The SafeMoney.com Spotlight Series highlights independent agents and financial advisors who are part of our tight-knit community of financial professionals across the country. They come from all walks of life, and each one brings rich life experiences, insights, and wisdom from their involvement in financial services and other professional pursuits.
We celebrate them as independent business owners, neighbors, friends, educators, and movers-and-shakers affecting positive change in their communities. Today, we are joined by John Chopak, a highly experienced, independent agent from Massachusetts. John is singularly unique as to the extent and breadth of his business experience before he jumped into financial services and opened an independent practice. He is very entrepreneurial, hands-on, and deeply involved with each client’s retirement planning. John handles all services for each client himself. Keeping things “human” in his practice is a strong focus for him.
He has an unyielding commitment to integrity and doing the right thing for all clients. We are proud to have him as part of our national network of financial professionals, which has been featured on major news outlets that reach 84+ million households across the U.S. In short, you can say that John brings a deep, practical insight and wisdom to every client he serves.
SafeMoney.com (SM): Thanks for joining us today, John! Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?
John Chopak (JC): Thanks for having me. I’ve been an independent agent for more than 15 years. I offer most insurance products but specialize in retirement savings and planning strategies. My clients like the unique guarantees that we offer utilizing life insurance and annuities to protect and provide for their futures.
People who work with me, appreciate the individual treatment and the different experience of a no-BS, no-fluff approach I adhere to. In that vein, I am a very hands-on, very service-driven agent. Many of my clients go back over 10 years and continue with me to this day! I am the point of contact for everything – not a staff member or other go-between, and this has been critically important to my clients.
Now, a bit more on the personal side. I was born and grew up in New York and graduated from Arizona State University. My extensive business experience prior to becoming an independent agent helps me understand people from all walks of life and their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
SM: Great! For how long have you been in the financial services industry?
JC: Including my early years in the industry, I have over 15 years of experience. I have focused on retirement income planning for approximately seven years.
SM: That is a great record. How did you get into this business? What pushed you to get started in the areas that you are in now?
JC: I had a great deal of business experience, including as the President of an international company, as well as an owner/operator of a commercial real estate business, and lastly as an owner of a domestic manufacturing company in Massachusetts. I sold the last of my holdings and took almost 2 years’ time to determine what would be next.
Having always been an employee-driven owner, with a sincere interest in people’s well-being, I felt destined to make a new career out of that deep-seated human interest. My mission is to help people improve their situations financially and give them peace of mind – confidence – and stability of funds.
My path to financial services is a little bit different from what you might hear from others. I started by studying the rules and regulations, getting properly licensed, and pursuing my interest diligently.
SM: So, you have a very entrepreneurial and diverse background that eventually led you to financial services. Interesting. What experiences from your career in business and finance would you say help you serve your clients?
JC: Well, my broad experience comes into play here in many ways. I served as the President of an international trading company, where my duties encompassed all aspects of the business. Among other areas, I was responsible for P&L, finances, and cash-flow management. I supervised employee benefits and negotiations for all aspects of that company, including union negotiation and OSHA compliance. I also operated a 250,000-square-foot commercial real estate building and all that went with that.
Traveling around the world gave me first-hand experience with our employees, their situations, and the need to provide as well as protect their accumulated wealth. That is a key reason why I am passionate about maintaining that personal service with each client whom I serve.
I can also say my background helps me appreciate how crucial planning is for the future – and just how much people will benefit when they prepare for tomorrow, today!
At a later point in my career, I owned two manufacturing plants in Massachusetts with a total of approximately 250 employees. This furthered my understanding of how critical planning for the future is for both the company and the employees. I very much enjoyed the wealth-building aspect of my employees.
I assumed total responsibility for P&L, union contract negotiating, salary increases, and of course benefits. When I was contemplating new opportunities during that two-year hiatus, I realized my benefit planning expertise would be very useful in helping others do that critical life planning. In short, my skills in understanding both the importance and use of money, allows me to positively contribute to clients’ financial goals. After seeing these things from so many angles, it has given me a unique perspective and wisdom that helps me create a plan for each client’s financial future.
SM: Talk about some strong insights! Who are the kinds of people with whom you work the most? Who would you say is your “typical client?”
JC: I serve Main Street America, what some might call the “mass affluent.” I really like working with those who are frankly underserved. They don’t receive the answers and guidance for their retirement that they should be receiving.
Many clients come in with investible assets of $50,000 to $2.0 million. I bring a strong understanding and kinship to these folks and offer guidance and strategies that fit their needs with integrity. A major emphasis is on integrity! I can’t tell you how important that is in my practice.
I’ll give you a quick idea of who the typical client is. Government employees with retirement planning on their minds. This includes management personnel. Pension holders, teachers, firefighters, police officers, working people of all types!
Many of these people have a common thread: They lack in-depth knowledge about their finances, and they aren’t very trusting until you can prove that you are trustworthy, and their time will be well spent. No question goes unanswered under any circumstances.
I am passionate about bringing answers and clarity to everyone with whom I work. I have both the skills – and the referrals – to support that strong focus on integrity that we discussed earlier. I also “speak” their language and avoid the gobbledygook that is often festered upon them.
They appreciate that. They often tell me how grateful they are for that approach.
SM: What other experiences in your career (non-finance related) and in life have you had that are helpful in working with clients and solving their financial problems?
