Luke Winskowski is Head of Thrivent Advisor Network, a hybrid RIA platform launched in late 2019 that works with advisors interested in aligning their clients’ resources with their values. He is one of WealthManagement.com’s 10 to Watch in 2021.
In this episode of Permission to Succeed, he and Doug Heikkinen discuss how financial advisors have responded to and evolved as the COVID-19 virus forced acceleration in all areas of their business. They also discuss:
- Existing in the world of being remote
- Key trends in 2020 that will drive action in 2021
- What a purpose-driven advisor is, and how they add value to their clients’ lives
- How mentors and personal stories have shaped Luke and his career in financial services
- Why Luke is excited for 2021
- Advice Luke has for those just starting out in financial services
Douglas Heikkinen, Luke Winkowski
Douglas Heikkinen 00:00
Hello and welcome to the Permission to Succeed Podcast. This podcast is about learning from and be inspired by people who have been successful because they found that point in their lives to just go for it. The genesis of this podcast is based on the inspirational lives of Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. . .
Luke Winkowski 00:52
Hello, good afternoon.
Douglas Heikkinen 00:54
Where do we find you? Where are you calling in from?
Luke Winkowski 00:56
I am calling in from sunny Minneapolis today.
Douglas Heikkinen 01:00
Oh, my goodness, Minneapolis is great. Do you enjoy it?
Luke Winkowski 01:04
I do. It's been Minnesota has been my home. And I think it's one of the world's greatest cities in my travels, but it's one of those cities you'd love to live in. For those who travel to it. You've got to work, you got to work a little harder to find the fun stuff.
Douglas Heikkinen 01:18
Yeah. Well, I'm very fond to that place from that Purple Man that you had that live there so long ago?
Luke Winkowski 01:24
Yes, we have lots of pictures of that Purple Man.
Douglas Heikkinen 01:28
So you touch so many advisors on a weekly basis. And this being the year like no other. We'd love to get your thoughts on some trends you're seeing out there and how advisors are responding to them. How's that sound?
Luke Winkowski 01:40
Oh, that sounds great. Yeah. Do you want me to dive right in? Well,
Douglas Heikkinen 01:44
yeah, let's talk about um, the world of remote.
Luke Winkowski 01:49
And that's it's quite the world isn't that it's a world We've been living in certainly myself having gone remote, I believe back in March. And having not stepped foot back into an office since that point, it's become a new norm. And I think it was just recently that I forgot that this wasn't normal. And when I talk to advisors, I think that they're in such a great position, especially the advisors that I think, really have an idea of what their value is. And I mean that sincerely, I think you know, this whole world that has transitioned away from having the luxury of being where you want to be at any point in time, it really makes you stop and think about how you access how you build relationships, what's important to you. And the advisors I work with, I think that they've first found that they took an opportunity to take a look at what their clients book was like and how they were serving it. And they started to get a lot more intentional about serving across the board, from their staff to the way that they interacted. And the people on the other end that people we serve, that they serve, became more available, but under some different and maybe less comfortable context. And as as we've navigated through this, people have become more digitally savvy, they've become more, they've become more available, some things in life have actually gotten a little bit more simple. And I think that they've been able to take a breath and really pay attention to what's important to them. So it's been, though very challenging, in some ways. It's been a gift and others. And I think as we get out of this, hopefully, you know, going into later next year, we're going to see the best of both worlds, potentially, and certainly the advisors and there's a lot of advisors out there who who are success minded, they're going to find an opportunity to create an even deeper client value proposition.
Douglas Heikkinen 03:40
And just like us, in the working world who have who weren't accustomed to being on our screens, and being in front of people like a TV all the time, you mentioned, the investors being uncomfortable. Have you found out that they become more comfortable with the technology and using that for talking to their advisors?
