Protecting, Growing Clients’ Assets
Pat DiCerbo of Northwestern Mutual helps businesses flourish
Pat DiCerbo’s clients are building the backbone of America—from roads, tunnels and bridges to buildings and other infrastructure. “My clients are creative thinkers and risk takers. They’re solving seemingly unsolvable problems.”
DiCerbo, Wealth Management Advisor with Northwestern Mutual, creates financial plans that protect these risk takers, their businesses and their families, keeping them afloat during the tough times and helping their businesses flourish from one generation to the next.
Since 1988, DiCerbo has been helping clients reach their financial goals. The Certified Financial Planner Professional primarily serves clients in the construction industry. “I’ve been working with building and construction company owners and senior managers for 28 years. I understand the legal and accounting challenges and the banking and surety issues they face. That in-depth understanding of the industry’s challenges helps me better serve my clients.”
With a nationwide network of colleagues, DiCerbo, headquartered in Albany, New York, serves clients in 26 states and has ready access to products from a highly rated company. DiCerbo and his team provide both insurance funding and investment funding products, including life, disability and long-term care insurances, as well as individual stocks and bonds, mutual funds and related products.
Trust Starts with Financial Strength
Northwestern Mutual was founded in 1857 and is the country’s largest direct provider of individual life insurance in the U.S.* “Trust starts with financial strength, and we’re among the strongest,” DiCerbo says. “Northwestern Mutual has earned the highest financial strength rating awarded to any U.S. life insurer by all the major ratings agencies.” **In February 2021, Northwestern Mutual was named one of the World’s Most Admired Companies*** based on its corporate reputation. “This ranking reflects Northwestern Mutual’s financial soundness, long-term investment value, people management and use of its corporate assets,” DiCerbo says.
Finding His Niche
DiCerbo has a deep and abiding respect and love for those in the construction industry—after all his wife and father-in-law are civil engineers. “My father-in-law, Ernie, and his brothers, Paul and Ronnie, worked for Thalle Construction Company, which was founded by their father and uncle. When they sold their ownership stake in the company, Ronnie formed Briar Construction Corporation in Peekskill, New York, while my father-in-law went into real estate development.”
According to DiCerbo, Ronnie’s business was fabulously successful—until a tragic event put the company in jeopardy. “Ronnie died in a plane crash in 1989. My father-in-law stepped in to help run the company, but the business was eventually liquidated,” he says.
During that time, DiCerbo was providing insurance solutions primarily for bank executives. After the merger of several banks, DiCerbo’s clients were getting moved or forced into retirement. “I remember complaining to my father-in-law that I was constantly on defense, not able to grow my company since I was chasing around my clients trying to get them to pay their premiums,” he says. “So, as I was telling him my tale of woe, he told me that if I were smart, I’d start serving middle market companies in building and construction. He told me that Ronnie could have used someone like me to make the transition easier for the business and for Ronnie’s family.”
DiCerbo took the advice to heart and began providing financial services to the construction industry. “For most business owners, their greatest asset is their operating company. When tragedy strikes, solid financial and estate plans can help mitigate disaster for the company and for the owner’s family.”
He explains that when an owner or key manager dies, there are several things that can spell ruin for a business. “First, there’s a potential talent void. Employees become uncertain of the company’s future and may start leaving. Then, there are potential cash calls. That’s when the bank calls to demand repayment on a line of credit or nervous suppliers and subcontractors demand to be paid before finishing a job. And then, there’s the bonding company, which may step in and begin dictating what you can or cannot spend money on. All of a sudden, your decision-making is under the microscope.
“We provide life insurance in conjunction with overall estate and financial plans that leverage income and estate laws to protect the business and assets in the event of a catastrophic event like the death of the company leader,” he says.
Understanding Through Active Listening
For DiCerbo and his team, financial planning starts with closing your mouth and opening your ears. “I’m an active listener. I’m not here to judge. I want to hear all about your life and what challenges you face.”
