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July 26, 2021
For Nick Papastergiou, RICP®, a career in financial services wasn’t planned—but once he got started, he quickly realized it’s where he was meant to be.
“I’ve always wanted to save people, one way or another, and I’m an idealist,” he says with a smile. “I wanted to be a doctor, but I studied chemical engineering in school and ran a startup business for quite a while. After that, I was looking for a career change.” Coincidentally, his wife was already working in financial services at the time. “She sold me my first insurance policy,” Nick remembers, “and it was she who recommended I try my hand at a career in insurance. She knew I was good at selling things to people and enjoyed caring for them. But she made me ask around at several different companies so I could make up my own mind about it.”
Since that time in 2004, when Nick got his first job as an insurance agent at Ethniki Asfalistiki of Athens, Greece, he has proved himself and his worth to those around him many times over. He was recognized as a distinguished agent, ranked among the “top 10 or 20” of nearly 2,500 employees at the company for his performance, and won productivity and sustainability awards for three consecutive years, earning the prestigious LIMRA Lifelong Membership. After moving up to a managerial position as Team Leader, his current office is first in production for the entire country-wide company. “I come from a family of high achievers, and I realized I could do more from the executive level by introducing new people to the profession and building the strongest team I could to better serve our clients,” he says.
Nick Papastergiou also has the distinction, as of July 2021, of being the only financial professional in Greece who holds a designation from The College.
Taking Knowledge to the Next Level
Even with his significant accomplishments, Nick still looked for ways to stand out in a crowded field. “I wanted to further differentiate myself and offer additional value for my customers,” he says. “I want to show them I have knowledge that no one else has.”
That was when he saw a post from a colleague on LinkedIn praising The American College of Financial Services and its programs, and he instantly wanted to know more. “All the designations sounded fascinating, but I chose the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) program because I believe retirement planning and pensions will be the next big high-interest item in Greece for financial planning,” he says.
In The College, Nick found the lifelong learning partner he’d been waiting for. “With the RICP®, my education was in my own hands,” he says. “Thanks to the totally online coursework, the time difference wasn’t a problem, and all the sources were provided for me. The webinars especially were great, and the material was very well-written. I was also very pleased with the procedural aspects of the experience; whenever I had technical or credit card difficulties, the assistance I got from The College was excellent.”
The benefits from The College’s programs were so great, Nick says he’s put them into practice every day when working with clients and agents. “U.S. programs don’t often correlate with the Greek reality; however, even when the information I learned wasn’t strictly relevant, it was very interesting nonetheless,” he says. “It’s definitely made me a better asset to my customers and agents, and I always use the ‘18 Retirement Risk Factors’ I learned when presenting to clients.”
Even though not all the information in his RICP® courses is useful for his current reality, Nick says it’s still making a difference in his practice. “It’s like looking into the future,” he says. “What we’re living with Social Security, insurance, and retirement planning, you’ve lived 20 or 30 years ago, and eventually we’ll catch up to that. We have many programs that are similar to yours, but they’re often bound together to resemble the larger, more comprehensive plans the U.S. provides its citizens.” Nick says the long-term care element of his RICP® curriculum was especially eye-opening due to personal experience with the subject. “My mother had a stroke and needs daily nursing care, and she fortunately has my late father’s pension to support her, but if I hadn’t been in a position to help as well, she’d probably be broke,” he says. “I don’t want other people to have to live through something like that.”
Adapting to Overseas Realities
While not everything from his RICP® coursework directly applies to his work in Greece, Nick says there are many things Greeks could learn from The College’s education.
“We need to move things forward, reeducating our agents and customers to embrace diversity and risk in retirement planning,” he says. “We’re waking up to the dangers of poor retirement planning in Greece, because our equivalent of Social Security doesn’t give us as much of a benefit as we’d like, so we need to inform people about the obstacles and how they could derail their plans later in life.”
When asked where the knowledge gap in retirement planning exists in Greece, Nick laughs. “I don’t think there is a knowledge gap, because to have a gap you would have to have knowledge to begin with,” he says. “In my estimation, 99% of Greeks probably don’t have a retirement plan in place or know anything about it. I speak with probably 250 to 300 clients per year, and I believe less than 20 are aware of what’s going to happen to them later in life.” Nick says he used to try to raise retirement planning awareness by having people take The College’s Retirement Literacy Survey. “They all failed miserably, and it just embarrasses them,” he says, also noting that the concerns have even hit close to home. “I have a friend and coworker who’s 51 years old and wanted to talk to me about being overinsured. After several hours of discussion he finally broke down in tears because all nine of his insurance plans were ending and there would be nothing for him later in life. This is exactly the kind of situation we have to avoid.”
For his part, Nick says he’s trying to gently educate his fellow financial professionals and clients and steer them in ways that will increase their knowledge and forward-thinking. “My purpose and goal is to educate as many people as possible, and to let them know the well-documented dangers that can be avoided with planning. I hope my company and I will be able to offer a lot of them the solutions they need.”
Still, Nick says there are some struggles with business, social, and cultural differences between the two countries. “We’re in desperate need of long-term care plans, but we don’t really have them in Greece,” he says. “We jury-rig some products to look like long-term care, but they’re not as efficient. Greek citizens also don’t know much about financial planning. Hopefully my experience will shed some light on the dark corners of this knowledge.” He says he hopes these differences can be overcome with time. “As I said, looking at the financial situation in the U.S. through The College’s programs is like looking into the future of Greece, so I’m hopeful things will change soon with more and more knowledge transfer from the U.S. insurance industry to the Greek.”
Building a Stronger Future
On financial planning in general, Nick had this to say to his fellow Greeks: “You need to take matters into your own hands. Most companies and the state often give people the bare minimum in terms of assistance, so individual advisors must give clients as much knowledge as they can.”
Because of this, Nick says the next step in his journey will be to enhance his knowledge and expertise further with The College’s Wealth Management Certified Professional® (WMCP®) designation. “Along with pensions and Social Security, I think people will soon start asking us about bonds and investing more often, and I don’t want to be unsure of what to tell them if they do,” he says. “I want to let as many people as I can know about The College and its programs, and maybe persuade some of my agents to try them as well. It’s truly been a life-changing experience for me.”
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