The financial services industry is based on people going for the option that best suits their needs. So it makes sense to give clients the choice between a male or female adviser, enabling them to confide in someone they feel comfortable with.
But it is well known that men outnumber women in the industry. Anecdotal evidence suggests that between 10 and 17 per cent of advisers are women, which leaves a lot of scope to redress the imbalance.
Women can face many barriers in the wider workplace, such as the glass ceiling, difficulty in restarting their careers after having children and being overlooked for promotion. This can result in a gender pay gap, where females earn less than males doing the same jobs.
Interestingly, however, wealth manager St James’s Place says there is little or no gender pay gap in financial advice and wealth management, which can be attributed to more flexible working patterns and opportunities for self-employment compared with other areas in finance, such as investment banking.
Getting more women into the industry is one of the aims of the St James’s Place Academy, which trains people without any financial services experience to build their own wealth management businesses as SJP partners. Academy director Adrian Bachelor points out that because financial services is historically dominated by men, it has not attracted enough women, leading to a “chicken and egg” situation.
“A lot of roles out there are for people with experience. But a lot of women who have the talent to become financial advisers or wealth managers don’t have that,” he says.
SJP recently held its second annual event ’Mind the Gap’ to highlight how women can overcome the career barriers they face through self-employment. Baroness Patience Wheatcroft, who hosted the event, points out that women who take time out of the workplace to have a family can find their earning power reduced when they return.
“People who have not taken time out move onwards and upwards, while those who have taken time out struggle,” she says.
While most women still take responsibility for the lion’s share of childcare, they need careers that are flexible enough to fit in with family commitments and pay well enough to cover childcare costs. Being a financial adviser or wealth manager could fit the bill as it is possible for women to take control of their work/life balance and build their own businesses through self-employment.
“There are not enough women in the face-to face advice sector. Some clients would like to deal with a woman for all sorts of reasons. It is bad to generalise about gender qualities but women tend to flourish in this field,” says Baroness Wheatcroft.
Rebecca Robertson, founder of advice firm Evolution for Women agrees. “I’m a strong believer that men and women are different; they buy differently and get advice differently. Women tell me they don’t want a grey haired man in a pin-striped suit trying to sell them something,” she says.
Robertson has built her company on a franchise basis and is looking to grow it nationally by enabling other women to build their own businesses under the Evolution for Women brand. “They get everything they need – a business in a handbag, not a box,” she says.
Some women may feel out of place in their former working environment when they return after a break, but may lack the experience or confidence to go it alone according to Robertson.
She says: “They like the structure and support they have with a franchise. I feel like I’m filling a gap.”
Carl Lamb, managing director, Almary Green
There’s no problem as far as advisers are concerned about investing in women – it’s 2014, not 1814. Half of our company’s advisers are women and they do a great job. I think it’s sexist to say that women advisers should deal with women clients but there are always cases where a woman going through a traumatic divorce will prefer a female adviser who can empathise.”
Claire Walsh, chartered financial planner, Aspect8
I question whether it is true there is no gender pay gap in broader financial services. When I was seeking a salaried IFA position a few years ago I was told by a recruitment consultant that few firms would risk hiring a salaried female adviser of child-bearing age!
As a self-employed adviser you are entirely responsible for your own earnings and so, if you decide to have children, you bear that cost and decide how much time to take off. I feel that could be a huge amount of pressure as one wouldn’t want to take too long off and risk losing clients. Having said this, it should be much easier to have a flexible work-life balance in the longer term.