‘Active relationships’ help producer sell $20 million in annuities

As a top producer, Liz Cornell shares her story and her secrets for success: working hard and being honest.

Liz Cornell lives in Lake County, Florida, near Fruitland Park, not far from where she went to high school. At age 30, she’s one of the youngest top producers in the insurance industry — she writes $20 million in business each year — a successful position that comes in large part from her commitment to helping consumers learn the ins and outs of retirement income planning.

Not content to wait, Liz decided to set off on her own, forming TB Financial Group. She dedicated herself and her company’s resources to building resources that clients can use to learn about the various products and options available to them when they’re planning for their retirement income futures.

We sat down with Liz to ask her a few questions about her life and work ethics.


Q: What was it like growing up in Lake County, Florida?

A: It was great. It was a really small town, where I grew up. The Villages, the retirement community, didn’t start taking off until 2007. And outside of the Villages, everyone knows everyone. Typical small-town U.S.A., I guess. There’s a lot of cattle farming. A lot of the Villages was built over old cattle farms and fields — hay and watermelon.

Q: I read that your dad, Jim, was a chaplain. How did your parents shape your worldview on education and hard work?

A: He was the minister of music at First Baptist Leesburg for a long time, and he’s currently the head chaplain at the county jail.

We were raised to do the right thing. I grew up as a pastor’s kid, a stricter moral standard than what a lot of folks have. I didn’t grow up financially well-off. My mom was a nurse. My dad was a pastor. We were very middle or lower-middle class. I learned you work hard, and whatever you put out there will come back.

So, with TB Financial Group, that’s always been a mantra of ours. Also, being honest with people. Do the right thing. If you can help people, go out of your way to help them. You should even help people when they’re not appreciative. That’s not always easy. You want people to understand what you’ve done for them. But it’s not about people being indebted to us.

My grandparents lived 15 minutes from my parents, and my grandfather was a pastor as well. My immediate family was really close. We were raised with what I think of as traditional southern values. Honesty. Integrity. Hard work. Treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s not complicated.

Q: How did you get into the insurance industry? If that was your worldview, what brought you to retirement income planning?

A: I fell into it on accident. I did two years of school, but I didn’t like it. I had a roommate who told me I should move to Jacksonville. When I got there, my parents weren’t helping me, and I had to get a job. So my first real job was knocking on doors, selling life insurance.

I was terrible at it. I was the worst salesperson they’d ever had. I was at the very bottom. “Liz sold nothing this month.” It wasn’t working out. Life insurance, and the way that it was sold, at least at the place where I was working, it didn’t make sense. How can you tell someone to pay $20 a month for life insurance when they only make $200 a month? It makes no sense.

They also sold Medicare supplements, so, after months of selling nothing in terms of life insurance, I thought, “Maybe I should get better at this other product line.” That’s where I found my first success. The problem was, I was captive — I couldn’t represent other companies or products, even if it’s in their best interest. So, I left and went to an independent agency.

I don’t like the smarmy part of sales. I wanted to do the right thing. I immerse myself in my work. I was young enough and fearless enough that I thought, “I can work with that.”

Q: How did you come to sell annuities?

A: In the old days, it was almost like you were supposed to sucker people, and tell them only at the last minute that it was an annuity. But I could never conduct business that way. I’m a technical person, and I’m analytical by nature. I’m not good at public speaking. I had to find my own way. I can’t just say, “Oh, give me all of your retirement money,” not if I’m not doing what’s in their best interest.

When we started TB Financial, I knew I wanted to do an annuity class. My business partner said, “That’s a horrible idea.” (laughs). But our first traditional marketing campaign was a horrible failure. We spent $10,000 and got three calls (laughs). Seriously, it was bad. That’s what prompted me to do the annuity class. I wanted to bring authenticity to the industry.

Any investment is bad if it’s sold inappropriately. Most people are unhappy with investment choices, because they don’t take the time to understand it. I tell my clients all the time, “This is an active relationship.” At the end of the day, after we’ve talked through everything and made a plan, you’re not allowed to come in here and tell me I ruined your future. I try to make sure people take the time to understand the products. That way, they can have full confidence in what they’re doing. I want to give the best guidance and advice possible.

Q: How has your campaign to help people learn about retirement income planning changed your practice?

A: Well, people learn a lot, because it’s a three-hour session. It clears up a lot of questions. By the time they come in, they’ve had all this substance, and they can go home and Google everything I’ve said, so they know I’m telling the truth. It’s important I give them not just fluff, but real facts. That’s really what we’ve built my practice on. And I don’t want all of a person’s assets. People are happier when they understand what an annuity can do for them, and when they’re placed in a portfolio alongside other products. At the end of the day, you as a client need to be comfortable.

Q: I understand the growth in your business has been rapid — roughly $2 million to $20 million annually. Can you talk about that growth, and how CreativeOne has been a part of that?

A: We started out working with another independent marketing organization, but I’m not exactly typical for this industry. I’m different. It was important that I find an organization that shared my objective. I want to make impactful change in the industry, and leave a legacy that you can do business right, and make a good living, honestly. It sounds crazy, but it was hard to find someone who would rally behind us, and behind that philosophy.

When we came to CreativeOne, that was a big part of it. We appreciate CreativeOne actually genuinely believing in our capability to do it. There have been a lot of naysayers. But there’s no excuse. You can do anything you set your mind to.


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