Leading female advisers share their financial services experiences
While equality in the workplace takes in many more aspects than just gender, there is no doubt it is an issue that keeps bubbling up to the surface in financial services.
Estimates suggest female advisers are outnumbered by male counterparts by a ratio anywhere from 10:1 to 6:1. The numbers are perhaps disappointing, but not entirely unexpected. The Treasury’s Women in Finance Charter – an initiative started in 2016 to boost gender diversity – encourages firms to pledge to increase the number of women in senior positions and has been agreed to by some of the leading employers in financial advice.
With more women at the helm, a greater proportion will likely be encouraged to join the sector at grass-roots level and even numbers out.
This remains a work in progress and one that, encouragingly, is attracting an abundance of support from male advisers across the industry.
From there, a more significant platform will be in place from which to solve gender issues that seem to appear in the vast majority of businesses, most notably pay gaps.
For International Women’s Day this year, Money Marketing spoke with female advisers from a range of firms across the UK about what part gender has played in their professional lives.
Many say that when trying to encourage financial inclusion and promote the importance of advice, varied perspectives and different talents are vital.
These are not defined by gender, but are helped by having a diverse roster of staff.
What ensuring equal representation across the workplace does give the advice industry is more of an opportunity to boost its image, and to ensure it remains relevant.
Potential clients come from all walks of life. Advisers say the big picture to keep in mind is that the more the make-up of the advice industry reflects the wider population, the more likely it is that people will be receptive to it. Money Marketing’s recent interview series “Five Minutes With…” asked advisers and industry professionals to describe the state of the financial planning profession today.
Lime Outsourced Paraplanning director Rebecca Lucas brands it “evolving”.
Financial planner and support services executive Cathi Harrison agrees people are “trying”, and Intelligent Pensions’ Fiona Tait remarks that things are “improving”.
Advisers are held together by common goals and a commitment to a profession centred around client relationships, regardless of gender.
It is an industry best summed up by EQ Investors executive director Jeannie Boyle: “Purposeful.”
Here, five leading advisers share their experiences of the profession.
Being a woman has never held me back
Jane Hodges, director, Money Honey Financial Planning
I have never really felt held back by being female, although I do understand and appreciate that it can happen. I often think we have more advantages than men, in fact.
The best thing I once heard was from a hugely experienced male investor, who asked to work with me in case anything happened to him. This was so that his wife would have someone who she could trust to look after her. He said she was put off by suited-and-booted men and wanted someone more “down to earth”. I am sure a down-to-earth man would have been just as good, but I took it as a compliment anyway.
I also have some lovely male clients who are seriously ill and want to make sure that if they don’t get through it, their wives will have someone they can be comfortable with. Interestingly, it’s not the women driving this choice.
There are also a lot of single lady clients who seem to like dealing with me as a female adviser in my specific mode of operation, which is remotely on video conference.
They like my more relaxed style with them although, again, I think this could be done by a friendly man as well. But it was the lack of suits and physical face-to-face time that they tell me was really appealing.
Less about gender, more about personal psychology
Kim North, director, Technology & Technical
When I started in advice in the 1980s, women were quite frequently passed over for jobs they were highly qualified for because of gender. I went on for a long time taking all of this, but they were the old days and it’s far better now than it used to be.
Having been an IFA most of my life, I’ve found I naturally get more female clients and I think it’s because most women want to talk with other women. Some alpha females might be more attracted to a male adviser because they want the focus to be on aggressive returns or that is just what suits them. I also get male clients who are what one could term “gentle” who, again, have different needs.
As a woman, I have always sought out female clients. We talk the same language. There are just so many differences between men and women, and it can be easier to receive certain information from a certain gender. Some men will go towards women for advice, but some will want to deal exclusively with other men; it all depends on the person.
When I first worked in London as an adviser, the men in the firm would go out for a beer and I would not be invited as I was a woman. I’ve run my own firms for 25 years now but, particularly in asset management businesses or the old-fashioned City, I still come across people who think I’ll make the coffee because I’m the only woman in the meeting.
Regardless of whoever a client may want to seek out for advice, it is very hard to find female advisers, so that already narrows the choices they can make.
Male mentors have been crucial
Kirsty Watson, founding director and chartered financial planner, Watson Wood Financial Planning
More often than not, I find I am in the minority at continuing professional development events, but I have never felt in any way undermined for being a woman in this industry.
In fact, since the beginning, I have had a few male mentors who have very much encouraged me to forge forward with my career. They have probably played a large part in where I am today.
I also have three children and despite taking a few years out from work to be with them at home, I was able to get back into work relatively easily.
When seeking to fill a role in financial services, it is hard to firstly find candidates with the relevant qualifications, so if you are good at your job, it is likely that you will always be able to find work in this industry, regardless of whether you are female or male. This is a clear benefit for us as women, who may at times look to have a career break, or step down or step up work. I do feel I have been afforded a good amount of flexibility in that sense.
There is the occasional client who seeks a female financial planner specifically but, for me, it’s more about the qualifications and service you give a client than what gender you are. Having said that, I am certainly proud to be part of the small, select group that is female advisers.
Women can frame information in a different way
Susan Hill, director, Susan Hill Financial Planning
Being female is an advantage at every meeting because most of my clients are ladies. The one thing most of them say to me is that they have been to see a male adviser and felt as though they had been slightly talked down to.
They also often felt things weren’t explained well, while getting the feeling that the adviser did not think they had the capability to understand things.
Perhaps the big advantage is that women talk on the same level with clients. We are able to frame information in a way we both understand because, as women, we have similar experiences. Sometimes clients also cry, which some say they would feel embarrassed doing in front of a man, whereas women cry together; if not literally, we get the empathy.
Reasons like this are why I believe we should have thousands more female advisers in financial services. This is a brilliant career for women – touchy feely but also technical. How we would recruit more women I don’t know, but I would like to see a stronger push for them to enter the industry and all it has to offer.
Things get easier with time
Amy Goodall-Smith, chartered financial planner, Goodall-Smith Wealth Management
There are challenges to being female in advice, but it’s important for any woman who wants to progress her career – particularly within a male-dominated sector – to maintain her authenticity and allow her personality to shine through.
Getting a break is something I feel was more difficult to come by in the early stages of my career, compared with my male colleagues.
However, since pursuing a career as a financial adviser and qualifying through the St James’s Place Academy, and achieving chartered and fellow status, I really don’t feel gender has held me back at all. If anything, my experiences would suggest that it has been the opposite.
The profession is calling out for more female financial advisers and this can really open doors for people.
Ultimately though, it comes down to trust and being able to build strong relationships with clients. Being authentic and able to provide quality financial advice will help to override any biases that may exist.