Anne Gongos, the widow of business owner John Gongos, told a packed room of advisors how grateful she was for life insurance. She told her story during National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors Annual Conference in October.
She told the group that she lost her husband to melanoma when he was only 51. Suddenly, she found herself raising three children on her own while running her husband's advertising company that employed more than 100 workers.
Many life insurance agents have a similar story: how they set up a policy only to have the family breadwinner die unexpectedly. Agents remind their clients that’s exactly what life insurance is for: to protect working Americans against the risk of dying too soon.
But what of the young women, some of them mothers, who suffered similar losses and fought back by ending up as financial advisors themselves?
These women also offer compelling stories of how they joined the ranks of insurance and financial advisors, turned to themselves as their first client, and built thriving businesses from there.
Stories of women making it to the top of their profession are profiled in “Women at the Top,” written by Arthea “Charlie” Reed and Diane Dixon, and self-published through iUniverse. The book is based on research sponsored by Women in Insurance and Financial Services.
Reed, a former professor and chairperson of the Department of Education at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, is a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual.
Dixon, a former financial representative and assistant recruitment director for Northwestern Mutual, is the owner of 3F Coaching, a national coaching company.
Here are two compelling stories of loss and recovery among the 23 female advisors profiled in the book.
Monica A. Jones
Monica A. Jones, a life and annuity specialist with ACSC-AAA Life Insurance in Chula Vista, Calif., was widowed in 2000, losing her husband just as suddenly as Anne Gongos lost hers.
Jones was 43 years old at the time she joined the insurance industry. She had been teaching high school for 18 years and had planned to retire from teaching one day. But her husband of 20 years died of a heart attack at age 52, and he had no life insurance.
Jones had a 13-year-old daughter to care for but she had other financial worries. Her deceased husband was a consultant who charged part of his fee up front and after his death his clients clamored to be reimbursed. Jones’ teaching salary was not enough to pay the bills.
She left teaching to become a life insurance agent, built up her business and now writes about 250 life insurance policies annually. She has qualified for Million Dollar Round Table for seven years. Two years ago, she was named the 2013 ASCA-AAA life agent of the year.
“The best part of this business is that at the end of the day, you protected another man, woman, child, or family, and you go to sleep knowing their financial future will be secure,” she told Reed and Dixon in an interview.
After only four months of marriage, State Farm Insurance agent Ellie Mills was widowed when her husband was killed by a drunken driver. Mills is the owner of the Ellie Mills Insurance Agency in Cutler Bay, Fla.
She remarried three years later and moved to Miami to open a nursery, only to have it and her home destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when she was 27 years old. She hadn’t yet turned 30 and already she had personal experience of the importance of protecting life and property.
She turned to insurance.
“Even that catapulted me into the understanding that I was meant for (the insurance) business,” she told the authors in an interview.
An early boss, gruff of demeanor and sexist to boot, taught her how not to deal with clients. A humble and very successful State Farm agent taught her how to take advantage of opportunities on the fly.
Mills runs two offices with 18 employees and offers 96 products in life, health and property/casualty lines.
Mills said her success came through hard work and by learning to rely on others by surrounding herself with people who are diligent and hard-working.
Her “A-plus” clients are people who care about their families’ financial future and “are willing to take action to help protect and plan for it,” Dixon and Reed wrote.
“Not all the women featured in this book were immediate stars,” the authors also wrote in the book’s introduction. “Some of them had relatively slow starts or even changed jobs and started from scratch later. However, they persevered and became tremendously successful.”
A major theme arising out of the interviews conducted with top female advisors is that they are driven, guided by values and never gave up, said Dixon in an email to InsuranceNewsNet.
The advisors profiled said they saw themselves in the broader financial planning business. They define the word “team” as the group of people connected to them beyond the office, said Dixon, a past president of WIFS.
The women profiled in the book fall into the category of entrepreneurs who “happen to be in the financial services industry,” Dixon said. She added that if women are not in a “a nourishing and inspiring environment, they will create one.”
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].