One doesn’t usually think of a conversation with insurance agents and financial planners as fun. But Ralph Smith and Larry Ratick, principals of Accent Financial Group in Highland, have been best friends and business partners for so long they can finish each other’s sentences. And often do.
And they were fun to talk to. Each has some great stories about their 40 years of working together, with 25 of those as business partners in Highland. They’re celebrating that 25th anniversary with an open house in their offices at 550 Route 299 this Friday, January 22 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Refreshments will be served.
“We realized in November that it was 25 years since we opened here,” said Ratick, “so we thought that was worth celebrating. We hope people will come and just see who we are and what we are.”
What they are is a single location where people can get a full range of insurance and financial planning services, to the point where you could even get a life insurance plan for seniors over 85. Truly, a full service company. Ratick doesn’t like the term “one-stop shop,” but in essence, their customers know it’s not “departmentalized” there. “When a client sees one person for personal insurance, another for commercial and another entirely for investments, it’s difficult to see the total picture,” Smith said. “But here, you’re going to talk to one person, Larry or myself. And in our years in the business, we found that the only way you can properly look after somebody is if you know everything about that person. Then if a problem does come up, you know how to handle it.”
Beyond knowing the full financial situation for a client, knowing their personal story is just as important. “If I’m talking to you,” Ratick explained, “and I also have your father as my client, and I know he’s getting on in age and you’re going to have to start taking care of some things, then I know which way to go with some of your investments to help you out. It’s not just knowing how much money a client has, and how much life insurance. It’s also important to know their whole situation, and know the person.”
Who they are is the other half of the equation. “We keep our clients because we really care about them,” said Ratick. “It’s just the way it is. People love the idea that they’re not calling the agency, they’re calling Larry or Ralph. We’re called Accent Financial Group, but it’s us they’re calling.”
The two are members of the Strategic Independent Agents Alliance Network, which allows them to offer their clients insurance coverage from more than 40 companies. “We’re constantly doing education to keep up because we have to have a working knowledge of them all,” said Ratick. “But it makes life so much easier for our clients to talk to just one person they trust. And we have enough contacts out there with lawyers, accountants and tax-preparers that if there’s something we can’t do, we know who to refer them to. We’ll even go with them to see a lawyer if they feel more comfortable doing that with us.”
Smith and Ratick met in 1973 when both went to work for John Hancock as financial consultants. At that time, the company only sold life and homeowner’s insurance, and was just getting into financial planning.
“Clients would come to us and say, ‘Can you do our auto insurance, too?’ And we had to send them to other people, and they didn’t like that. They wanted everything to be with us, because they liked us,” Ratick said. “So Ralph and I said, ‘Let’s do something different than what’s out there now. Let’s see if we can open up an office where if someone needs anything in financial services, they can do it all in one place and still talk to us.’”
The firm name came from their musical backgrounds. Ratick was formerly a music teacher (voice), and Smith was a drummer with a national drum-and-bugle corps (the Hawthorne Muchachos out of Hawthorne, New Jersey). The lawyer they consulted in setting up the business advised them to choose a name beginning with a letter in the first part of the alphabet so that people consulting the Yellow Pages would find them first (This was 1990, remember). In looking for a name beginning with the letter ‘A,’ they came up with ‘accent,’ which in music, over a note, means to ‘hit it harder,’ said Ratick.
Neither planned initially to go into the insurance business. Few people do, according to Ratick. While financial planning draws some to go into that field, he said, insurance is usually something where a person either has a family connection to the business or just falls into it. The latter was the case for both him and Smith.
In Ratick’s case, school-district budget cuts had made him a laid-off music teacher with a master’s degree, overqualified for the substituting work he was trying to get. Sitting in his father’s Monticello barber shop one day chatting with a customer, the man asked him if he’d ever thought of selling life insurance. An emphatic “No” was his initial reaction. But after going through an interview, he figured he’d do it until he found a teaching job. “And here I am 40 years later.”
Smith got into the business reluctantly, too, even self-sabotaging his first interview by wearing a work shirt and jeans to it, sporting long hair and a beard. He had just come off of a year of “carousing and having a good time” touring the country with the Hawthorne Muchachos, and a stay in southern California had convinced him he wanted to go back. But home again in Poughkeepsie his mom told him, ‘You’ve had your fun, now get a job,’ and he found himself at that interview, where, he said, they hired him despite the long hair and beard as long as he wore a suit jacket.
It all worked out
All these years later, although social media and the Internet have had their impact on how things are done, the business, said Smith, is really about the same concerns now that it was back then. “How to save money for retirement, what’s going on with social security, how to save on premiums for insurance …. It’s all the same things now. Maybe we’re talking with the children of the parents we worked with then, but it’s the same concerns. And I learned back at John Hancock that servicing people is the key to this business. As long as you service people, everything else will fall into line.”
What has kept them in the business is the satisfaction they’ve found in the work. “I love helping people,” Ratick says. “I love it when someone says to me, ‘No one ever told me about that before.’ Am I making money on it? Sure I am, but it makes me feel good to help somebody. I may give them something that won’t make as much for me, but it helps them out and I’ll keep them as a client. It’s the satisfaction that Ralph and I get, and I know he feels the same, when you can hand someone the check that helps them rebuild their home that burned down, or lets a woman keep her family going after her husband dies. To me, that’s the part of this business that matters. I just want to do the right thing for somebody.”
More information is available by calling 883-4280 or vistiing ww.accentfginsurance.com.