AGENCY OF THE MONTH
FINANCIAL HELP WITH WISDOM AND LOVE
Arizona agency offers new way to serve clients financial products
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
Grant Botma had an idea about the way financial products should be made available to people. It involved providing completely open communication about the financial services being offered, as well as educating people about finances. In short, he wanted to promote financial literacy—something that has been shown to be seriously lacking in our society.
At the same time, he wanted to make certain that the income derived from providing financial products to clients was clearly delineated. Clients would know exactly what they were paying for in the service being provided and those fees would be reasonable, rather than designed to enrich the salesperson or organization.
When he approached his then-boss with these ideas, he was told they were great but impractical, and weren’t going to be implemented there. He added that there was no way Grant would be able to offer financial services in this manner and survive. So, Grant did the only reasonable thing: He ignored the warning and started his own financial service firm to implement his ideas.
Stewardship Mortgage opened its doors in 2007 in Gilbert, Arizona, and, less than a year later, Grant, along with Brandon Ream, insurance advisor, co-founded Stewardship Insurance to offer property/casualty coverages and Stewardship Planning for other products, such as life, health, disability, long-term care, and estate plans. In 2015, Jake Norton and Jeremy Sharp, ChFC®, joined the firm and founded Stewardship Financial, to offer investment advisory and financial planning services.
And with that, Grant had all the pieces together. He now had a firm that would be able to deliver on his vision—one that could offer services and provide customer education about finances. And one that earned back-to-back honors as an Inc. 5000 fastest growing privately held company, with three-year growth topping 200% each year.
Eschewing the old way
Transparency was an especially important element in the firm’s creation. “What I had seen in financial services was that most salespeople taught, trained and acted on getting the greatest commission,” Grant says. “We were convinced that we could provide financial products to clients that were what they really needed and benefited them. So, we said ‘no’ to high-commission financial products and placed a cap on the income that we could derive from placing a mortgage.”
The result of all this is that, today, Stewardship’s mortgage, insurance, and investments services are separate financial entities under one roof, each run by individuals who share Grant’s passion to educate and guide people, and empower them with relevant information about any of the financial products they as a client or prospect may need.
“Stewardship aims to build genuine relationships with people,” he adds, “and provide insurance, mortgages, financial planning and investments for them with wisdom and love.”
Brandon points out that “the fact that we have a unified purpose allows each of the four companies to stay focused on the needs of the clients, rather than the financial needs of the corporations. We do our best to love our clients, working with them to reach a point in their financial lives where financial stresses do not impinge on their relationships with family and friends.
“We let our clients know that we’ve got their back,” he adds, “and we maintain regular communication to make certain that the coverage they have remains relevant with any changes in their circumstances.”
“All of our technology is geared toward making certain that we maintain solid relationships, and that’s especially true in advance of renewal time,” Brandon continues. “Our system proactively touches base with each client well before their renewal, so we can review everything and let them know about any changes in premium and any coverages that may be needed.
“We also provide proposals in a different way,” he points out. The agency created its own custom software that lets it send what Brandon calls “modern insurance proposals that clients love. The soft-ware lets us embed a video where we explain the coverages that we are recommending and why we’re doing so.”
He says the proposal process “not only saves time and helps us convert more sales, but it exhibits transparency to the client and builds trust. We are completely open about everything we do, making it clear that our main goal is to love and serve them through finance.”
Grant picks up by sharing his observation that poor financial planning can negatively impact a person, and this realization has strengthened his resolve to make sure none of Stewardship’s clients suffer because of bad advice. “A family member, unfortunately, had an agent who didn’t ask the questions we ask,” he explains.
“The result was that, even after he started a family, he still had the auto coverage he had as a teenager when he was living at home,” Grant adds. “It was inadequate, and he only found that out when he was involved in an accident. The strain on his marriage was significant as he faced bankruptcy.
“And he’s not the only person who’s been in trouble due to inadequate insurance or poor financial planning,” he explains. “We know that financial problems are right at the top of the list of concerns that can impact a person’s relationships, all too often leading to unhappy marriages or divorce.
“We don’t want that to happen to any of our clients,” Grant notes. “We carry a deep sense of responsibility to ensure their finances enhance their life rather than damage portions of their life. This really is a labor of love for each of us.”
