FREE 6.1 Feature – Theresa Hannon
Born to be exceptional. She is one of American Portfolios’ top 10 producers and among the top 5 percent of advisors in our industry. She is also the person behind a successful wealth management practice in Wheaton, Ill., which bears her name; she is Theresa Hannon Financial Group, Ltd., but everyone knows her as Terry.
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FREE 6.1 Feature – Theresa Hannon
Born to be exceptional. She is one of American Portfolios’ top 10 producers and among the top 5 percent of advisors in our industry. 1 She is also the person behind a successful wealth management practice in Wheaton, Ill., which bears her name; she is Theresa Hannon Financial Group, Ltd., but everyone knows her as Terry. By any measure, her achievements are no small feat given the minefield of challenges those in financial services have walked through these last few years. It’s all the more impressive when you add that she began building her practice some 20 years ago, and for the last 10 years has been a single, divorced mother raising four children on her own. And while she possesses many of the type-A personality traits that come with attaining this status, her strong-mindedness and “leave no stone unturned” ways are equally matched by a quick wit and fun-loving flair. If you are to be exceptional, you must be driven; and consciously or not, everything Terry believes, practices and preaches is fed by a fierce desire to nurture, counsel and inspire.
The evidence is all there; whether supporting her daughter by running with her for the last two miles of a half-marathon, being the “fun mom“ that hangs out with her teenage son and his friends to watch a Bulls game, riding with disabled veterans on a twoday bike ride as part of Team American Portfolios with World T.E.A.M. Sports, or showing women at a domestic violence center how to save $5 a week, she is called to give of herself to those within and outside her world. That’s how Terry was raised.
She grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago in a working-class neighborhood where classic twoflat homes lined the streets. Living with her mother, father and four siblings, she learned the value and importance of family and hard work. It was a traditional family in the sense that kids were many, yet progressive for its time in that gender roles were few. A glimpse into Terry’s early life might find her taking a turn at mowing the lawn while her brothers straightened up the house before their parents arrived home from a full day of work.
Athletics and competition were also blind to gender while growing up, and the blessing of a tall frame and natural agility had Terry playing basketball as early as grammar school all the way through college, where she received a scholarship to Benedictine University —a pittance in awarded money compared to her male counterparts—and a new pair of basketball shoes.
“DePaul also wanted me to play for them but I didn’t want to go to school in the city. My dad went to DePaul and he would have loved it if I went there. He recently said at my 50th birthday party that his greatest regret in life was that I was not a Lady Blue Demon. C’mon dad, move on, it was a long time ago!” [laughs]
In Terry’s family, college was a right of passage and to get your ticket in, her father made each child obtain their insurance license through his agency. Instead of reaping the rewards of her newfound freedom as a freshman in college, her time was spent studying for something she would never use—or so she thought. She was an accounting major and had her sights set on becoming a CPA. Little did she know the license she never wanted would be the key to her future career.
At 22, armed with a shiny framed bachelor’s degree in accounting and a freshly-printed CPA certificate, she settled into her first job at a small accounting firm in the suburbs. A few years later, a client who was a retail shop owner in downtown Chicago knew Terry had knowledge of insurance and asked if she’d join her for lunch with an agent to discuss additional coverage.
“We go down to the Signature Room at the 95th, which is in the John Hancock Building—very exclusive—and I’m thinking I’m very cool; 24 and doing this just because I know something about insurance.”
Her recommendation to stay put with the client’s current level of insurance elicited a call from the manager of the general agent. While she initially thought the agent was calling to complain, instead he offered her a job. A $24,000 increase in pay and the opportunity to be a part of John Hancock’s nationwide prototype fee-based financial planning firm were too compelling to turn away. She accepted the offer and six months later, as a requirement of employment, found herself sitting for the series 7 exam. For Terry, it had no relevance to her future plans of having her own CPA firm. She was on her way, gainfully employed, soon to be married and establishing roots for a family.
Fast forward 20 years… It’s 2003. Terry has four children: Dennis is 14, Bridget 12, Kevin 10 and Moe, short for Maureen, 8. Her divorce was final and she put the struggle of living with an absent partner behind her. Half of the CPA firm she and her now ex-husband started when they first became married was sold, and she falls back on her financial planning practice—something she cultivated and grew while running her accounting business. It was the perfect arrangement; she was able to work from home, allowing her to focus more time and energy on the kids. Terry was there when they came home from school and—without the worry of tax season—she was able to make all her daughters’ swim meets. As a registered representative with American General Securities earning only $100,000 in GDC [Gross Dealer Concession], changing career paths to financial planning was a bold move but she wasn’t worried; she knew she was a survivor.
As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), Terry had a newfound appreciation for the women she’d been empowering over the years. She understood the emotional paralysis they felt and in the coming years, would continue to build her practice in this niche.
“I had a better understanding after I went through my own divorce of why very intelligent, educated women do or do not do certain things; it’s because your heart is giving you a stronger command than your brain. You can be bamboozled by the whole process and come out with nothing if you have no advocates. I really wanted to advocate for women who just could not advocate for themselves.”
