Financial advice firms will be aware of their legal obligations to be non-discriminatory in areas such as age, race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation when recruiting. But staying within the law does not necessarily mean firms have a diverse workforce that is representative of its client base. And a lack of diversity could mean firms are missing out on the skills and insight a mix of different ages, backgrounds, cultural experiences and mindsets could add to those businesses.
Managing director of Syndaxi Chartered Financial Planners Robert Reid is working to bring about visible change in what is known as “diversity and inclusion” as diversity champion for the Insurance Institute of London. The IIL – the local organisation for members of the Chartered Insurance Institute living or working in London – has been working with the CII to promote diversity and inclusion for some time. Reid became involved in the initiative as vice president for the CII and found it intriguing why getting this mix of different people to work well in financial services was not growing as quickly as people would like.
“It’s not because of a lack of effort,” says Reid. “We are trying to bring about change through engagement with Lloyds of London, Link LGBT [the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender insurance network] and other groups. We are not reinventing the wheel but we are starting to build a database of who is doing what and we will leverage that as much as we can.”
Reid says he has an eclectic client base across everything from different nationalities to members of the LGBT community. “If you have a diverse client base and a non-diverse office there is a lack of synergy and that is not a positive thing,” he says. “You could miss out on the opportunity of a different style of thinking.”
For Reid the benefits of a diverse workforce can reverberate throughout a business. “You might get opportunities you might otherwise have missed, or avoid making mistakes because some people can see that things will not work,” he says.
One example is reverse mentoring, where firms can engage views of particular groups of people directly through employees who are part of that group, rather than second guessing what that particular group wants or needs. “Older people are not necessarily going to know what young people want or think,” says Reid. “Reverse mentoring doesn’t have to apply to age, it can also apply to LGBT and things like race to help you get a better understanding, as opposed to thinking you know what those people want and what they think.”
“Also, if you take the age situation, we are always looking at how young people are treated but a lot of older people who have been made redundant find it hard to get hired, as people think they are going to be a threat to them. We can train older people how to present themselves so they head off these objections before they appear.”
Reid says his industry peers tend to be dismissive when confronted by the idea of doing more about diversity, as they believe they already have it covered. However, they soon realise there is more they can do.
“My peers are initially defensive and when we talk it through they realise perhaps they are not as diverse as they could be,” says Reid.
As diversity champion, Reid has no time for political correctness. He also believes a coordinated approach that covers all the different aspects of diversity from age to gender, race and education, will be more effective than a series of initiatives from disparate groups with no co-ordination.
“We need something that works, something that is simple and easy to understand. But we are not going to change things overnight,” he says. ”There is a lot of chat about diversity and talking is important but I’m someone who wants to take action. I want things completed.”
Practical steps for firms that want to take diversity and inclusion on board include: talking about their plans for change; educating employees about the impact of unconscious bias; changing attitudes, cultures and working practices; showing evidence that greater diversity and inclusion does work and providing role models, support, guidance and networking opportunities to help create a more diverse industry.
Reid says there are three areas the IIL is working on in terms of diversity. “One is liason – looking after how to get in touch and how members feel, whether diversity is working well and examples of good practice. Another is workshops. The third is where people have done something well, they are learning in the process and want to know what to do next.
”What happens at the workshops will depend on what we get back from our member research. We have a diversity toolkit to allow smaller firms to do for themselves what larger firms are doing. We see a role for larger firms in sharing what they have done.”
To get involved with the IIL’s diversity and inclusion work, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Gallacher, director, Rowley Turton
We work on the basis of employing people who are the best for the job – I’m not sure it comes down to a diversity issue. Perhaps it is more from bringing in people outside of financial services as there is a pool of talent in other sectors that would be good recruits for financial services.
Most advice firms focus on older clients because these are the people who have accumulated wealth. It is less beneficial to advise people in their 20s and 30s unless they have a significant amount of money. People have built fantastic businesses based on the needs of less welathy people who need things like life insurance and advice on savings, but I’m less sure that is feasible in the modern world. I think if anything advisers have become more diverse naturally, in terms of age, race and gender. But we are still a cottage industry. There are a few graduate recruitment schemes and a couple of universities offering financial services. But if you were looking to study accountancy I’m sure every university would offer it.”