Luke Winkowski 04:00
I think in some ways, yes. I mean, number one is, I think that the advisor has become more humanized. A lot of advisors are still in a pretty formal mindset. They wear suits to work ties to work, and they operate in that context. And with the digital interface, over Skype, zoom. Whenever people are seeing their their kids, they're seeing their dogs or seeing their messy living rooms, all of that all of that stuff that makes people people and I think it's brought advisors into the into a place that actually builds more trust. And that really is important given that probably the biggest differentiator and advisor can be proud of is their trust value proposition. It's not it's no longer the products or even the technologies that they bring to the table. Those are much more commoditized. So I think that's been a really interesting outcome as we as we've lived in this digital environment. Clients definitely are getting more company trouble with this. And I think it's an opportunity also for advisors to lead. I've seen some advisors really shy away from this. And there's been examples in the industry where, where advisors have really either pushed it to the edge of trying to continue to meet in person. And in some locales, that makes sense. And then someone doesn't. And that's really put their clients in some ways in an awkward position. And then I've seen others who really tried to use the telephone medium. And really what what that has done is not taking full advantage of really the day and age we live in. And I don't think it's, you know, I'll close on this slide, I don't think it's really even an age thing. One of my favorite advisors that I that I talked to often at thrive x, his name is Don, and he's in Arkansas. And he is in his last five years of a 50 year plus career. And he and his clients routinely use zoom and FaceTime and other mobile technologies. And many of his clients are in their 90s. And you know, before the pandemic, he would literally he or his staff would go and help them set up their systems. And that brought so much more available connectivity. Because after all, you know, the the era of I'm going to set four meetings a year and meet with you on my terms that's ending, it's more the client saying, You know what, I need you right now. It's that instant access and gratification that that we've become accustomed to whether that's through the internet, or through other modes that we communicate in other places in life.
Douglas Heikkinen 06:34
We all know that clients are asking more of their advisors and a bunch of different areas. But you know, giving this is the holiday season. What are advisors asking for?
Luke Winkowski 06:45
What are advisors asking for in the holiday season? Yeah, it's a great question. You know, I think number one, our advisors are people to their relationship, people we all are. And I think that they're asking for probably a little bit of release from the grind. And so a lot of advisors have worked never harder than they have in this year to stay up to speed. And, and I think it's, it's how will they recharge and re energize over this holiday season. I think another thing is, they're asking for their companies to really get behind them, and to really no kidding, transform and show a different type of result. Advisors, of course, their livelihood, their business is on the ability to maintain revenue flow through the goodwill that they earn from their clients. And they don't get to take a pause in that. And so if that line of business goes away, then is an immediate hit to their bottom line. Companies have a much more legging impact to that. Because by nature, they're diversified. They have, you know, maybe thousands of advisors that are working for them. Those advisors have real demands, or clients have real demands, and companies really need to start modernizing. There's a great saying out there, I'm sure many have heard it, which is what caused the digital revolution in your organization. And the the answers are multiple choice number one, was it your CIO, Chief Information Officer, and number two was your CFO, your chief financial officer, or number three was at COVID. And not surprisingly, you know, people giggle and they pick COVID. And it's so true. For some I know in our organization, right or wrong, we were able to do things that were digitally impossible, it seemed, in a matter of a couple of weeks this spring. And that, really, it was heartening to see the progress, it also causes to step back and ask the question of why couldn't we do things faster all the time? I think that's becoming the new norm, and companies are going to live or die by that in their value proposition back to advisors.
Douglas Heikkinen 08:53
That's really interesting and great perspective. Um, what about planning? How have you seen financial planning evolving this year?
