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Diversity challenge: The benefits of a workforce with a mixture of ages and cultures

Hiring employees from a wide range of backgrounds benefits advice firms, their clients and employees

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

Adviser view


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.”



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There are 2 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Rt Hon Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling 24th March 2015 at 11:41 pm

    We work on the basis of hiring those that are the best looking. Age is irelavent; why I, myself am aged 102 and can still hit a partridge at 100 yards from a moving Range Rover Evoque. I wouldn’t hire one of these whippersnappers from these so-called modern ‘universities’ Give me an Oxbridge man every time. Not having a lot of book;learning never did me any harm.

  2. This is a positive article in that its nice to see a crusty old white guy like Rob Reid getting stuck into such issues. Whilst however most people in the IFA sector I know tend to be fair and open minded people who deplore actual discrimination, I’m afraid this article will have been met with some rolling of eyes in many quarters.

    This article proceeds from a number of assumptions about ‘diversity’ that are either over-stated or just false.

    Firstly, the assumptions about diversity of client base are simply overstated, or for many IFA firms wrong. IFAs are not working in (say) building society branches on Bromley High Street. They do not deal with the sort of cross-section of the population that one finds there on a Saturday afternoon. England outside of London is still in many parts pretty culturally homogenous. The Census may tell us that 13% of the overall population are non-white, but 98% of the population of West Malling are still white. Likewise, the population is more ethnically mixed in younger age groups, and less so amongst the older middle class people who tend to dominate the client-books of surviving IFAs.

    Secondly, there is an assumption that certain differences (e.g. ethnic heritage) cause people to approach the purchase of goods & services with different needs or wants in mind. This is certainly over-stated. Whilst one can assume that the needs of (say) divorced women will continue to be different to married men, there is no reason to believe that cultural factors relating to ethnicity will persist through time. Indeed, some would say that it is merely State sponsored multi-culturalism that has held up such differences, and the doctrine itself is thankfully on the way out, even if the diversity industry itself still persists.

    Longer-term, migrant cultures merge into the parent culture: the children and grandchildren of WWII Poles are indistinguishable, whilst a majority of the descendants of the Windrush generation of West Indian migrants are now born to mixed Anglo-West Indian heritage. Migrants may speak with accents whilst their parents may struggle with English, but their children speak English with the local accents and read/write English as well or as badly as everyone else. As one female Asian lawyer put it to me very recently when bemoaning the cost of her pending wedding (that they were footing together as a couple): “Whilst we’re Muslims, we all drink, so its going to be quite expensive.”

    Thirdly, there seems to be an assumption here that IFAs have plenty of scope for making their ‘workforces’ more diverse. They don’t. A shrinking sector is not one with many openings. The CII just needs to compare those who qualify as ‘chartered’ between advisers and commercial insurance brokers to understand this. Commercial insurance is not a shrinking sector: those qualifying as ACII are new entrants, and the origin of their names reflect the mix of younger folk in London. Advising on the other hand is a shrinking sector: those qualifying as APFS tend to be those who have been in the sector for a number of years. There are relatively few ‘new entrants’, and many of those who are tend to be related to existing advisers.

    So dear CII, by all means celebrate diversity in the advice sector where we see it: the exam achievements of a young guy of Black or Asian heritage, the commercial successes of the ballsy female IFAs.

    But please do not *preach* diversity at us like this, or try and suggest we are doing something wrong, or try to kid us that it would somehow be beneficial to change our ways. Its just not true.

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