It's time to prepare for the unexpected

You might recognize Vicki Gunvalson from the popular reality TV series the Real Housewives of Orange County. What you may not know, is that she is an incredibly successful business owner and the ultimate insurance guru. As president and founder of Coto Insurance & Financial Services, Inc., Vicki has a genuine passion for protecting her clients from the unexpected and building their wealth for a brighter, stable future. Her business has thrived as a result of her commitment to her clients and her tenacity.

We sat down with Vicki to learn more about the success of her business and what we can all learn about the importance of getting insured. This interview has been edited for clarity.

 InMyArea: Could you talk to us about where your passion for life insurance came from?

Vicki Gunvalson: Well, I’ve been doing it since I was 28 and I’m 56 now, so it’s been a long time. I think delivering the death claim checks are the biggest “aha” moments in my career. When you realize you’re going to be able to change somebody’s life after the death of someone then that makes it all worth it. So I think that’s my biggest thing.

When you realize you’re going to be able to change somebody’s life after the death of someone then that makes it all worth it.

I know that you believe most people are underinsured. It seems that a lot of people always think: “I’ll put that off until later” or “this is something that’s not going to happen to me.” With your clients, how do you address these thoughts and help them realize the importance of getting insured?

Everybody thinks they are immortal and that they’re not going to die. It’s unfortunate, but it happens to everybody. There’s a 100% chance we’re all going to pass on. The thing for me is making them realize it can happen at any time.

Just last week, I got a phone call from a client. I’ve been telling this story over and over because it shook me to my core. A man and his wife came in to talk about life insurance, and I was handling their 401K and things like that. His term had expired and I said: “What are you going to do if he dies tomorrow?” The man’s wife said, “Well I’d be in trouble, because he’s the only breadwinner. He makes $250,000 a year, and he’s 65 years old. We’d have a lot of financial difficulty in the family if he died.”

Everybody thinks they are immortal and that they’re not going to die. It’s unfortunate, but it happens to everybody. 

Well, he recently died of a sudden heart attack while he was working. He and his wife paid only $1600, and she received $1.1 million dollars, tax free, seven months later. And if I didn’t pursue this with him, he was adamant he was going to outlive the ten year term. He said, “I’m 65 years old. I’m strong. I’m healthy.” Which he was, but who knew, right? So he got approved preferred plus, everything was fine, and then he got struck with a massive heart attack and died.

She’s going to be able to stay in her house thanks to this policy. Those are the times where I think, I was there at the right time and the right place, and I handled this with them. Those are the moments where I’m reminded: I know what I’m doing. And I know I’m doing the right thing.

As you said there are just those things that come up and you can’t possibly expect them. When you’re working with an individual client, how do you determine which policy is going to be best for them? What aspects of their life do you consider?

That’s where the specialty comes in. Nobody gets the same cookie cutter plan. I mean, it depends what they make, how long their life expectancy is, etc. A 60-year-old may need more or less than a 30-year-old. I design plans, and nobody gets the same plan based solely on their age. We look at what their income is, what their debt ratio is, etc. And I’m a full service representative so I don’t just take orders. I review and decide what they need and then I set the plan up correctly.

I’ve heard you talk about how your company really believes in sticking with the customer throughout their entire life and  helping them through those ups and downs. Could you tell us a little bit about maintaining those relationships in the long term?

I stay in touch. We do newsletters every week, we do client appreciation cruises. I’m full service so I do auto, home, retirement planning, health insurance, medicare supplements, so my clients don’t have to go anywhere else. Once they come here, they know that they are going to be treated by a brokerage that can meet all of their needs.

What kinds of misconceptions do you think people have about life insurance that prevent them from getting insured?

People think that the insurance company is not going to pay out. I mean, I can’t tell you how many people have said this. They say, “Well I’ve heard insurance companies don’t pay out when there’s a death.” Well, that’s false, that’s a lie. They do pay out, insurance always pays out, as long as the policy was enforced and as long as they did not lie on the application. So if there was falsified information and they find out about it -- let’s say you got diagnosed with cancer and you didn’t disclose it, then they're going to find out and they’re going to deny that claim. So, I mean, that’s the biggest thing we want to do is make sure the application is correct and the policy is set up right in the first place.

What are some of the other common questions that you you receive from your customers who are looking to get insured?

“How much life insurance do I need?” A good rule of thumb is to insure the breadwinner at least 10 – 20 times their annual salary, but that’s where a specialist comes into play. “Do I have to do a paramed or blood and urine test?” And the answer is typically yes, because they do have to have a physical to make sure that we get insurability. We do have plans that are non-med, but they are a little bit more expensive. So that’s why the type of plan you get is important and that’s when the specialists come in.

Traditionally, the insurance and financial services industry is very male-dominated, but from your very first job in the industry you excelled. You are an inspiration for women who have a drive to enter industries like this. What would you say to a woman who might be hesitant to pursue her passions because of those male-dominated industries?

It’s a boring industry. You know, this isn’t bells and whistles and excitement. I love math. For me it’s simple and it’s easy to do because I love planning. I love figuring things out. I’m an algorithm; my brain is just always thinking of numbers. If you don’t like detail and you don’t like numbers, you’re not going to excel. But it’s perfect for me because I’m always being creative. I am not a “go draw a picture” person, but I can create the best retirement plan and the best life insurance plan in the industry.

It’s not going to be easy -- if they think it’s going to be easy, it’s not. It’s a tough, tough career. And there are days where I think, how could I keep going? But you do, and when you love what you do, I’ve been very fortunate -- I’ve got good staff that help me be the best that I can be. I don’t think you can really expect it to be an easy career because it’s not. Not at all. It’s very hard actually. I’m working harder than I did when I was in my 20s and I said, what’s wrong with this picture? I should be retired now. It’s a tough career, it’s not easy. You’ve got to have some savings in the bank that you can rely on to supplement you while you go through this because there’s another challenge -- you’re not going to make money right away. It’s going to be a while before you start bringing in a paycheck and that’s a challenge for a lot of people.

You’ve had so much success in the insurance and financial services industry, and then you have this whole world of the Real Housewives of Orange County and your success there. How has your time being a part of that show impacted you, your business, and the way that you live your life?

My company motto is “Where retirement dreams come true” and that’s really what it’s all about.

Well that’s a tough question, because it depends upon what episode aired last week and it really is about managing it all. You know, as long as I keep my clothes on, and I don’t swear too much I seem to be okay. I don’t know if you guys have watched the episodes this year but it’s been a challenge.  Many of my insurance clients don’t watch the show, they only know “Coto Financial Vicki.”  Sometimes clients do find me from the show but mostly I’ve built my business on referrals and word of mouth. Insurance may be boring, but I’m not a boring insurance agent. I love to “whoop it up” and have fun and I think that helps me to be more in touch with my client’s needs.  I don’t just wave a finger at them and tell them to save more, I say, “Let’s plan for the unexpected so you can live the life you want.” My company motto is “Where retirement dreams come true” and that’s really what it’s all about.

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