That she did. She became highly adept at helping her clients uncover the surreptitious ways in which their soon-to-be ex husbands were concealing their assets; it was no doubt fodder for a great Judith Krantz novel, emotions running raw, beginning with selfprotecting denial and ending in injudicious rage. But she coached them through the ordeal.
“I told them you have to open your eyes; you had this marriage and all these kids, but you have to treat this as a business now, otherwise, we will never get anything done. It’s time to put on the big girl panties.”
Over the next five years her practice had grown three-fold and she was juggling many things both professionally and personally. She was enmeshed in the American General/AIG Advisors consolidation and during that time, her colleague and close friend announced to his clients her successorship to his practice upon his retirement per a buy/sell succession arrangement they made. Her children were keeping her busy; she sent one off to college, was helping another plan for school for the coming year and ran the younger two to their after-school activities, all while dealing with the emotional baggage that comes with a single-parent household. It was a difficult year with the worst market crisis anyone had seen in more than 60 years, and a terrible car accident involving her daughter, which left her injured, but thankfully alive. And if that was not enough, one week later the worst news came; her colleague and friend had taken his life, leaving in her care a broken practice. Terry would spend the next 20 months and 90-hour work weeks doing everything she could to mend it.
God works in mysterious ways; at least that was how Terry saw it. There was no time to properly vet a much-needed new hire, and the arduous task of wading through 180 bankers boxes filled with client files was before her. It was overwhelming. To help clear her head, Helen Marrano, her office manager, who has always been a rock of support and consolation, suggested she get out of her office for a bit and drive to Enterprise to return the car she had rented after her daughter’s accident. While at the rental agency, a young woman, Amy Abaravich, approached her. She was the manager there and remembered Terry after having taught religious instruction to her daughters several years back.
“I asked her if she was happy there. She asked me why. I told her I was hiring. She asked what she would be doing. I told her, just about everything. She asked if I had a job description. I told her no, but that I knew she would learn something and help people everyday.“
Amy did accept her offer and to date, under Terry’s direction, handles all operations and transactions for the office. She has since become insurance and series 7 licensed, and is currently completing her CFP. With the support of her staff and many hours spent burning the midnight oil, Terry made every one of the clients she was entrusted with whole, restoring confidence in their financial security and the integrity of a good man. She was driven to do this out of a sense of loyalty and propriety. More than that, she wanted to set an example for her kids and instill the same values that were passed down to her by her parents: work hard, do things well, be honorable, give back and show compassion.
The kids are older now, planning for and pursuing higher education in various selected majors. They are all very close and protective of one another; and in 2011, after much probing and interrogation, the kids accepted a new man in Terry’s life, Paul Asheim, who she has since married.
Today, her practice is at its peak performance. She used the transfer from AIG/SagePoint to American Portfolios in 2010 as an opportunity to cull down her book and transition most of her clients to a fee-based platform. With just 100 clients, she manages $100 million using third-party managers on the fee-based side, and VAs, ETFs, mutual funds and REITs on the transactional side. Leading edge Web services like LiveOffice for her Web site, Salesforce for her contact client management system and APFS’ STARS system for FINRA’s required posting, review and approval of client accounts and business, have allowed Terry to mainstream processes, creating efficiencies in her practice. Surrounding herself with top-notch staff, Terry has a strong service support model in place; something she believes is an essential component to her practice.
“We have three philosophies that we follow and they don’t go in any particular order; that is to grow our clients’ assets, service them and keep it simple. I don’t believe you have to be overly sophisticated or confusing.”
Although much of the growth in Terry’s practice came from her divorce work, everything changed after her colleagues’ death. As a result, she does less business from that source, focusing more on what she refers to as the “happier emotional work.” But for the clients who she does work with, they all must play an integral part in understanding what they have instead of leaving it to the charge of their spouse or, for that matter, Terry.
“I’ll tell people, I want you to belly up to the bar while you’re having a beer with your best friend and say to them you are doing this not because Terry Hannon said so, but because you have some knowledge of it.”
She provides plenty of educational information. In fact, that is what her oldest son Dennis does for her, working part time while finishing his doctorate in psychology. He’ll send clients white papers and articles from magazines on special interests. He also compiles a financial resource binder for every client containing account numbers, beneficiaries and contact information for all the strategic partners— the estate attorney, the tax professional, the insurance agent and, of course, herself as the financial advisor and “quarterback“ overseeing the plan—in the event of an emergency. All of this is reinforced with monthly educational meetings and themed client appreciation events, where Terry might be seen sporting a number 13 Bulls jersey— her team number at Benedictine, which she proudly shares with Bulls team member Joakim Noah.
“You know, I started out wanting to be a CPA and fell into this much against my wishes; and it’s all because two men in my life told me I had to get my insurance and securities licenses.”
Terry is still a CPA, but she considers herself a financial planner—and while she may be the person behind the name Theresa Hannon Financial Group, Ltd., to those who know her she is and will always be Terry; an exceptional mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend.
1 Derived from data reported in Investment News, Oct. 2011; Financial Planning, June 2011 and; Financial Advisor, April 2011