Luke Winkowski 09:01
Well, you know, so many things have been accelerated due to the social events. And I think we'll look back at this time, and we'll look at you know, 20 different dimensions across life and say, we were already moving in that direction. And we just started to move faster. And planning is one of the spaces where we were already moving in some directions. And we just started to move faster. Let's talk about that for a second. So one of the one of the old ways we thought about planning was we created this binder or this book, and it had all these numbers in it and super complicated and the planning process was all about developing this, this book of a person's financial future. We joke about it today. We say this is a book of one scenario that will never happen to you. So it's a it's a it's a it's a fine piece of fiction. And the of course, the way that planning was going was moving toward ongoing support and guidance around a person's life, knowing that Life is dynamic changes, goes in unexpected twists and turns. And usually, you know, in three year increments increasingly less a person has reinvented themselves by nature of having kids or moving or changing jobs or having an unexpected life events. And so planning itself has become much more a function of our level of responsiveness as opposed to our making up these, this these scenarios. And so what COVID has done is it's actually made it very difficult for us to do the binder planning, because it's, it's too labor intensive. And you know, even just thinking about printing stuff and getting somebody, it's made it much more gratifying and possible to do ongoing advice and counsel on an as needed basis, people are more accessible, they're not so tied up and travel and all the extra stuff. And I think we're really going to have that stick. And that's a huge accelerant to the planning piece. The other thing, I'm going to switch gears just a little bit, because I think it's equally important, I think that people have a renewed sense of their mortality. And, and what I mean by that is COVID, isn't easy. It has really put our humanity or the fragility of our humanity in a place that maybe we haven't experienced decidedly for many of us. And because of that, it's easier for us to visualize the things in life that could get in the way of a good plan. And, you know, when we think about planning, I think far too many advisors plan on the merit of if everything went perfectly, here is what the world would look like. And so therefore, you should do this. Whereas one of my mentors has always reminded me that a good plan endures, in good circumstances, in poor circumstances. And those poor circumstances should include poor markets, poor health, and different jobs. And you know, at a basic level, if you can't, as an advisor, answer the question of how that plan works in all four of those situations, you're not really doing your job. And I think today, the customer, the clients are demanding us to actually answer those questions, because around them, they see, they see things more, more clearly. And we always are interested in the industry, when we think about risk protection insurance solutions, for example, people are far more likely to purchase a policy that pays out when they die, versus when they become disabled, they are far more likely to become disabled. The reason is, it's a bias it's it's, it's, they can actually visualize dying, because you see that a lot more you don't see the disabled part of the world as much. It's not as immediate, immediately present to a person. And and what COVID doing is, is making these things more top of mind.
Douglas Heikkinen 12:56
You mentioned insurance based solutions. And that's something that many advisors have been reluctant to offer in their practices. Are you seeing that change?
Luke Winkowski 13:05
Absolutely, you know, in fact, I, I, you know, this gets some of the personal beliefs. But, you know, there's a difference between a wealth manager and an advisor, a wealth manager serves a very important purpose around wealth accumulation. But they don't necessarily always address what we call risk protection, which is the what could go wrong. That's what an advisor does, and really the call for oneself to call for someone to call himself an advisor. And if you take a CFP methodology to it, the first module I learned as a CFP was how to deal with risk. And risk is morbidity and mortality, it has to do with all of the things that could happen in the person's job, or other macro factors. These are important topics and advisor is really would benefit their clients by talking about them. And in fact, if you look at the numbers, those advisors, who addressed the holistic concerns of their client, have much higher satisfaction rates have much higher client outcome rates on financial health, and much higher persistency. their clients leave them at a much reduced rate. And it's something that I have a personal passion around this, how do you get advisors to realize that it's the both and you can do both of these things they can live together. And in fact, it's part of our it's part of our obligation to the people we serve.
Douglas Heikkinen 14:28
In your company descriptor, you talk about purpose driven advisors. Tell me more about that.
Luke Winkowski 14:34
Yeah, we we love the word purpose, because it really harkens to the idea that money is really just a tool. It's a tool to help us do all the things in life that we value and we vote with our money. We vote with our actions and behaviors. But it's through the intentionality of how we line those things up that we actually achieve contentment, happiness, fulfilling It's actually if you look at the studies on it without going too deep, it actually fuels something we like to call generosity, or acting outside of oneself. So when we say purpose based advisors, these are advisors who want to bring values based conversations into the planning room. And they want to really get beyond just this idea of maximizing money for money's sake, or protecting money for money's sake. But what is it all for? What do you want that money to do for you, and, and why? and really helping a person grow through that experience, and we see it all the time. It's so rewarding, but you know, the very micro level it changes people's lives at a community and societal level, it can change, it can change whole populations, whole communities of people, when you get people minded around that. And that's really our mission. And that's what we mean, when we say purpose based.
