Meet Zach Wolkstein with The Balaban Group, LLC

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Zach Wolkstein has laid down his roots in L.A. as an expert on finding insurance solutions for high net-worth athletes and entertainers at The Balaban Group, LLC.

A fifth-generation Essex countian born in Livingston, New Jersey, Zach grew up with a love for football. But an ACL injury would put him on a different path. He spent his college career at the University of Arizona and found his way to Los Angeles. This is where his love for the arts grew, particularly in the areas of pottery and architectural photography. After putting his creative career to the side, he jumped into the insurance world and hasn’t looked back.

How does his passion for music and the arts help him in the insurance world? What are his favorite clients to work with? How does he deal with working with high-profile, high net-worth clients?

CLICK HERE for more information about Zach Wolkstein.

CLICK HERE for more information about The Balaban Group, LLC.

Listen to Zach’s story here.



Click here to read the transcript

Announcer 0:01
From Los Angeles, this is the Echelon Radio Network.

Jerri Hemsworth 0:10
Hi, this is Jerri Hemsworth. And this is the Echelon radio podcast. And today I’m sitting here with Zach Wolkstein. How’re you doing today?

Zach Wolkstein 0:20
Doing very well? How are you?

Jerri Hemsworth 0:21
I’m doing fine. Thank you. Now you’re with Balaban?

Zach Wolkstein 0:25
That’s correct. The Balaban group.

Jerri Hemsworth 0:27
The Balaban group. I’ve heard about the Balaban group, but tell me exactly what you do.

Zach Wolkstein 0:32
Sure. So we’re an independent insurance brokerage firm here in L.A., been around since 1986. And we provide life insurance solutions and complex sophisticated planning, disability insurance for athletes, whether it be at the collegiate level, maybe their high NIL earner heading to the draft or at the professional setting, protecting their income and their health. The same goes for entertainers and disability insurance. So event cancellation non appearance when they’re

Jerri Hemsworth 1:03
Oh, yeah,

Zach Wolkstein 1:04
On a multi city tour, multi state, national international tour, or even something simple as some, you know, a few local shows. You know, that’s some of the sophisticated coverage that we can place as well, for those athletes for those entertainers. We do some health insurance, employee benefits, kind of working with business owners, helping them get their business off the ground, offer their employees benefits, maybe offer life medical, maybe offer health benefits with life insurance, disability insurance options. We also work very closely in the trust and estate market. So working, obviously, closely with trusted estate attorneys, when a client is ultra high net worth past the state tax exemption, if life insurance is appropriate, we can use it as a way to leverage and mitigate your overall estate tax, which is a very powerful tool. You know, life insurance can be a very powerful vehicle in that space. So that’s really what we do. And who we work with are those more high net worth athlete entertainer, individuals and families, family offices as well. And we’ve been doing it for about 40 years. So we’d like to say we’re close to being experts in the space

Jerri Hemsworth 2:16
Sounds like it.

Zach Wolkstein 2:16
And we suck away less than any other professional that you’ve worked with, because we know how tough insurance can be, how complicated it it can be. And, you know, we’re the transparent brokers in the space, and we’re a family business. So we like to, you know, keep our reputation the way it is, and being the nice friendly, transparent, you know, brokers in the space.

Jerri Hemsworth 2:37
That’s very cool. I, when you mentioned NIL, especially for college athletes, are you seeing a big uptick, you’d have to be seeing a big uptick since that became a big thing. What are some of the benefits of having that NIL insurance and everything it the workers comp, not workers comp, but disability and things like that?

Zach Wolkstein 3:02
Sure, I mean, we’ve definitely seen a huge uptick. It’s something that started with, you know, the collegiate level, even content creators, social media influencers that’s been on the rise as well, in terms of disability coverage, it actually happened at the same exact time, where we implemented the first packaged, disability coverage for content creators.

Jerri Hemsworth 3:24
Oh, my God.

Zach Wolkstein 3:24
And then at the same time, the NIL compliance, I guess, exploded. And, you know, here we are, in today’s world. You know, it’s tough, because you could be a very high, you know, NIL income earner, if you will. But if you’re not projected to go through rounds, one through three in the NFL Draft NBA Draft, you’re not necessarily insurable. These, these syndicates, these carriers, like Lloyd’s of London, for example, they only want the top tier of athletes. So you could be making $100,000 to $200,000 in NIL money, but you’re not the next superstar, or Tom Brady, so you’re kind of you know, left beside. So it can be a difficult market to navigate. And, you know, working with a professional like myself and in the space is really just giving that extra layer of guidance of advice, counseling, if you will, and just being that strategic resource for them.

