Featured Profile: Terrence Dillon
Grand plans
Shadforth Financial Group wants to be known as Australia's premier wealth management firm. Terry Dillon tells Harrison Worley why a former financial adviser is the right person to bring that dream to life.

Ask Shadforth Financial Group chief executive Terry Dillon why he became a financial adviser, and he'll tell you it wasn't part of his grand plan.

Though to be fair, nothing was.

I was always interested in helping people and trying to think about how you put human beings and their goals and aspirations together with investment markets, and the randomness of outcomes.
Having finished his schooling, Dillon took off to see the world.

Based in London, a young Dillon went about working the jobs he knew he wouldn't  want to do upon his eventual return to Australia.

Think bartending and the service industry, or jumping onto building sites.

"I did all sorts of things that were just interesting traveling jobs," Dillon says.

The prolonged gap year was less about understanding what he did want to do for the rest of his life, and more about confirming the things he didn't.

"And I'd link that back to when you're at that young age and you're not really sure what you want to do, and you're happy to see the world and experience a few things," he says.

"What it did make me really clear on is what I didn't want to do when I came back to Australia."

Though the Shadforth chief admits his own children didn't follow his advice before laying out their own life goals - both in their twenties, one is almost finished a law degree, while the other is a musician - he still advocates for his method.

"I would actually recommend today for a lot of people the idea of going out and getting some experience in the world and doing a few different things that you know you won't want to do," he says.

"Experiencing the world makes you realise that you probably want to do something where you make a difference and you can get up every day and feel motivated about making a difference.

Surer of what he wanted to avoid, Dillon returned to Australia with the task of finding something to "charge into" - regardless of whether the days were going to be good or bad.

"I was passionate about doing the right thing," Dillon recalls.

And, he says, he was always interested in the nexus between investments and helping people.

"I was always interested in helping people and trying to think about how you put human beings and their goals and aspirations together with investment markets, and the randomness of outcomes," he says.

"And marrying those two things together in a sensible way where you might have some confidence about the outcome."

Getting into the insurance sector in 1989 with Precedent - a firm Dillon says lays claim to being one of the first fee-only advice businesses in Australia - made more sense as he started to see the difference advice could make in people's lives.

"Here was a way you could get up every day and help people, and hopefully do well professionally and financially yourself," he recalls thinking.

Dillon says the six tenets Kenneth Hayne wrote in his Royal Commission final report were actually an attraction of working in advice way back when.

"His basic six tenets of obey the law; do not mislead or deceive; act fairly; provide services that are fit for purpose; deliver services with reasonable care and skill; and when acting for another, act in their interests. What he's really saying is be a fiduciary," Dillon points out.

"That was the thing that attracted me to the advice industry in the beginning.

"I'd love to be able to tell you, there was a grand plan where one thing led to another. But the truth was I started in the insurance industry - I couldn't even tell you why - and as I got involved I realised  there was this opportunity to help people and try and marry together individuals' personal goals and objectives with capital markets to come up with better solutions than they would come up with on their own."

For the next 25 years Dillon would hone his craft helping Australians reach their goals, gaining an understanding of what makes good advice firms tick in the process.

When the firm he was working for - Plan B Wealth Management - was taken over by IOOF in 2012 the opportunity to put his ideas to the test presented itself.

"Now at that point, I had a strong view that I had expressed to IOOF: 'This is a great business, a great professional services firm. I think it could be even better if this happened, and this happened'," he says.

IOOF agreed.

"They said, pretty frankly to me, 'Terry, look. We think you're probably right,'" he recalls.

"'But we think it has to be someone who's part of the firm, someone who's part of the history of the firm who makes those changes. So we'd like you to do it.'

The giant wealth firm offering Dillon the chance to test himself as an advice executive wouldn't wait long for his decision. In the end, Dillon went with his gut and took the role on.

"It's one thing as an adviser to think 'If we did this then this would be better for the clients, if we did this it'd be better for the firm, if we did this it'd provide a better working environment,'" he says.

"When someone goes 'Okay we think you might be right but we think someone internally has to do it'... it's the ultimate test of how confident you are that your ideas are right.

"As it turned out - the ideas were broadly right, and they were supported."

After three years running Plan B, IOOF purchased Shadforth and merged the two firms together, providing Dillon with the opportunity to manage the merged entity's Western Australian office, which he did for two and a half years.

When former Shadforth chief executive Angus Benbow departed for Centrepoint Alliance in December 2017, Dillon stepped into his place in an interim role, before being confirmed as his permanent replacement the following April.

Now, he's focused on pushing the firm into the upper echelon of professional services firms in the country.

Part of his grand plan sees Shadforth sitting alongside the big four accounting firms PwC, EY, KPMG and Deloitte as the most sought after employers of graduates.

"We've got  a very clear focus on supporting our advisers, getting them through the change that's coming, and setting ourselves up, so when the fallout from all these things has happened - reduced adviser numbers, the banks being out of the industry - when people talk about wealth management, there is one national professional service wealth management firm," he says.

"And that's Shadforth."

With the target firmly in his mind, you get the sense Dillon won't take his eye off the fundamental aspects of the business. He says the biggest danger for advice group chief executives is exactly that: drifting too far from the clients and advisers.

"So I make sure I spend time with our clients," he says.

"And I spend a lot of time with our advisers listening to what they're going through, trying to make sure we have a focus on what really matters - which is the client experience - and supporting our advisers to serve those clients better."

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