up in a different but decidedly more economical fashion: “We do the right thing — even when no one is looking.”
Robert Berriman likes to say that he works in the “trust business.”
Not in a literal sense, although he can certainly help someone set up virtually any kind of trust product, but figuratively speaking, as in an industry where he must earn and then maintain the trust of the clients with whom he works.
And this subject of trust is no small concern in this broad sector, he explained, because the matter at hand is someone’s money — or, looking at things a different way, their future.
That’s why Berriman, president of East Longmeadow-based One Source Financial Group Inc. and a 30-year veteran of the wealth management and retirement-planning business, has, as an unofficial company slogan — it’s not printed on any literature that he’s aware of — “we do the right thing … even when no one is looking.”
Of course, with the Internet and instant availability to information, people can be looking all the time, he continued, but that’s another very literal interpretation of his thoughts. The truth is, people aren’t looking all the time, and thus they need the trust factor, he said, stressing again that such trust has to be earned.
The fact that Berriman is accomplished in this regard is reflected in his large and diverse client list, which includes everything from high-net-worth individuals to small companies to firms with 500 employees. He and his staff have assembled that clientele by effectively focusing not on individual products, but on the concept of creating plans.
“Planning is more important today than it ever has been,” he explained, adding that people are more sophisticated about investing and overall financial planning than they were 20 or even 10 years ago, but still need help understanding products and services and forging a plan. “People are concerned about their future, and they’re being told every day by the federal to be concerned about their future. So more people are doing things, but they need help doing them.”
Berriman’s company recently instituted a name change — he followed the advice of some colleagues in his sector and “took my name off the business” — but everything else about it has been a constant, he said. And by that, he meant that the firm, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, has always been in the business of finding solutions, and not simply selling products or services.
And this has been the case whether the client, be it an individual or business owner, was interested in retirement plans, wealth management, asset allocation, or one or more types of insurance, including life, health, disability, property, and long-term care.
Berriman has a few quantitative measures of success on his resume — especially inclusion in something called the Top of the Table; Million Dollar Round Table, or MDRT. This is an organization that recognizes only the top 1% of financial producers — not only in this country, but worldwide — and Berriman has been a member in good standing for many years now.
But he prefers the more qualitative benchmarks for achievement in this sector, especially the clients that have been with him for decades, as well as different generations within many families that are on the client list — constituencies that have slightly different needs and approaches when it comes to accumulating wealth and managing it.
“One of the things that I’m most proud of is that I have a number of clients — retirement plan clients, 401(k) clients, and others, who have been with me for more than 25 years,” he explained. “Through all the gyrations and transitions with those companies and those people, they stayed here, and there’s a reason — we look after their interests.”
This track record bodes well for Berriman as he takes stock of the company at 20 and continues down a path toward strong but controlled growth.
In this issue, BusinessWest looks at how One Source lives up to its new name, and how it has responded to the many changes within this sector to provide bits of advice — and those solutions — that are, to borrow an industry term, on the money.
Stock and Trade
Considerable time and effort went into the company’s name-change exercise, said Berriman, noting that it was undertaken late last year as part of the ongoing, broad strategic initiative to grow the firm.
He didn’t engage the services of a marketing consultant, but instead put his staff — many of whom have been with him for many years — to work on the matter. In other words, he took the team approach, which is how the company goes about everything it handles.
Starting with the simple goal of retiring ‘Berriman & Associates’ — the name put on the business in 1996 after a previous partnership was discontinued — “because that doesn’t say anything about who we are or what we do,” the staff looked at a number of options, said Berriman, and decided, in rather democratic fashion, on One Source Financial Group.
The proposed new name was run by clients (there were four different mailers on the subject) to make sure they were comfortable with it and understood that nothing else was changing, and eventually chosen because it does say at least something about what the company does. It also connotes a little about how it does business, as it basically invites clients to think about the firm as a single source for a host of needs — retirement planning, benefits, and others — rather than using several sources.
“It’s not about one-stop shopping, really,” said Berriman, “but to indicate that this a place, one source, for expertise on a wide range of products and services.”
This has been Berriman’s approach since he first started working in this sector in 1975.
He started as a broker/agent with Travelers Insurance in Hartford, and decided after a few years that this was not a career path he wished to stay on. He went into retirement plan marketing for the company, essentially traveling around the country teaching agents and brokers how to sell and design qualified retirement plans, before going to work for Springfield-based Palmer Goodell Insurance in the early ’80s.
There, he handled advanced sales, estate planning, and deferred compensation. After seven years with PG, he partnered with John Caulkins to form Berriman & Caulkins, a collaboration that lasted nearly a decade before the two parted ways and Berriman created Berriman & Associates.
The company has grown steadily over the years, in terms of everything from assets under management (that number is now $150 million) to the size of the staff; from the the portfolio of clients to the roster of services. To continue and accelerate that growth pattern, the company intends to emphasize its strengths, especially experience and diversity, market itself aggressively, and demonstate its ability to respond to changes within the industry.
Elaborating, Berriman told Business-West that while the roster of products and services offered by wealth-management and retirement-planning companies has been fairly constant over the years — they now come in more flavors than ever before — there have been a host of changes within this sector, many of them fueled by technology.
When the Internet first came into prominence, he explained, many predicted that the instant access to untold volumes of information that it provided would spell trouble for professionals in this sector because individuals and companies could, in theory, become do-it-yourselfers.
Instead, those in this business, as in others, like insurance, have found that the opposite is true. They’ve discovered that the Internet gives people information, but also (usually, at least) an understanding that they need someone to help them to make educated decisions about what to do with all that information.
“What the Internet has done is open up the investment world to more people, and made people more knowledgeable about the investment side than they were years ago,” Berriman explained. “But when it gets to the point where they’ve accumulated a little money, they want someone to help them. People came to understand that this wasn’t about just going out and buying and selling things, but having a real plan, and for that, people do need help.
“The industry has changed dramatically, especially with the communication we have and all the information we have, and the need to help people make sense of that information,” he continued. “When I started in this business, the interest rates didn’t change for three years — it wasn’t even something we thought about. Now, they change every day.”
Beyond technology, this field has changed to the extent that there are now many more players in it, said Berriman, all of them vying for the rights to help people create and then manage wealth and retirement savings.
To stand out, companies have to do more than offer a large suite of products and services — although that certainly helps. They also have to serve the client, said Berriman, who noted that this often comes down to efforts to advise and educate them about choices and which ones make the most sense for them.
Education also comes in the subjects of why people are investing and accumulating wealth for the future, and how this is a long-term exercise, he continued. This helps cut down on the number of calls that come in when the Dow is down 200 points (there have been several of those days already this year) and when the monthly and quarterly IRA statements come in the mail.
“It’s all a product of how you explain things to people up front — that retirement is a long-term process,” he said. “We’re not spending a lot of time on the phones these days talking to people because of the work we did up front; if you’re explaining the process effectively at the start, then you don’t have to jump through hoops and re-educate people during times like this.”
But more importantly, education creates more-informed clients who are thus able to take the information available to them, as well as consulting services from a professional, and chart an effective course.
“I have a new salesperson, and one of the things that I keep telling her is that this is not a product business, it’s a service business,” he explained. “If you do the right service for the client, whatever the product is just fits.”
The Bottom Line
Berriman told BusinessWest that he’s proud of his standing within the Million Dollar Round Table. It’s an indicator of success within this sector and, by his way of thinking, a barometer of that all-important intangible known as trust.
Without it, the numbers wouldn’t be there, he explained, and nor would the clients that have been with him for decades or succeeding generations of members within many families.
Those measures of success are also the byproduct of trust — and doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.