Douglas Heikkinen 16:00
How did you get here? Why financial services?
Luke Winkowski 16:04
Douglas Heikkinen 16:05
Luke Winkowski 16:07
I didn't get here out of out of great intentionality. As much as I was just talking about having a big purpose. I grew up in a rural town in northern Minnesota and had aspirations of going into psychology or business one of the two, and I didn't really know what either of those meds. And it was through an internship that my now wife, her father was a client of thrive. And he had introduced me to a thrivent advisor and had, I was invited to apply for an internship and got it and I had, frankly, no clue, not one bit of a clue as to what the business did. And, and it wasn't until I got into it, and really understood inside at the client, the human level that I really got it. And what I mean by that is, it wasn't until I saw the impact that the work advisors do in people's lives. I mean, in in some cases, I mean, it was my first summer where I, people were tearing up with their advisor, I was thinking to myself, I haven't seen, you know, my parents ever have that type of an interaction with any professional and hear these people are, they're pouring themselves out to this person called a financial advisor. What does that mean? I mean, what, why, why are people doing that? So it became, became very moving for me, and the industry kept calling to me, and I, you know, I To this day, I think, I believe it to my core, that it's one of the places where we can bring great well being and health to people. And that's why you know, I'm in the industry. Tell
Douglas Heikkinen 17:36
me a little bit about the journey you had, were there significant stops, and were the people who influenced you.
Luke Winkowski 17:42
So many. And I'll start with the people, I could probably name at this point, a dozen influential mentors. One of my first was a person named JJ and JJ took me on as an intern. And He then took me on as a part time associate investment associate as I was finishing up my senior year of college. And JJ was one of the most principled people I've ever met. And no, I never I'll never forget some of the stories he taught me and some of the ways he taught me to speak to people and to respect them, as a part of the role of an advisor used to you know, there's so many things that he would say that I would love to share with you all. But, you know, his his comments would be, you know, around the differences between advisors who listen, and advisors who speak, or salespeople. And he would help me understand how advice was fundamentally a different task than simply selling a product. And there's nothing wrong with selling I, in fact, think that selling is how you help people take action. But JJ really framed it up for me. So that was that was one. And he also, he also taught me, you know, and I mentioned that I came into this in the asset management side, and I was actually helping him at the time in the early 2000s, build out this fee based Asset Management portfolio. But he also shared the story with me, I don't think you'd mind me sharing it now about how his father in law back in the late 70s, he and his father in law went fishing. I think it was in South Dakota. And they were out in the boat. And JJ was a new financial representative or he was actually an insurance associate at that time. That was what he was doing. And he had to grow through his we call it natural market. And so he was gonna talk to his father in law about insurance. And his conversation that I recall him sharing with me in the fishing boat, he mustered up enough guts to ask his father in law if he had adequate life insurance. His father in law said, Yep, everything's covered and shut down the conversation. And JJ said, I decided at that point, not to ask one more question. And it was I forget the exact timeframe was a week or two later that his father in law died. Excuse me. And so what JJ said is he, he went into the story where he had said that he had to like, I don't wanna do this on a podcast, because it's kind of a. Let's take a moment. That's okay. Yeah, he went to his wife and said, because his wife had said to him, you know, don't worry, mom's gonna be okay. And JJ said, No, actually, I found out that the policy had was for $2,000.
Oh, my gosh, Mm hmm.
