Profile: Anna Sofat on work/life balance and the appeal of female clients

Sometimes it can be obvious why things are the way they are, but equally obvious they do not have to  be. For example, Addidi Wealth managing director Anna Sofat can see why working mothers’ need for flexible working hours can sometimes fall on deaf ears, but she can also envisage how things could change.

“Companies allow the flexibility to work three or four days a week, but if you work four days, you’re often still expected to do five days’ work in that time. So many women say ‘I might as well do five days’ work and get paid for it’,” she says.

“It’s sad that the boards of most companies are still male dominated and have no idea because they’ve not been through it. They may have wives who go through it but many will be well off enough for the wife not to work or they can afford to employ a nanny, so they don’t understand. But a lot of HR people are women, and it’s about time HR departments started to think outside the box.”

Addidi Wealth – an advice firm catering mainly for women – is proof there is another way that does not measure productivity by the number of hours staff are at their office desks, or require women to choose between their families or their career.

When a member of staff had a premature baby and needed to spend all her leave at the hospital, Sofat knew that committing to her needs at this difficult time was the right thing to do. So it was agreed that when the time came when the employee could return to work,they would do two days in the office and a day from home.

But this was not simply an emotional response; it was a business decision to retain a valuable member of staff that Sofat knew would give her all in return for that flexibility.

“I knew from experience that when you needed something they would do it; they would deliver. We want grown-up staff who are self-motivated. We’re not going to baby them. We want them to make decisions, be grown up and if they feel under pressure, talk to their manager,” she says.

Sofat says it was more difficult to be a working mother when she started out in financial services at the Woolwich in the 1980s but stresses it is far from easy now.

“You get a bit more maternity leave and more childcare options,  though they are not cheap. There were assumptions when I was at the Woolwich that when women became pregnant, you wouldn’t see them afterwards or they would want to work part time. The manager would say ‘that’s that then’. But when I became pregnant, I remember telling them how hard I had worked to be where I was and that I would be back.”

Sofat returned after six months’ maternity leave but her employer’s commitment to flexible working fizzled out after a few months and she left. She returned to a former life in marketing in 1996, then resurrected her advice career four years later at the female-run advice firm Fiona Price & Partners. When that was sold, Sofat launched Addidi Wealth in 2006.

“There was a Fiona Price way of doing things in terms of advice. It was something I really believed in. All I had to do was the right thing for the client. But I didn’t want to be a Fiona Price mark two,” she says.

Reflecting on whether to stay in the women’s advice market, Sofat felt the Fiona Price model was right for its time as it helped women achieve financial independence. By 2006, however, Sofat recognised women did not need that help to become financially independent as they were earning their own money. So a different approach was needed.

“All the statistics showed how quickly women’s wealth was increasing, but the work-life balance wasn’t there. Women want to do their best at work; we don’t want to let our families down and there are only two things we are letting down: ourselves, with less ‘me time’, and our money.

“I thought if I could create a home for women so they know their money is taken care of, they might get more ‘me time’. I didn’t want to top-down change the world, I just wanted to help a few people. A little ripple pretty much works best.”

Addidi also gives clients the opportunity to become members of its Enterprise Club. This comprises three services: Addidi Angels, which enables women to invest in small growth businesses; Addidi Pioneers, which focuses on social enterprises and philanthropic projects; and Addidi Talent, for women who want to become mentors or non-executive directors. The aim is to provide women with a “personal and social return”.

Sofat says: “I was aware that the financial services industry was all about financial return but we all have a comfort level financially. I could rattle on about financial return after that and there would not be a lot of interest.

“Right from the beginning I wanted a proposition that could look at personal and social return to add value.”

Now Sofat wants to develop something that “truly changes” the financial advice business. She says: “To grow Addidi and sell it doesn’t motivate me, but that is the average model. I don’t want flash cars; I don’t want a business where it’s all about shareholders. Advisers are often money orientated but I want staff who are client-centred and drive high standards to set a new benchmark for the industry.”

Sofat believes the industry is still very sales orientated and target driven, which is possibly why it has not attracted as many women as men.

“That has to change as it’s a fantastic career for women. I have learned to love it because we can do things the right way. We have to have an industry where doing the right things by clients is the key driver, not doing the right thing for the business.”

Five questions 

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career? 

It was from Fiona Price. If you’re in a client meeting and you know something isn’t quite right, park everything else aside and address it. If the client has concerns, get to the bottom of it or it will come back to bite you.

What keeps you awake at night? 

My mantra is to do the right thing and I will sleep easy. But if I am awake it will be because something isn’t quite right and it needs to get sorted so it’s not going round and round in my head.

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year? 

The Brexit/Trump political uncertainty. It has not had an impact in terms of markets but a lot of people are worried and have questions.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would… 

Spend time looking at it from a consumer viewpoint; find people selling products they shouldn’t be selling and shutting cold callers down before they had a chance to do any damage.

Any advice for new advisers? 

Have the confidence in yourself to do the right thing. If you set yourself high standards you’ll have pride, clients will love you and you will succeed.

CV 

2006-present: Managing director, Addidi Wealth

2000-2006: Managing director, Fiona Price & Partners

1996-2000: Business development director, Jackson Batten Financial Group

1990-1996: Independent financial consultant, AJS Financial Consultants

1989: Break for family

1985-1988: Graduate trainee and marketing roles, Woolwich Building Society