Jerri Hemsworth 3:41
What’s what’s, what’s your favorite workday look like for you working with which clients and if you wake up, and you say, I can’t wait to get to the office to work on this? What is that?

Zach Wolkstein 4:33
That’s a great question. It’s, it’s ever changing for us. It’s always case by case. I mean, you know, obviously, the more difficult cases are more fun, the more complex, the more sophisticated. It’s more of a team effort, collaborating with CPAs you know, maybe they’re working with a CPA trust and estate attorney and so on. You know, if they’re not we’ll, you know, reach out and provide one for them. But when it’s extremely tough scenarios, maybe they’re unhealthy history of, you know, autoimmune diseases or diseases in general. That’s when it gets really tricky. And you’re bringing the case, the opportunity to multiple insurance carriers. And you kind of let them battle for, you know, the best rates, the best opportunity. So having this kind of, you know, wild west dialogue between us and the carriers, you know, who’s gonna make the first shot, if you will. It’s pretty fun. It’s exciting. You know, it’s not just mundanely pushing buttons, and, you know, issuing policies, it’s really tough. It’s really complex. And having that that team around me is great. It’s very fun.

Jerri Hemsworth 5:39
I bet. I’m gonna switch the table around. Where’d you grow up?

Zach Wolkstein 5:44
I grew up in Livingston, New Jersey. And I love to say Livingston, New Jersey, I, you know, I don’t talk about my hometown too often being out here in LA, but everyone’s a transplant for the most part in LA and I grew up in a very small hometown, fifth generation, Essex Countian.

Jerri Hemsworth 6:01
Oh, wow.

Zach Wolkstein 6:02
We never left New Jersey until my oldest brother and I came here to Los Angeles.

Jerri Hemsworth 6:08
Gosh, was that a shock to your family?

Zach Wolkstein 6:11
Yes. But at the same time, you know, they got used to it pretty quickly. And then my brother went and moved to Israel. So they’re very, you know, on board with, you know, where we’re living now.

Jerri Hemsworth 6:22
So then you went to school first, before you hit LA, where do you go to school?

Zach Wolkstein 6:27
Yeah, I went to the University of Arizona in Tucson, and had a wonderful experience and was lucky enough to have my oldest brother Eric, who moved to Israel, he was here at the time, and was like, come work for me and come live with me. And you know, how could you say no, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to live under the same roof with my oldest brother, because we’re four and a half years apart. So you know, never went to school with him or anything like that. So it was nice to kind of, you know, rekindle and get closer to one another, and, you know, live and work together and drive him to work every day. And you know, just being buddy, buddy with my brother again. It was great.

Jerri Hemsworth 7:06
What was the coolest thing you learned about your older brother? Once you were living together?

Zach Wolkstein 7:10
I think just the diversity of his friends there were from all around the world, Australia, France, England, you name it. And they’re all doing really cool things, cool businesses, entrepreneurs in the tech space, you know, some more creative outlets, individuals like setting up burning man camps, and sites and so on. And I like to do a little art stuff on the side. So, you know, being around his friends and getting to know them was was a joy.

Jerri Hemsworth 7:40
What kind of art do you like to do?

Zach Wolkstein 7:42
I like to dabble in film photography. I started in about 2019 or so and had some really interesting kind of quick success and was lucky enough to be hosted at Thomas Hartmann’s gallery in Santa Monica. And he’s had some pieces at the Hammer Museum and so on. So, you know, he gave me a wonderful opportunity to take over his space for about call it 24 hours, but had a great show. And I’ve had some, you know, private gallery showings, if you will, at homes, and I’ve kind of set up a gallery and my friends, homes and so on. So had some like, cool success. I love just strolling around town and taking photos of what I think is interesting to me. And usually in you know, in an architectural sense, I like the angles of homes and the shadows and how they kind of intertwine with one another. So that’s mostly my portfolio is some some street photography, but mostly architectural.

Jerri Hemsworth 8:40
So, film versus digital?

Zach Wolkstein 8:45
That’s a tough question. I say film all the way. It’s becoming less and less accessible. You know, if you take film photos, good luck finding somewhere to develop them. You know, there’s some resources online there’s still some like mom and pop shops open here in LA. I was in New York City not too long ago and just could not find a place it was like it’s becoming obsolete in some areas. But you know, that’s okay. Love film photography, digital is, you know, just so easy. And for me, I don’t touch up any of my film photo so it’s not just like, perfectly captured in that lens for me again, it’s not really for me. Yeah. And the digital world is just absolutely on fire ever changing and in terms of, you know, pixelation DPI and the AI sense that’s now in Adobe, for example, you can take a picture of something and make it into anything. Exactly. Is that photography? What type of photography is it? You know, it’s it’s come a long way. So I’m still you know, an old soul if you will still on the film.