JC: I think that my dealings in international finance, currencies, and conversions – and the vast knowledge they require – have given me a deep understanding of finance. It also helps me see how impactful small changes can be if they are properly vetted. They can make hugely significant differences, financially speaking, for a client and their life planning circumstances.
I would also add that my experience extends beyond the practical. Having responsibility for almost 300 employees and all the financial concerns that align with that, gave me an appreciation of how much help, understanding, and patience is required in order for me to be effective.
My experience outside of business equips me with additional perspective as well. I have been a board member of several industry organizations, both business-based and community-based.
The bottom line? My experiences inside and outside of finance helps clients understand that their financial choices are life-altering decisions. Those choices play directly into whether they will have a secure future.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I help them understand the importance of a plan, but even more importantly, they see that my concern for their well-being is of the highest degree of sincerity!
Strong relationships built on clear communication and integrity are extremely important to me.
SM: In 2-5 sentences, what exactly does being an advisor or a financial professional mean to you?
JC: Honestly, the word “advisor” has always bothered me. The better way I choose to characterize the occupation is to view it as a lifetime partnership where the needs of the client (or how I treat people in my practice, as a partner) are far and above all other considerations.
Honesty, integrity, and knowledge are the building blocks of what anyone calling themselves an “advisor” should encompass.
SM: What accomplishments in your financial services career are you most proud of? How about accomplishments in life, in general?
JC: I am most proud of the fact that the vast majority of my clients have come from referrals, which is indicative of how they were treated, as well as the results.
Relationships are so important. I want every client to know how they will be treated and the service they will receive when “adding” me to their portfolio. Another important accomplishment to me is how, with no sponsors, I got an education by doing, not by talking.
I have always been a hands-on owner/operator and have always had that first-hand involvement in my business endeavors. So, when someone calls, I take the call! No hiding behind email or voicemail!
SM: What do you do outside of business? What would you say is your “identity” outside of being an independent agent?
JC: Family is very important to me. I grew up in an educationally driven family with many teachers and administrators in our family. We are very close-knit and are still very close with family throughout the US. We have always taken care of each other whenever help is or has been needed, and that is still the case today.
I am very involved with my own family, and my granddaughter, as well as my wife. We see them almost every week, and that is truly the luckiest aspect of my life.
I am a music “nut” and have a vast collection of Vinyl albums, 45’s as well as over 1200 CD’s. Music is a passion of mine, and my kids have acquired that same passion!
I have studied Mandarin for many years, and I am good enough to ‘survive’ speaking it but not quite fluent. People have asked why I study Mandarin, and the reasons are simple:
1) It is difficult.
2) It requires concentration, dedication, and even frustration.
3) These are the same requirements to being a valuable Retirement
Giving back has also been important to me. I participate in several local charities, but I am no longer a board member as I have been before.
SM: The retirement and financial services spaces don’t sit still, as you know. They are constantly changing, and things that affect people’s finances are always evolving. What do you do to stay on top of continuing education, professional development, and learning new strategies, tax and law changes, estate law changes, and so on for your clients?
JC: Staying on top of all of the changes, updates, and improvements in financial services can be a daunting task, but it’s imperative. I read many journals, attend many webinars, and, of course, do my continuing education as required by law.
The internet has made this a much more palatable task as so much can be done on my desktop and through videos.
SM: What are a few surprising things about yourself, or that you have done, that others don’t know about you, but would be interesting to know?
JC: What may surprise people about me is the depth of my curiosity about our business, and my constant pursuit of knowledge.
I am an avid motorcyclist and typically take several long trips each year. This year, I am headed to the Smoky Mountains with my son in law. Should be amazing.
I have a wide spectrum of interests such as the Chinese language, old rock and roll, deep family connection, and religious connection. These are things that I don’t easily exhibit to just anyone.
I have owned and operated businesses, been in high-responsibility roles such as a company president, developed and built condominiums, and acted as a partner to hundreds of clients. My work background is quite extensive and not well-known.
SM: We appreciate you shedding some light on your experiences. You talked about how giving back is important to you. How would you say you are active in your community?
JC: I have been on the Board of the local Boys and Girls Club. I have mentored seniors in high school, have done charitable fundraising for various organizations, and am active in fundraising for my local religious affiliation.
SM: What should a prospective client know about you before they work with you? What could they expect in working with you?
JC: Well, there is nothing like seeing something for yourself, so I would encourage people to reach out and form their own impressions. That being said, I truly believe they would instantly know I am a down-to-earth, sincere person, who wants to help and never utilizes pressure. These, to me, are the reasons my referral base is so positive.
I am hands-on, always, and my way of talking to a new client assures them of that. You call, I respond!
I have clients for 10-15 years who still call me for minor issues because I have always told every client this: “If you remember one thing about our conversation, remember this: I am your 800 Number. No 45 minutes of hold music!”
They believe it, and I have proven over the years this isn’t a slogan – it is my mantra.
SM: This has been a most enjoyable discussion, John. Do you have any final thoughts before we conclude here?
JC: I would summarize by saying, those who work with me know they get the real deal! No stuffed shirt, no use of words that no one on Earth understands, and I have the patience to answer every single question that someone asks.
This business has been good to me, and that is a direct reflection of the fact that I have been good to it!
SM: Great. Thanks again for taking some time to share your stories and rich background with us, John! We appreciate you joining us today.
JC: My pleasure, thank you for inviting me.
Do you have any financial questions for John, or would you like to discuss your personal situation at no obligation? Get in touch with him at his SafeMoney.com contact page.