The chief executive of Independent Women and Edinburgh Investment Consultants has made advising women about financial matters her unique selling point and the patronising comments only make her more determined. Interview by Rachael Adams
Fifteen years’ experience in financial services has not dampened Independent Women and Edinburgh Investment Consultants chief executive Lesley Collins’ appetite.
“Some mornings I just wake up and think, ’I cannot wait to get out there.’”
Gender is a big issue for Collins, whose advisory firm Independent Women positions the female touch as its USP.
“Before I set up Independent Women in 1997, female clients were coming to me and saying they could not really open up to traditional IFAs.”
Prior to Independent Women, Collins advised teachers. In 1989, the Educational Institute of Scotland approached Collins while she was working at IFA Executive Benefit Services, asking her to set up its financial services department.
“Membership was at 47,000 then and although they were good at the union side of things, they had no clue about financial services.”
The only downside with this role was the fact that the company was tied, says Collins. “I felt the need to shift towards independent advice.”
Tired of feeling like a “frustrated entrepreneur”, Collins left the EIS in 1992 to set up Teachers IFA.
“I enjoyed working with teachers and knew their superannuation schemes inside out. It was a natural move for me.”
However, after realising that she could do more with her independent label than advise teachers, she decided to widen the brand and became Edinburgh Investment Consultants.
Collins cites “itchy feet” as the reason behind her decision to form the Independent Women arm.
“I started looking at the brand again and saw that a lot of my clients were women, either because they were teachers or because of the massive shift occurring with women in terms of breaking the glass ceiling. But when I went to the bank manager and told him about my plans, he basically patted me on the head and told me I did not need to do this as I had a husband to provide for me. That just made me more determined.”
Today, Independent Women and Edinburgh Investment Consultants’ combined client bank is more than 3,500, with 40 per cent of these belonging to Independent Women.
“About 60 per cent of those clients are female. It is not a case of female advisers for female clients - we have a lot of male clients who like our ethos. What we do is not rocket science, it is just a different delivery.”
Collins believes that although women and men react differently to events such as divorce or retirement, the gap has closed since she started Independent Women.
“When I started, women just wanted to walk away from divorces and any mention of assets was a no-no. Now, we are encouraging women to look at the picture jointly. If they have stayed at home raising a family for 20 years and have no pension, they need to get some assets. This is starting to happen more.”
Lack of pension provision is a common theme in Collins’ clients. She says: “Women are underprovisioned. A lot of them think that if their husband has an amazing job he will provide for them but a lot of the time that just does not happen. It is also an issue because women are living longer and are starting to wonder what their state pensions will look like. I suspect they will see them as supplementary to employer or independent contributions. However, it is not all about making sure the woman is independent and the husband is just bumbling along behind her. Two pensions are better than one.”
Collins does believe that the impending RDR could negatively affect some clients. “I am worried that the fear factor of fees will exclude some people from advice. Some will go to banks because they will think they are cheaper and will not receive a proper holistic approach. Women, who are already susceptible to caution, may start thinking about how they can do things themselves, which is a huge risk.”
That is not to say that Collins is unsupportive of the RDR.
“Overall I think it is good because it allow us to reconsider our business model. In the early days, it was very much, ’We want to advise every woman on the planet’ but the harsh reality is we are running a business. We have expenses and we cannot afford to spend six hours advising someone with a lot of debt, which is contrary to my nature.”
Collins is keen to make Independent Women an international brand. “I bought Independent Women International a couple of years ago, just in case. In 2004, I was all set to open an office in Dubai but then the war in Iraq started.”
Instead of international expansion, the company has focused its plans a bit closer to home. “We will open an office in Glasgow in the autumn, where I would like to double turnover and employ eight more staff.”
Once the Glasgow office is up and running, Collins plans to come to London, preferably by next summer.
“We also have a few other plans that are on the QT at the moment. We want to look at an accountancy tag-on and a legal arm. We would also like to look at a bank - any way we can make current and savings accounts more tax-efficient would be great. Independent Women banking and credit cards would be brilliant too but not in the immediate future.”
Collins does see a few obstacles to her business plans, though. “The biggest issue I can see is regulatory change. I do think the tightening up of regulation is no bad thing and I am 500 per cent behind client protection but it is not all about filling in forms. What does that actually achieve?
“Being a woman is still an issue too. Sometimes I go to seminars with director Scott Mackintosh and get treated like a PA. But I just charge on.”
Born: Edinburgh, 1964
Lives: Lasswade, near Edinburgh, with fiance and two children
Education: Mary Erskine School
Career: 1997-present: CEO, Independent Women; 1993present: founder and CEO, Edinburgh Investment Consultants; 1990-1993: IFA, EIS Financial Services; 1989-1990: IFA, Executive Benefit Services; 1988-1989: life administrator, Albyn Associates; 1985-1988: pensions administrator, NPI; 1983-1985: PA, Barclays Bank
Likes: Time with friends and family, seeing people develop within our business and shopping
Dislikes: Lack of integrity, ulterior motives and spiders
Drives: BMW X5 during the week, Audi R8 at weekends
Book: I have little time to read but I unwind with escapism novels on holiday
Film: Gone With The Wind
Album: Sunny Side Up by Paolo Nutini
Career ambition: To build the business into a global brand
Life ambition: To see my family secure and happy
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Developing and selling luxury homes