Jerri Hemsworth 9:54
Nice, nice. Yeah, I find it very interesting because with the digital cable abilities, I find myself thinking, Is it really photography? Are you capturing anything real? Or is it a visual effect?

Zach Wolkstein 10:07

Jerri Hemsworth 10:07
And with film, for the most part, you know, you’ve got something real. Yeah, you can do some manipulation, you know, dark room, that kind of stuff. But it just isn’t the same. So I understand exactly what you’re saying.

Zach Wolkstein 10:22
Yeah, I’m glad you do.

Jerri Hemsworth 10:25
I took photography in high school, college, you know, playing in the dark room, all that stuff. I mean, that’s what we did. And, it was an adjustment to go digital for sure.

Zach Wolkstein 10:37
No,I had a great experience growing up and was in a great art class and had a great mentor. Ms. Clayvon, shout out to Ms. Clayvon. And did pottery spun the wheel was in gifted and talented art courses growing up and my aunt my grandmother were kind of artists so it’s, it’s always been very close, near and dear to my heart. And it’s a great outlet for me.

Jerri Hemsworth 10:59
Sounds like your right brain left brain?

Zach Wolkstein 11:01
Oh, yeah. Something like it depends on the day. depends on what’s going on. Absolutely.

Jerri Hemsworth 11:08
I also understand you’re into music.

Zach Wolkstein 11:10
Yeah, I love music. I mean, we work with a lot of high profile musicians, entertainers and so on. And, you know, we are very entertainment focused and we love music. We started off in the business management space about early 80s Before we transitioned to just insurance and did a lot of tour, tour management and operations for Red Hot Chili Peppers and Stone Temple Pilots. And, you know, that was the natural kind of group of people that my father in law founder of the Balaban group, Mark Balaban, was friendly with and that’s kind of how our business got a nice kickstart into that entertainment world. You know, we don’t follow them around like fan girls, but I do at times, you know, I absolutely love you guys. No, but I just, I play it cool. You know, like, oh, come to the greenroom. Sure would love to no problem, if it doesn’t work out. It’s, you know, at the end of the day, we’re the insurance guys, right? So their business managers and their talent managers and maybe their attorney, their entertainment lawyer. We’re at the bottom of that list. So you know, we get it but love live music. The venues out here, you know, I mean, so legendary, was at The Troubadour not too long ago.

Jerri Hemsworth 12:30

Zach Wolkstein 12:31
Fantastic, intimate venue, and then beautiful summer days, Hollywood Bowl, the Greek theater. It’s a blast. You know, there’s there’s such a diverse range of music that’s performed here in LA that’s even created here in LA. So we are super huge fans of the music space.

Jerri Hemsworth 12:51
So what’s on your playlist?

Zach Wolkstein 12:53
What’s on my playlist? Well, I am kind of a Growlers, Deadhead fan, if you will. They don’t really exist anymore, but Brooks Nielsen has went solo so I’ve been kind of following Brooks around a little bit. I kind of was a Growlers junkie, back in the day and saw them in Arizona, and Vegas and California. And you know, all their all their shows out here. It’s been a blast, but, you know, loving Maren Morris right now, I think she’s fantastic. I think she’s, oh my god, she’s just so talented. And I think she’s got a great range. And, you know, she’s obviously in the country, country music space, but it’s getting closer to pop music. And I think she’s going to be that next like, Taylor Swift kick of awesome business and music. And then you know, always some of the old stuff, love good Rolling Stones and The Doors, and we’ll get into some like electronic music here and there like Kaytranada, for example, and the indie side Tame Impala and, you know, just wide range of music and my, you know, my father was the lead singer of a jam band growing up and a cover band. So there’s always been, you know, really great moments he’s performed at, like, our bar mitzvahs growing up and we sang “Twist and Shout” at my wedding. He’s got a great voice. So, you know, there’s always like, humming there’s always tunes being hummed in the background when I’m home. And we have a lot of fun together with music.

Jerri Hemsworth 14:20
Do you and your brothers sing?

Zach Wolkstein 14:23
No, actually, you know what, my middle brother Jordan, who is still back east, he actually has a great voice. And he’s kind of like a Michael Buble, a Frank Sinatra type of guy and he’s kind of one of those cats that can kind of work a room and he’s got a really, really great voice. You know, we hear him singing in the shower a lot, Jordan, I can hear you in the shower.

Jerri Hemsworth 14:45
As can mom and dad.

Zach Wolkstein 14:47
Yeah, no, it’s true. But he has a great voice. He may not tell you that but he does.

