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Terri Kallsen EVP at Charles Schwab:“It’s ok to have questions that can’t be answered, but it’s not ok to have answers that can’t be questioned”

With Akemi Sue Fisher


“It’s ok to have questions that can’t be answered, but it’s not ok to have answers that can’t be questioned.” I encourage my team to disagree with me and other team members when they feel we’re making a poor choice or moving in the wrong direction. We even have monthly recognition called the Dare to Disagree award (that I definitely stole from a colleague, and is based on a great Ted talk given by Margaret Heffernan) that reminds us all that our team is a safe space to disagree, debate and challenge so we do our absolute best to achieve what is right for our clients and employees.


I had the pleasure to interview Terri Kallsen, Executive Vice President, Investor Services, Charles Schwab.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always enjoyed analytics and working with numbers. I found that one of the most beneficial ways to use that interest is through financial planning. Based on real data and analytics, you can help people and families prepare for and work through life events, like the birth of a child, buying a new home, getting married or divorced, etc. I wanted to use the analytical skills I have, in combination with my passion for helping people, and finance/financial planning was a natural fit.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

There are so many stories, but I find that the most fulfilling are ones in which I have the opportunity to help others achieve their potential. For example, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor a lot of fantastic women while at Schwab. Many of them are just starting out and are not sure what might be the best role for them long term, so I’ll work with them on career pathing. A few years ago, when I lived in Denver, I mentored a young woman who had recently completed her time in the Peace Corps, and whatever career she chose, she knew she wanted to continue to help people. We discussed financial planning (to my point earlier), and throughout our discussions, she decided to pursue that as her career. Since then, she’s earned her CFP as well as a role as a financial advisor. We’re still in touch and she is very happy with the choices and loves making such a positive impact on so many families and her community.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In this role, the funniest mistake I made was when I was introducing our CEO, Walt Bettinger, at an event with about 300 clients. I mispronounced his name, and it was fairly noticeable. The lesson? Learn to pronounce your boss’s name correctly!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our culture of seeing through the clients’ eyes, and always doing what is right for our clients, no matter what. We try to keep that same mentality for our employees, and constantly invest in them, as well by helping employees develop their own careers, providing growth opportunities, as well as encouraging them to innovate and suggest new ideas on how best to work with our clients.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re working on leveraging more artificial intelligence, biometrics, and voice technology to make our clients’ and employees’ lives easier. Not only can new technology provide faster, more simple ways of interacting with Schwab, but more often than not, it provides a much safer, more secure was of doing business. We can also use this technology to provide financial guidance — for example to help devise a trading plan, or perhaps track and make better decisions to achieve financial goals.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

There’s a lot of leadership guiding principles that I try to follow in my career. The one that stands out the most is being a servant leader. I constantly ask myself how I can remove barriers the team may be encountering? How can I be of help to them in achieving their goals and results? How can I be humble and supportive? How can I be an advocate? Through servant leadership, I have found that teams can actually achieve larger goals, in more efficient and effective ways, than ever anticipated.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think I’ve learned to help people make better decisions around money, and be in more control of their finances as opposed to letting their finances control them. That’s not just people of wealth, it’s for people at all stages of life. I start with a very simple concept that can be used with anybody that I refer to as the Three S’s — how much do you need to Spend? How much should you Save? And how much do you want to Share? It’s the sharing and giving and donations and philanthropy that helps give back to the world. As people are in better and more stable positions financially, they are able to better those around them and improve their communities.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I know you’re probably not surprised, but it is to provide financial literacy and education on a much broader basis. But I would love to move beyond just literacy and education, and take it up a level to promoting as much financial inclusion and empowerment as possible, ensuring people of all levels of wealth, knowledge and circumstance have access to the financial resources they need to take control of bettering their lives and achieving financial aspirations of all kinds.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s ok to have questions that can’t be answered, but it’s not ok to have answers that can’t be questioned.” I encourage my team to disagree with me and other team members when they feel we’re making a poor choice or moving in the wrong direction. We even have monthly recognition called the Dare to Disagree award (that I definitely stole from a colleague, and is based on a great Ted talk given by Margaret Heffernan) that reminds us all that our team is a safe space to disagree, debate and challenge so we do our absolute best to achieve what is right for our clients and employees.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m both on LinkedIn and Facebook at @TerriKallsenCS

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