Financial services has long been a male-dominated industry, with just 16 per cent of advisory firms listed on unbiased.co.uk having a female adviser but women IFAs could get a boost if the new Find A Female IFA tool from unbiased.co.uk takes off.
Unbiased.co.uk chief executive Karen Barrett says the tool is more about extending individual consumer choice than promoting female advisers over male ones.
Barrett says: “We have always offered consumers the choice of a male or female adviser. My view is the good advisers are good and gender does not come into it but it is the consumer’s prerogative to choose who they get advice from and gender will be important to some people.”
Philippa Gee Wealth Management managing director Philippa Gee thinks the issue should be handled with caution. She says: “Some people feel more comfortable with a female IFA so it is great they have a tool to access that but it is a difficult issue. I am certainly not saying that female advisers are better than men.”
Philippa Gee: ’It is great to have the Find A Female IFA resource but I think adviser selection comes down to individual, not gender’
Currently, 5 per cent of the people who use unbiased. co.uk search according to gender, with a 50-50 split between men and women.
Barrett says: “The preference for a female IFA comes from the individual’s situation, whether it is it a difficult divorce or a sensitive healthcare issue. Female advisers approach clients differently from men because of where their strengths lie. They are natural communicators.”
But not everyone agrees the feminine touch is behind the appetite for female advice. Inspiration Wealth Management managing director Helen Jenkins, whose advisory firm is comprised solely of women, says: “There are really good guys out there. Some women even prefer male IFAs. They are capable of advising people who want a more sensitive proposition.”
Gee adds: “I know some male IFAs who are excellent on the soft skills.”
Karen Barrett: ’It is the consumer’s prerogative to choose who they get advice from and gender will be important to some people’
Despite not viewing sensitivity as a factor in selecting an IFA, Jenkins does think gender can play a role in giving advice.
She says: “There are some problems that are more prominent among women for example, seeing their husbands’ pensions as their own, not seeing the need to make a will or to ensure things are placed in trusts. Women may be more encouraged to get involved with advice if they can relate to their planner.”
The view that shared life experience may make women more likely to opt for female advisers is shared by Barrett, who says: “It is normal to feel more trusting towards someone you feel you have more in common with.”
She thinks this will result in more demand for female IFAs because more women are becoming financially independent and recognising the need to cater for their futures.
Barrett says: “More women are taking ownership of their financial destiny. This is in part due to the Government putting more of an onus on individuals to plan for the future and in part because there are more divorces and women are living longer.”
Barrett believes this could all fuel a rise both in the number of women seeking advice and the number of women who see an opportunity to service this market.
Regulatory change may also attract new female IFAs.
Jenkins says: “The RDR will mean a holistic approach becomes the norm and women are good at practising that. I do not want to alienate men but there may be more openings for female advisers.”
With large numbers of female paraplanners already working in the industry, Barrett says there are opportunities for more women to move into advisory roles.
But across the board, IFAs warn that this should not be to meet a female-only advice market. Jenkins says: “I am not pro female advisers for female clients. We market ourselves as female advisers but we advise 60 per cent men and 40 per cent women.”
Gee agrees that adviser selection depends on personal taste. She says: “It is about what sort of character you want your adviser to be. The matters discussed are often very personal and you need to be comfortable. I think it is great to have the Find A Female IFA resource but I think adviser selection comes down to individual, not gender.”