Should gender play a role in the marketing strategy of your advice firm? It’s a question many female advisers may find difficult to call.
In an industry where everyone is conscious of the need to differentiate themselves from the firm down the road, being female when men still outnumber women can be a distinguishing factor. However, the dilemma for some is how to tap in to this while still having broad appeal. After all, not all female advisers want to focus predominantly on the female advice market.
Fiona Gray Financial Planning was never intended to be an all-female practice but this is exactly what it was until a year ago, when it hired its first male, a trainee paraplanner. The independent firm’s director, Fiona Gray, markets the firm to both male and female clients. However, most of the staff are female as a result of Gray learning from her previous career in recruitment that offering flexible working would help to attract the best staff.
“I recognised that if I was able to offer flexible working – not just in terms of reduced hours and working days but through investing in technology and telephone systems that allowed working from home as easily as the office – I would be able to attract the best possible talent even if they were not available for full-time work.
“The majority of my team have younger children and we are all supportive of each other in making this work for both the business and them personally.”
1996-present: Administrator, then IFA and owner, Fiona Gray Financial Planning (formerly Paul Associates)
1985-1996: General manager, share issue division then director, office automation, Blue Arrow Personnel Services
Gray does not define herself by her gender – she identifies with being an adviser “who happens to be female”. However, she does think being female is a USP, since there are relatively few female advisers in the industry. That is why she makes her gender clear in the name of her business. “Anyone who doesn’t want to deal with a female adviser doesn’t approach us in the first place which saves us all time, but those who may feel more comfortable doing so
will call us.”
Prospective clients who visit the firm’s website will come across a statement that ‘recommendations may not result directly in business for the firm’.
What does Gray think about the debate around contingent charging?
“There is a danger in confusing ‘holistic’ advice with ‘independent’ advice. Holistic financial planning means providing advice on all aspects of a client’s financial needs and after considering all aspects of their situation. There may or may not be product recommendations involved in this process. We cover the cost of our time on this stage by charging for a strategy report. Both restricted and independent advisers should be able to do this effectively.”
However, Gray thinks independent advice comes into its own when making product recommendations as it means advisers can deal with all types of products from firms across the market and it is here she says contingent charging can be appropriate.
“We are paid for this recommendation and implementation stage by fees – either contingent charging or time cost as the client prefers.”
Fiona Gray Financial Planning came into being after Gray took over her mother Julia Paul’s IFA firm in 1999. She is a prime example of how second careerists can use their existing skills in the industry – and how younger people often push financial matters to the back of their minds – even children of IFAs.
“Unfortunately, you never listen to your mother. I was no different. I was developing a career in recruitment and when my mother started trying to talk to me about what financial arrangements I should be putting in place, I was less than interested.”
Gray had started in admin at her mother’s firm in 1996, having found herself “pretty burnt out” and “demotivated” after 11 years with the recruitment firm Blue Arrow. “One day I was talking to my mother about how unhappy I was and how trapped I felt – but that I could not afford to leave my job. Rather exasperatedly, she pointed out that I had money in a Pep savings plan she had set up for me – something I thought was some kind of insurance policy. It was as if a light bulb had switched on. I suddenly realised why money and financial planning was important – it gives you choices. My choice was to go into work the following day and hand my notice in.”
Gray quickly became fascinated with the financial advice business. “I came to believe that the right piece of financial advice at the right time is life-changing. I also realised that the process tapped in to my existing skill set. I became energised and spent much of the next year reorganising the business and the processes to enhance what we offered.”
Three years later, Gray took over as principal, relocated the business closer to where she lived and changed its name from Paul Associates to Fiona Gray Financial Planning. “When I was 40 and my mother 60, she decided to build her own house and move to a different area. The business was based at her home and we agreed that this was a natural break and opportunity for her to retire and for me to relocate the business from Milton Keynes to a serviced office in Flitwick near where I lived. She was ready to retire and happy that I’d look after her clients – that was her only concern.”
Gray lost some clients as a result of relocating the firm. However, it was a chance to bring in some new and younger clients. “We did things like supporting the local football team when I wanted to get referral business. After the existing clients brought the income in, it allowed me the luxury to choose my clients.”
The next step is for the business to become a chartered practice, which Gray says is likely to happen within the next year or so. She also has a few other goals in mind.
“I personally hope to concentrate on the management, marketing and compliance side of the business as I move towards my 60s, which will create more time to pursue other interests such as travel and in 2019, presidency of my rotary club.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
To stop seeing clients in their home, except in exceptional circumstances, and ask them to consult me as a professional in my office during office hours.
What keeps you awake at night?
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Defined benefit transfers and the business decision on whether to handle them. Opportunity or complaint in the making?
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…?
Simplify and speed up the authorisation process to get more advisers and younger people in to the profession before we reach as critical point.
Any advice for new advisers?
Value your time and advice.