What life and loss have taught me about the value of financial advice

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by Soula Cargakis - Group Executive, Advice

They say the past shapes us, and sometimes in ways we couldn’t even begin to imagine.

As I look back on my life, I’ve come to realise my story is not entirely my own. It’s the story of resilience, of three generations and of women who learned their own strength through adversity.

I could never have imagined the career I would have.

If you had told me I would become an executive and, for a short period of time, the acting CEO of a publicly listed company someday, I would have laughed at you. Where would I even begin? I didn’t have any tertiary education, and I had spent almost all my adult life until I was 35 taking care of my husband and three kids.

But life always has a way to remind us it is never linear. That things don’t always go to plan.

The boat to opportunity

Having had a long career in financial services now, I can say it’s not a career path for those lacking passion. You must be passionate about making your clients’ lives better and about giving them opportunities they may never have had before. I guess I’ve always had that kind of passion built in. It traveled in a boat across the Pacific and Indian oceans with my grandmother and mother as they sought a better life in the land of opportunity. 

My grandmother was a woman unlike anyone of her era. She was married and divorced twice by the time my mother was eight years old and she loved fashion, often dressing up in fashions that you would see in New York and London, not anywhere near the Mediterranean in the 1930s. 

She was also determined to give my mother opportunities that she didn’t have by making sure she got an education and took up extracurricular activities like music - and this was during World War 2.

In 1957, I was five years old and my world revolved around my best friend Elly and her little brother Kim. (2)

Seeing as there weren’t many options for my mother once she turned 18, my grandmother decided she would leave everything she knew and bring her to Australia. 

However, my mother fell in love fast in Australia and married an older gentleman, bringing me into the world in 1952.  

My father didn’t believe in life insurance – he was a good Greek man who was more likely to keep his money hidden under his mattress and in his pockets. And he wasn’t exactly what you’d call careful with his money either – gambling was a favourite pastime.

Dad died when I was 18. No life insurance, no savings. Luckily, Mum owned the flat we lived in. Mum was very resourceful and had a couple of jobs as well as doing a lot of voluntary work in the Greek community. I got a job at YHA and we managed to get by.

We survived.

Learning to stand on my own two feet

History seems to find a way to repeat itself in one way or another. 17 years after my father had passed away, I was married and a stay at home mother to three children.  

In 1957, I was five years old and my world revolved around my best friend Elly and her little brother Kim. (1)Mum remained very active in the Greek community and did a huge amount of volunteer work which she was regularly recognised and awarded for. But with the pension as her sole source of income, she was heavily reliant on us financially.

When you’re young, you never imagine it will happen to you, but it can, and it sometimes does.

At the age of 40, my husband, Emmanuel - who was fit, healthy and a non-smoker – passed away from cancer.

Fortunately, we had taken out life insurance policies on each other so when Emmanuel passed away, I was able to buy the home we lived in and keep the car. Yes, I would have to find a way to feed and clothe us, but I didn’t have the financial stress of a mortgage and car repayments to worry about. The kids were able to stay in their home, so their lives remained as normal as possible.

Quite frankly, it saved us.

My journey in Financial Services

I was 35 with three young children, a mother who required financial support, and I hadn’t had a job in 13 years. My only option was to go to back to work to support us. So, I did.

A close friend of Emmanuel offered me my first role at Adviser Investments Services. It was unpaid initally, but I took it and before too long I secured a paid full-time position. I assisted with software development of financial planning software which led into writing manuals, and training advisers and staff on the software.

After seven years I moved to Aviva, firstly running their software development team for FPI software and then moved to head up the distribution team for Navigator. I was there for another seven years before moving to the then Professional Investment Services (PIS), now Centrepoint Alliance.

Caption _ Supporting three young children and an elderly mother with no steady income, I couldn't have imagined that my career would be what it is today. (4)In 2006, I started Associated Advisory Practices (AAP), the first independent business in Australia to provide dealer to dealer services. Having worked with predominantly boutique licensees at Navigator, I felt the one thing missing for boutique licensees was a community to be part of and a support system that could cater to all their needs from compliance, to education, to business planning. Being able to share and talk to other advisers that were in a similar situation was critically important during the FOFA period.

AAP grew quickly and in December 2010, was acquired by Centrepoint Alliance as part of the acquisition of Professional Investment Holdings. In 2015 AAP was rebranded as Centrepoint Alliance Licensee Solutions. Today, it has almost 1,500 advisers in its community.

Because insurance paid for the building blocks like the house and car after my husband passed away, I was able to direct whatever I earnt into building a future for us. And with the help of a financial adviser, I was able to build a plan for my long-term financial future.

It meant I could send my children to private schools and continue to support my mother. It meant I could build a retirement portfolio that will enable me to retire comfortably. It meant I could enjoy overseas travel once the kids grew up. And it meant I would never have to depend on my own children for my financial security or leave behind financial stress for them.

I feel privileged to work in an industry where we support people to support each other. There is a sense of camaraderie and community in financial advice that you don’t often find in other industries.

Maybe my grandmother didn’t realise it at the time but her decision to buy two tickets on that boat from Greece became the investment that ultimately led me to where I am today.

And that’s just the thing about what we do, isn’t it? We try to see the long-term consequences and put actions into practice that we know will lead our clients to better opportunities.

 

My family known for its strong women. (4)

 

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