DiCerbo cites a recent meeting with a business owner in his 60s. “The client and his wife were needing help with retirement and succession planning. Though the client’s dream was that his daughter take over the company and take the business into its third generation of ownership, that dream also represented his biggest fear, since he worried she might fail and jeopardize the business,” he says. “During our two-hour meeting, I spoke very little, just let the client pour out his life story. Through active listening, I was able to understand his philosophy on running his business, the challenges he faces and his greatest fears. From that meeting, I brought in a partner, and we customized a financial plan and a succession plan for those who have existing ownership in the company.”
DiCerbo says his commitment to active listening has never failed in producing solid financial plans. “In 32, years, I’ve never had a complaint. I’ve written 3,500 life insurance policies—we have a massive client base—and I’ve never been sued or had an unhappy client,” he says. “I feel like the reason we’ve been so successful is that we take a personal interest in our clients’ lives, we treat them with dignity and we work hard to understand what’s important to them.”
He is quick to point out that he and his team are not perfect. “If we make a mistake, we admit we got it wrong, and we do whatever it takes to make things right.”
DiCerbo’s team includes Financial Advisor Trent Beckwith, who has been at Northwestern Mutual for 27 years, as well as longtime Associate Financial Representatives Missy Beckwith and Amanda Mason. “The team here works hard, we do what we say we’re going to do, when we say we’ll do it. We don’t take our clients for granted. We return phone calls and emails promptly.”
Process Drives Product
For DiCerbo and his team, the financial planning process drives the product decision. “We typically meet several times before we begin to formulate a plan,” he says. “Those client interviews are key.”
The company’s service fees are all transparent, according to DiCerbo. “Sometimes if you buy a standalone product like an annuity from another company, it can be hard to see what all the costs are. With us, the service fees for money management and advice are broken out clearly.”
DiCerbo admits that some clients don’t have the patience or time to go through the financial planning process. “For these clients, I typically recommend buying a ton of life insurance,” he says. “But for those who take the time to go through the process, we can design a plan that is very intentional. We don’t get caught up in the funnel of product solutions. We’re focused on the human being. Sometimes, the financial plan isn’t at all what I thought it would be initially. We prescribe a solution that fits the client and a plan they’re comfortable with.”
DiCerbo understands that some clients come to the table wary of the process. “It can be hard to disrobe emotionally, to confide in someone about your hopes and dreams and about the things you’re most worried about.”
But putting people at ease is something DiCerbo has always been skilled at. With a master’s degree in finance and a long list of professional designations, DiCerbo got his start as a cultural anthropology major. “For a paper I was working on about the return migration of Barbadians, I traveled to Barbados, Mexico and Spain, asking deeply personal questions of people who were naturally suspicious of my motives. I remember my professor, George Gmelch from Union College, told me that no matter what I do, the skills I learned through that experience would serve me for the rest of my life. He wasn’t wrong.”
When not serving clients, DiCerbo serves community through his involvement in several organizations. “For 20 years, I’ve hosted An Aficionado Experience, a fundraiser that’s brought in $2.5 million for the Center for Disability Services in Albany,” he says. Additionally, DiCerbo supports Opera Saratoga and has served as a trustee and volunteer for his alma mater, Union College.
“My wife and father-in-law also graduated from Union College, and now my daughter is pursuing a civil engineering degree there as well. I’m surrounded by civil engineers!” he jokes. “That’s probably why I work so well with the building and construction industry. I’m a civil engineer in a financial planner’s body!”
Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company (NM), (life and disability insurance, annuities, and life insurance with long-term care benefits) and its subsidiaries in Milwaukee, WI. Northwestern Mutual Investment Services, LLC (NMIS) (securities), a subsidiary of NM, broker-dealer, registered investment adviser and member FINRA and SIPC. Patrick A DiCerbo is an Insurance Agent(s) of NM. Patrick A DiCerbo is a Registered Representative(s) of NMIS. Patrick A DiCerbo, is a Representative of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company®, (NMWMC) (fiduciary and fee-based financial planning services), a subsidiary of NM and federal savings bank. All NMWMC products and services are offered only by properly credentialed Representatives who operate from agency offices of NMWMC. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.