Not every successful financial professional was a two-time All-Conference quarterback at North Dakota State University. But Steve Walker, LUTCF, a loyal NAIFA member since 2009, believes some of the traits that made him a standout for the Bison on the football field have contributed to his success as Vice President and Senior Insurance Consultant with Gate City Insurance Agency in Fargo, ND. They also make him a worthy recipient of Advisor Today’s Four Under 40 award.
Finding success as a quarterback or insurance professional requires much hard work, a competitive spirit, an unshakable focus on achieving goals, and the ability to be a leader while working as part of a team. The two positions also bring out a strong sense of desire in those who are at the top of their game.
“There’s a formula for success in sports,” Walker said. “In the financial services business, there’s the same thing. There’s that formula of what you need to do, and having that competitive edge to say, ‘If I want to be successful in this, it's on me. There are things that I can do, but I’ve got to own it myself. I’ve got to want to be successful.’”
“You have to be able to work hard,” he continued. “This is not a get-rich-quick industry. You’ve got to put the time in.”
An Educator Who Cares for His Clients
Good agents and advisors, Walker believes, are continuously learning and trying to improve themselves. “This business is ever-evolving,” he said. “The moment you think you know everything is the moment you're going to start moving backward. You need to always be getting better.”
Having a strong work ethic and caring about people are essential. Walker never loses sight of this second trait – caring for his clients. The opportunity to meet people and help them achieve their financial goals keeps him motivated. “I really enjoy the impact you can have on people’s lives when you help put them in a better position,” he said.
“I don’t consider myself a salesperson. I view myself as an educator,” he added. “I’m educating people on where they're at, where they want to be, and what risks they can try to avoid, then presenting solutions that help fill some of those gaps.”
His clients span the entire length and breadth of Main Street, including families and business owners. His cases range from small insurance policies to high-value buy-sell agreements, and everything in between. The size of the case is not as relevant as finding the right solution for the right client.
“Whatever it is, it’s important to the client,” Walker said. “A $250,000, 20-year term policy for a 25-year-old means just as much to them as a $25 million estate planning case does to someone else.”
Doing Things the Right Way
Walker uses NAIFA’s Code of Ethics, in addition to his personal code of ethics, to guide his business practices and work in clients’ best interests. His mentor in the industry, Phil Haug, LUTCF, a loyal NAIFA member since 2002, and an Agency Manager with COUNTRY Financial in Savannah, GA, told him, “No sale is ever worth your career. As soon as you start walking that gray line, it's easy to start doing things the wrong way.”
Walker added, “The community that I live in, Fargo, you either know somebody or you know somebody who knows that person and your reputation is everything. So as soon as you start doing things the wrong way you’re setting yourself up for failure. I want to do the right thing for people just because of who I am, but I also know if I don’t it’s going to end up biting me.”
Walker speaks admirably of his mentor and friend, Haug, who hired him in his first insurance job and introduced him to NAIFA. Another influential mentor for Walker has been NAIFA-ND Past President Dan Peterson, LUTCF, LLIF, FIC, a loyal member since 1992. Peterson has helped Walker mature as a financial professional and understand the importance of advanced planning.
“One of the biggest things I have learned from Dan is that insurance is not someone’s plan,” Walker said. “As advisors, we need to actively listen to what our customers’ goals are and what they want to achieve. When we keep a customer’s goals at the top of our mind when making recommendations, we are helping them much more than by simply selling products. We are making a difference for them and for generations to come.”
Insurance and financial professionals benefit greatly from mentorships and having benefited from the wisdom and experience of his own mentors, Walker feels a duty to pay it forward now that he has found his own success. “You can learn a lot from mentors,” he said. “Learn what to do, what you like, how to change things. Ultimately, as you get to be more seasoned, you can pass along what you learned. I enjoy being a mentor to others. I get just as much out of that as I did as a mentee. I think that mentor-mentee relationship is huge to somebody’s success.”
A Proud and Active NAIFA Member
Walker believes NAIFA membership is essential for any financial services professional. Noting NAIFA’s advocacy and continuing education opportunities, Walker says, “If you’re going to work in this industry, you really should be a member of the association. I think NAIFA is phenomenal.”
Walker was 2020 President of NAIFA’s North Dakota chapter and has served as President and committee chairs with the Fargo-Moorhead NAIFA affiliate. He is currently the state Political Action Committee chair. For him, NAIFA’s successful political influence, alone, makes membership worthwhile.
“Advocacy is the number one reason why I joined and why I stay a member of NAIFA,” he said. “We can be really good at what we do in educating clients and helping them find solutions, but if legislative issues impact that, that’s outside of our control. So the advocacy efforts that NAIFA does allow us to focus on our business and understand that NAIFA is looking out for our best interests and, more importantly, our clients’ best interests. That by itself is worth its weight in gold.”
Committed to Family, Faith, and Community
Walker grew up 50 miles southwest of Chicago and had never been to Fargo until he was recruited as a senior in high school by North Dakota State. He met his wife in Fargo and has developed a strong connection to the community. Except for a brief stint in Minneapolis, they have lived their entire post-college lives there. Fargo is home.
Away from work, Walker describes himself as a classic “family man.” He enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons and participating in church activities. He coaches his boys’ youth sports teams and serves on the Board of the local youth baseball league. He is active with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, teaches Sunday School, and is involved with the United Way and local charities. His community supports him as a financial professional, Walker says, so he has a duty to give back whenever he can.
It’s all part of Walker’s desire to not just find success, but to succeed by working hard, looking out for others, and doing things the right way. That’s not surprising for a professional who loves his business and helping his clients. It’s not surprising for one who is driven by an ingrained competitive spirit and work ethic to be the best insurance and financial advisor he can be.