Jerri Hemsworth 14:53
He should pursue something that that’s that, you know, that lets them explore that creative side of themselves. I absolutely love that the artistic side with music and photography and you said you threw clay, you know and in was at high school and things like that.

Zach Wolkstein 15:12
Yeah, elementary throughout high school. You know, I took art in college, I studied art history, always wanted to get into the art space just didn’t really know what would be my medium or how it break into the space. Pottery is one of my favorite mediums. I absolutely love working on a wheel. I think I’m like pretty good at it, which is great. It’s fun for me, it’s a great outlet. Even going to, you know, Color Me Mine in Santa Monica, for actual children. I went there with my wife a couple months ago, and you know, it’s fun getting your hands dirty painting on some pottery, turning something into, you know, a blob into a creation of a vase, a stand of some kind, whatever it may be. So, certainly a big fan.

Jerri Hemsworth 16:00
I threw clay for the first time about a year ago in Northridge, there’s a place and then I ended up taking a couple members of my team to do the same thing. And we had a really fun time. It was great.

Zach Wolkstein 16:12
That’s awesome.

Jerri Hemsworth 16:12
And throwing, you know, making bowls, and stuff like that. I can see, I could get lost in that world. Just shut down, shut the world out. And just work with the wheel and the clay and see what comes out.

Zach Wolkstein 16:25
Yeah, I love that. Me too.

Jerri Hemsworth 16:26
Gosh, it’s so cool. Do you find that your love of art, music, all of it helps you relate to your clients better.

Zach Wolkstein 16:36
I think to some degree, you know, just being a former athlete getting injured kind of losing my scholarships and opportunities. I understand just the athlete flow, you know, when things were coming in, obviously, preseason workouts to you know, when the contractual negotiations will will kind of kick off for X player, what they’re doing in the offseason, when they’re doing these things, just the itinerary of it all. And it’s easier for me to relate with them like, hey, look, I’m an example I got injured, I lost all my opportunities, you across the table are worth $10, $20, $40 $50 million. It’s a little bit more of an intense situation for you.

Jerri Hemsworth 17:16
But the loss, the feeling of losses this thing?

Zach Wolkstein 17:18
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for me, you know, there was a “what if” but for these athletes, it’s game over, you know, end of career. And, you know, there’s certain bells and whistles you can throw into these disability plans. Like if they have a ACL injury, maybe that’s a $250,000 benefit for missing the season versus a career ending injury, which may be million $5, $7, $10 million dollar policy. And really just, you know, using examples with these everyday athletes is pretty transferable and easy for us to have that dialogue. But in terms of the entertainers, the musicians, it’s kind of hit and miss, you know, some of them are very eccentric, some of them are very closed off, it’s more of a personality thing that you kind of have to pick up on. But, you know, when when someone comes out with a new project with a new song, a new movie, or whatever it may be, you know, we give them their flowers, we give them their kudos, nothing moves me personally more than film music or music and, you know, working with these everyday professionals, sometimes you just gotta give them a little pat on the back. And you know, hey, that was that was a great album, you just put out like, you know, we’re huge fans, and sometimes, you know, they don’t want to work with someone that’s like fan boying them and we totally understand that. But sometimes we’re like, hey dude, that was like, you know, generational type thing you just put out and it’s going to be out there for a long, long time. And yeah, like to give them their flowers when we can?

Jerri Hemsworth 18:05
Well, I think I’m being a creative myself, knowing how the creative mind can work. Allows, put you in a very unique position compared to a lot of other people that might do similar things to you. You understand that personality, that mindset, and I can totally get how valuable that is to your clients. Well done.

Zach Wolkstein 19:10
Thanks so much.

Jerri Hemsworth 19:11
Thank you for being with me today.

Zach Wolkstein 19:12
I appreciate you having me. Thank you.

Jerri Hemsworth 19:14
I look forward to seeing you more often and having more chats about football and art and insurance because I find it fascinating. I know it sounds weird, but I find it fascinating.

Zach Wolkstein 19:26
Yeah, no me too, and thank you so much. Would love to continue those conversations.

Jerri Hemsworth 19:31
Love it. Thanks Zach.

Announcer 19:42
Presented by Echelon business development, more than just networking, way more

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

As CEO and Creative Director at Newman Grace, Jerri leads one of Los Angeles’ most respected marketing firm and brand communication firms. Newman Grace has been providing marketing, brand and advertising consulting, graphic design, and social media services to growing companies since 1996. Newman Grace serves the professional services, manufacturing, sports, publishing and non-profit markets. Jerri is an adjunct professor in the School of Media, Culture and Design at Woodbury University. She is also a co-founder of Echelon Business Development Network. Learn more about Jerri here at Newman Grace.