Planning starts with insurance
Jeremy Sharp, ChFC, investment advisor, says, “It is really cool to have all the different members of the various Stewardship companies around you in the same office. When I sit down with a client or prospect, one of the first things that I do is look through the insurance to make certain that they are properly covered,” he explains. “I don’t want to put together a financial plan for someone only to have it ruined by an uncovered loss.
“I am very careful about giving them unbiased advice about their coverage,” Jeremy notes. “We don’t require that a client use our affiliated insurance company, but it is there if they need it. The decision is theirs.”
Grant concurs: “We never force clients to use our other products or services,” adding that there are no shared commissions or additional bonuses paid to internal staff for making a cross-sale referral happen. “We just have a mission to give advice with wisdom and love,” he explains, “and that’s regardless of which company is involved in the transaction.”
Jake Norton, also an investment advisor, agrees with Jeremy that “the first step in proper financial planning is insurance. In fact, we often find that the conversation about investing stops whenever a client is told that they’re underinsured. There’s no point in starting a program to build wealth when it all could disappear because of inadequate insurance coverage.”
While clients aren’t required to use only Stewardship companies, they most likely find value when they do. “The fact that we have experts in all the financial fields under one roof does mean that we can create an awesome experience for a client who is searching for answers to one or more financial concerns,” Grant adds.
He says the words of Stewardship’s clients speak louder than anything he or his teammates could say. “Our organization entered 2021 with nearly 1,700 reviews from people saying what their experience was like,” he says proudly, pointing out that nearly all the reviews are “extremely positive, five out of five stars. And these reviews only involve insurance and mortgages. Reviews of investments are not allowed.”
Meeting other needs
Brandon points to another unique way of doing business at Stewardship. “Samantha Marroquin is our executive of belonging, and simply put, her job is to make sure our clients and our staff know that they belong—that they are loved. One example of what she does is she scours social media to see if any of our clients need our help or deserve recognition—perhaps their child has won an award—or are part of any of the multifarious events that might wind up on a social media site. And then we follow through with the appropriate way to serve their needs. We extend that to our staff as well.”
Jeremy says he’s really enjoyed being part of Stewardship’s initiative to serve in this way. “It’s nice to be able to help a client with a meal or a ride or whatever they might need after a hospital stay or some other event. And it’s great fun to be there to congratulate one of their children for an achievement in school or, on the other side, to help a child who is having problems at school.”
Stewardship leaders also are involved in delivering various forms of free financial education for the community. For instance, Grant notes, “Jake writes a blog every week that is designed to make finances relatable. Jeremy does a podcast where he educates people on how to make the biggest impact with their finances. He’s reached 100 episodes. Brandon leads live events in our office, and I lead the educational videos.
“All of these offerings are focused on educating clients, not selling,” he adds. “Topics we’ve covered include how to make business a ministry, teaching kids about finances, dealing with financial conflict, and so on. What we insist on is that everyone communicates with humility and transparency.
“Equally important is serving the community where we live and work,” Grant continues. “One of the charities we support is a local food bank that is involved in feeding people who need help making ends meet.
“I know what that’s like,” he adds. “When I was growing up, my dad was in jail and my family depended on food assistance programs. Several of us also have experience with foster care and we support that with our money and with our time. In fact, Jeremy took in a foster child and has now completed adoption.”
“The way we engage with our community is our niche,” Grant continues. He’s encountered situations where others question or even criticize Stewardship for offering what they view as too many products or services.
“Many insurance firms have found success focusing on one offering,” he notes. “As a result, that has become a popular business model. But it is not our model.
“Stewardship was started because I saw a need in our community,” he explains. “People need their finances to be handled correctly. People need a wise and loving advisor who will serve them as a selfless fiduciary. Although all of the financial products and services we offer may be too broad for some companies, the way we love people through their finances is very specific. Love is our niche.”
Rough Notes is proud to recognize Stewardship as our Agency of the Month. They write primarily personal lines and still boast a retention rate of 95%—a testament to a service model that makes each client feel like part of the Stewardship family. Their approach of “loving people through finance” is commendable, and we are pleased to offer praise.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.
Main photo: Leadership team members, from left, Jeremy Sharp, ChFC®, investment advisor and co-founder, Stewardship Planning & Financial; Brandon Ream, insurance advisor and co-founder, Stewardship Insurance; Grant Botma, founder, Stewardship Mortgage, Insurance, Planning & Financial; and Jake Norton, investment advisor and co-founder, Stewardship Planning & Financial