Lives: Cambridge, with partner.
Born: March 1965.
Education: Ashington High School in Northumberland, degree in French language from Bristol University.
Career to date: 1984/95 air traffic control officer in the RAF, holding the rank of Flight Lieutenant; 1995/97 financial planner for ProVision (Clerical Medical); 1997/2000 financial adviser at NFU Mutual; 2000/01 IFA at Fiona Price & Partners; 2002 to date Finance 4 Women (Millfield Partnership).
Career ambition: “To make sure as many women as possible manage their finances.”
Life ambition: To run a marathon.
Likes: Travel, particularly the Far East.
Dislikes: Dishonesty and hard-selling.
Car: Renault Clio 1.2 diesel turbo and half-share in 1961 MG Midget.
Peers say: “Fiona is a very friendly, caring and, above all, patient adviser. She really puts her clients first, even when it means working very long hours.”
We are not feminists, we are just trying to redress the balance,” says Fiona Sharp, co-founder of Finance 4 Women, the breakaway all-female IFA firm.
Sharp, a former RI at Fiona Price & Partners, dismisses offhand any suggestions that all-women adviser firms run the risk of ghettoising women RIs. She maintains that, in her experience, women are more comfortable talking to other women about their finances and that she is addressing a gap in the market. “This is an area that is still hugely undervalued and underrated within the industry,” she says.
The Cambridge-based firm is a labour of love for the four co-founders, Sharp, Catherine Haines, Karen Ritchie and Toni Chalmers – all former Fiona Price & Partners' IFAs. “Our mission is to make sure that as many women as possible manage their finances,” enthuses Sharp.
Finance 4 Women will work under the Millfield Associates Partnership scheme. Millfield will take a share of F4W's turnover in return for support services, including IT and marketing. Sharp says: “Millfield has given us tremendous support in setting up and it recognises the opportunity and scope in Cambridge.”
Although Sharp will not have a word said against Fiona Price & Partners, the move raises the question of why she has chosen to work under Millfield instead.
Fiona Price & Partners announced in mid-March that it was looking to go national. The firm, which has an all-women team of 12 RIs, said it was planning to take on 30 female IFAs across the country in the next two years to work under its brand.
So what was so unworkable about operating under the Fiona Price & Partners brand in Cambridge? Sharp says: “We discussed moving on as part of Fiona Price & Partners but it was agreed it was not right for any of us at this point in time.”
She will not be drawn on the details of the split, deflecting questions with “I think it is best left at that, don't you?”
Thirty-seven-year-old Sharp is an old hand at dealing with stressful situations. Eleven years in the RAF has seen to that. Working in air traffic control, she was charged with taking care of the discipline and welfare of the men under her charge. Gradually, this role grew to encompass managing their finances and she says the experience has equipped her to deal with most things that life can throw at her, particularly being an IFA. Following a near brush with furniture renovation – a possible career move on leaving the RAF – Sharp joined Clerical Medical's ProVision programme as a financial planner. She thanks the RAF for the move. “I had effectively been acting as a financial adviser in the forces so it was a natural progression.”
She showed an even earlier aptitude for prudent decision-making when she joined the RAF aged 19, even though the move meant giving up a place at Aberystwyth University to read French. “I thought long and hard before giving up my place. Through the RAF, I was able to study for the same degree part-time at Bristol University and graduate without the loans and overdrafts of my peers.” A true IFA in the making.
A relative latecomer to financial services – she left the RAF aged 30 – Sharp says she soon realised that she was not a hard-seller. She says: “When I first joined Clerical Medical, I was useless. I am simply not a hard-sell person. The Clerical Medical training was absolutely superb, though. I still refer to my notes from then and that was back in 1995.”
From there, Sharp moved to NFU Mutual, where she says she gained a good insight into the difficulties facing women when it comes to financial planning. “I increasingly found myself holding seminars for the farmers' wives. In that market, they were the ones who normally held the pursestrings.”
Remaining tied to one provider was not what Sharp wanted from the job, however, and she decided to become an IFA. She joined Fiona Price & Partners in 2000.
Sharp's methodical approach is not restricted to her work and she is gearing herself up mentally for starting training for the London Marathon – a monumental task when you consider that a car “kindly ran into the back of me at 70mph” four years ago and she has suffered from back problems ever since. She is under no illusions that she is in for a long haul but she will doggedly go at it.
What great tasks await her at F4W? There are no plans to recruit in the immediate future, according to Sharp, but when the gang of four do go scouting for new recruits they will be targeting admin staff first. “We are an established team so would have to look very hard to find right people to fit in.”
Whoever fits the bill will be working in a fee-based office if the depolarisation proposals under CP121 go through unchanged. The ideal situation, as far as Sharp is concerned, would be where F4W could charge fees but also commission where the client wanted it.
But if it comes down to remaining “independent” or being able to charge commission, Sharp and the F4W team will plump for independent every time, she says. Her career ambition is equally straightforward. “In five years time, I would like to be here, doing exactly what I am doing now. I have no idea ultimately how far I will go but I plan to enjoy getting there.”