Luke Winkowski 20:44
So what happened then is, you know, he and his wife had to take care of his mother in law for her entire life. You know, it's, it's those types of stories that really stick with you, they're really calling you. And I, you know, I, I'm a, I'm a person that unabashedly is, is against this idea of transactional insurance sales. And I think that the industry gets a really bad rap there. But it's the idea that he wasn't there for, you know, someone he really cared about, and that we didn't show up as an advisor in that situation. And he used that as a mission to really further himself. And so when I think about these examples, and I get very emotional about it, because these are the people that mean so much to me, in my life, I can immediately relate to them. And, you know, without, you know, I'd be very poor at sharing some personal examples, that I know all know we have, because I can barely get through someone else's example without apparently getting a little bit emotional about it. But it My point is, is that, you know, it's, it's those stories, and when you really listen, that really get you through it. And so, there's, there's JJ, and then there are others. You know, there's another individual named Bruce, who ultimately hired me as a junior advisor on his team took a huge leap on me, a guy coming out of college, and not really knowing much, but knowing just enough to help it, you know, this guy named Bruce and his business associate, Richard, start building their fee based business. So it's, you know, I want to make this interesting point, I'm spending a lot of my time on the asset, wealth side of the business. And I'm seeing how that comes together on the risk side of the business. And, you know, Bruce, and Richard, when I got to their office, you know, I'm in my, you know, supposedly 22 years old, they had a two and a half hour interview, and one of the things I'll never forget it, they shared with me their clients agenda, and at the bottom of the agenda, was, we work with people that have significance, and want to make a significant difference in the world in the lives of the people around them. And they had coined this model, and it was really an early stage, you know, call to the idea that how a person uses what matters to them can actually do something much bigger than them. And they would actually present this in the first meeting. And they actually turned some clients away, I'll never forget that, that didn't fit that bill, who came in and said, you know, actually just want you to make me some money. And they were like, we're probably not the right shot for you. Like, we could introduce you to somebody else. So those are two I could go, but I could go on and on. I mean, at every stage of my career, there's been people and there have been people that helped me grow, and they helped me really shape myself.
Douglas Heikkinen 23:32
You've risen up the ladder, at an incredibly young age. I mean, you still don't look more than 22. In leading this group, there has been some self doubt times when you stared in the mirror and said, no one's coming. It's all on me. How did you get past that? How did you give yourself permission to succeed?
Luke Winkowski 23:51
No, I think there's always moments of self doubt. I, I'm a big believer in and reflecting and meditating. I don't actually meditate in the traditional sense. I think there's actual formal meditation. But in the, in the sense of really thinking and making sense of the world through quiet and calm, however you do that I happen to do that through swimming and running that that's my escape. I think some other people do it through all kinds of different ways. But finding that space to really process has been really critical, so much so that you know, some of the really hard jobs I've had along the way. For example, one of the jobs I had about, you know, just a little under a decade ago, I started the job is what we call in our company, a field leader. And so what this is, is a person who recruits people who are new to financial services and trains them and how to do the business and how to start their own business. So it's a business development coach and recruiter, and I'm new on the job and these are very measurable, mere variables. roles. And I've been successful in a lot of my early stage roles in my career and had a lot of people who were behind me and fans and these mentors that I talked about, I didn't want to let them down. I didn't want to let myself down. I didn't want to let my family down all those things. And it was in the first role that it was, like a no kidding, high performance measurement roll. And that for the first week on the job, I had so much, I had so much excitement about getting into it. I got there. And I was like, all right, I gotta do this. And I don't have a plan. What am I going to do about it? And I remember the moment I went for a swim and swim laps, and I remember having this conversation in my head about am I committed? My boss today? Actually, she has this great saying her name is Mary Jane Ford. And she's a wonderful boss. And she has this great saying, Are you the pig or the chicken, and you know, the chicken and or the feeds, feed, the family lays an egg. The pig has to be slaughtered. It's kind of a grill, you know, kind of a funny statement. But you know, the point is, is that you know, the pig is committed the chicken, it's kind of a plan words, just as to lay an egg and then go back and move on. So you're gonna lay an egg. Are you gonna, are you gonna go all in? And I remember making that intentional decision I'm going all in? And then it was a question of what's the support system around me? Who can I learn from, and then you find great people to surround yourself with. And if you get anything out of this conversation, who you surround yourself with, is so critical to success, because it's really not about you. It's not about me, it's about the excellence we achieve through others. And after all enough, go back to advising, I mean, advice, financial advisors are all built on the idea of that two people are better than one that you get you actually, you actually self self activating yourself to success is far less likely than having someone who cares about you help you get there. And that's, you know, a really important story as well.
