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Leaping the hurdles

Being an IFA should be an ideal job for a woman. The hours are flexible and home working is possible, so work can be planned to fit around family life.

Yet the IFA market is still dominated by men. In a recent survey by Aifa, only 10 per cent of respondents were women.

Advisory & Brokerage Services director and leader of pensions Michelle Cracknell says that, for every female job applicant, she receives 10 applications from men.

However, the situation is improving. Fiona Price says that when she established the Women&#39s IFA Group in 2001, there were only 1,200 women out of 35,000 IFAs. She believes this number has increased to 2,700 over the past two years.

Price, who founded IFA firm Fiona Price & Partners, argues that more needs to be done to attract women into the industry. Part of this process is the IFA Woman of the Year award and this was won last week by Yvonne Goodwin of Leeds-based Pearson Jones who became the second winner.

Goodwin started in financial services as a secretary to the two founding partners of Pearson Jones in 1979. She began offering financial advice in 1989, became an associate director of the firm in 1993 and passed the Advanced Financial Planning Certificate in 1999.

She believes the key to attracting more women into the industry is to raise awareness of financial services as a career opportunity in schools and uni- versities. Goodwin has spoken to sixth-form pupils – boys and girls.

She says the problem is not the inaccessibility of the industry but the fact that women do not realise they could have a career as an IFA. “Some people think that being an IFA is all about facts and figures. But you also have to develop problem-solving skills and you need the ability to look holistically at a client&#39s situation,” says Goodwin.

Price believes that a further obstacle preventing women moving from administrative jobs to becoming financial advisers is the fact that it is still a cottage industry.

She says: “Most independent firms are too small for the owners to have the time and resources to support and train women to become IFAs.

“This is why it is important to promote independent financial advice inside and outside the sector. For example, over the past 12 months, my firm has taken on six women from different industries for three months each for work experience. Firms should also market themselves during the Milk Round at universities.

“The great thing for women is that being an IFA is one of the few jobs where part-time and flexible hours work well. Firms do not mind how you do the job.”

Female IFAs applaud the work that Price has done to raise awareness among the public and the financial services industry but some question the need to have a separate award.

Vivienne Starkey, a partner in London-based Equal Partners, says: “Wig has done a lot to promote women but I do not think that we need a separate award.

“In sport, you only need separate awards when women are incapable of competing with men. But the quality of financial advice offered by women is as good as men.”

Starkey and Cracknell both believe that women bring a different perspective and abilities to providing financial advice.

Cracknell says: “I like to have a mix of men and women in a team of financial advisers.”

Starkey says: “Some women have had bad experiences with male advisers in the past. This could be that they were encouraged to put their money into a man&#39s pension because he received higher-rate tax relief.”

Cavendish Financial Management managing director Julie Lord takes the stance by arguing that women generally make better IFAs than men. She says: “Women tend to make better listeners, take a sensible approach to money and understand the work/life balance. A successful relationship between clients and advisers rests on trust, chemistry and empathy, which women can provide.

“Talking generally, most of the fly-by-night practices have been carried out by the old-school male advisers. The situation has improved for women over the past 10 years. The great thing for female IFAs is that they can decide how much money they want to earn and then put in the hours required to achieve it.”

One IFA, who does not want to be named, says women tend to be “more conscientious, careful in the advice they provide and take longer over planning for each client so female IFAs are less prone to missell.”

Eve Callaghan says that she and her partner set up Edinburgh-based Financial Direction for Women because of demand from both men and women for female IFAs. She says: “There is the issue of consumer choice. We deal with specialist female issues such as long-term retirement planning because women live longer as well as needing advice following a divorce.

“Female clients tell us they want to see a woman adviser because they feel more comfortable and they are not confronted by a pushy salesman, especially as meetings are often at their home and at night. Men also often feel more comfortable talking to a woman, particularly about the more emotional aspects of finances.”

But Callaghan believes it is a myth that being an IFA is an easy career for women. She says the targets set for sales and the number of meetings held in a week mean that women who work parttime are unfairly compared with men who can work 12 hours a day to gain bonuses.

She says: “It is true that an IFA can work flexible hours but you still need to put in a certain amount of time to have 10 meetings a week or whatever target the firm sets.

“As many meetings with clients are held at their homes in the evenings, single mothers have to have family who can look after their children most evenings.”

Attracting women into the industry appears to have made significant progress over the past couple of years but more needs to be done to raise awareness about the attractions of a career as an IFA.

The industry will know when it has succeeded because there will be no need for a separate IFA Woman of the Year award.


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