Douglas Heikkinen 27:14
I have two last things for you. First one is what has you incredibly excited about thrivent for 2021.
Luke Winkowski 27:23
So much, and I mean that, you know, in the company that is a younger person, I've worked for virtually my entire career, I haven't I haven't shopped around and, and moved companies. And I say that is an important indication to my level of commitment. Again, you know, the big. And the idea here is is that you at thrive ins, we have this big purpose. And for the first time since I've been here, we've made not only the intentional decision, but the intentional investment to tell our story. It's been a company that's been successful for over 100 years, working in a very small niche of of the world. And as we've really adopted the different approach, which is to be a leader and advice in across financial services, we're actually getting our name out there. And you know, some of the podcasts might have seen these commercials for thrivent, and that that's a new thing. No one would ever have seen that before, or ads in different financial press or different, you know, places in the popular society. And that's just one part about building the brand new awareness. But the point I'm trying to make is, I'm excited that a company that has as much commitment to driving impacts in communities and lives of people it serves the big purpose is now finally taking itself seriously, and putting itself out there in the world. And in really trying to be a leader in that. And we're, by the way, not doing that, because we think we're the only ones who can do it. I think there's a lot who can do it in the industry. But we think that the world needs it. And I think the world does. So I'm really excited about that. And then the other thing I'm really excited about is we're continuing to add fantastic talent. In a time when hiring is kind of all over the map in financial services, you see some people getting out of some things and you're in there, we have a very strong capital position. And we're using that to strategic advantage to really say no, this is a time to grow. And I'll close my thought on thrive ins history is 100. In the last hundred and 20 years, we've had two very significant boom cycles. One was during the Great Depression, and the second was during the Great Recession. And part of that is because as a company that's generally viewed i think is a little bit more risk minded conservative. It's not as sexy as the Wall Street players you know that you have out there. It's those same values really ground that people find grounding in In times when they're there, they're sensing those real risks or having those existential moments where they're really thinking about what's important to them. And I think we're in that space right now. And quite frankly, I hope we stay there. Because there's, there's a lot of stuff. We're talking about financial services today, a lot of stuff in society that would benefit from us staying in that reflective space.
Douglas Heikkinen 30:25
Okay, I'll get you out of here on this. What advice do you have for the young person thinking about coming into this industry? Is it noble? Is it somewhere they can live a proud life in?
Luke Winkowski 30:38
Oh, my goodness. Absolutely. It's a it's not only a noble profession, it's a it's a, it's a needed one that that society benefits from. And the advice I'd have is to get clear on what impact you want to make personally, what what matters to you, what makes you tick, because the second you get clear about that, and you get grounded in it, is the second that you can focus on what matters to other people, and what makes them tick. And so getting into this business is actually all about other people, but it starts with you. And that might sound really selfish, and, you know, to like a weird way of looking at it, but you actually see this in things like cultural competency. In order to appreciate other cultures that are different from you, you have to appreciate yourself. So before you get into this, make sure you're grounded in your own values, your own money life, for example, and the choices you make there. Make sure that you're that you respect that and that you appreciate that. Love that and then find a way that find that same greatness and others and that that will serve you well. Whether you're in a role as a financial advisor, your whole career, you go down leadership or management tracks.
Douglas Heikkinen 32:02
Luke, what a great conversation. thriven is very lucky to have you. Thank you for joining us.
Luke Winkowski 32:07
Douglas Heikkinen 32:09
For everyone at Iris mediaworks, our producer jakey beard and the permission to succeed team. This is Doug Heikkinen. Take care.
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