Among Gill Cardy’s many and varied attributes, one that I always appreciate is her sharp eye for an absurd comment.
One that comes to mind is Gill reflecting in a newspaper column 12 or 13 years ago about one of her first attendances at PIMS, the annual shipboard conference where she is now a regular speaker.
In passing, Gill’s column neatly skewered me by mentioning an alleged earlier remark of mine about the dearth of female dancing partners on PIMS providing an excellent reason for recruiting more women into the industry.
Did I say that? It’s possible although I keep copies of everything I write and never found the comment she referred to, sexist language is, sadly, as common among those, like myself, who pretend to be holier-than-thou as with anyone else.
But I am totally in agreement with fellow MM columnist Neil Liversidge that firms should be recruiting more women because on the whole they make far better advisers than men. Last week, Neil wrote of his concern over the fact that only 17 per cent of advisers are female. I agree entirely.
Neil added that in his experience “women in this profession are also on the whole more ethical in the treatment of clients than many of their male counterparts. They also tend to be more loyal and conscientious where their employers are concerned.”
In my opinion, this is not a genetic thing. At its heart, it is about socialisation, the process by which boys and girls start to gain the skills they need to operate as a functioning members of the society they live in.
As a result of this process, men’s brains gradually become wired in a different way to women. They learn to behave differently, to strive for things in a slightly more aggressive and single-minded manner.
Having listened to many IFAs over the years, my personal experience is that there is a difference between the sexes in the way they both listen and talk.
With men, there is often an underlying assertiveness in the way they approach their clients. While sometimes a useful strategy, it also means they don’t listen well enough and often fail to pick up on the nuances in a client’s own language. Essentially, their “hand-holding” skills are weaker.
By contrast, female advisers tend to display a completely different set of skills. They often pick up on things better than men. They are far more disarming when dealing with stroppy clients.
If they were taught sales skills, the old “overcoming of objections”, they learn to personalise them in a way that isn’t so obvious to their clients.
And, like Neil, I believe on the whole women are more conscientious than men. They “feel” for their clients more and often relate to them better than men.
Indeed, women are most successful at being IFAs when they use their skills rather than those that most commonly apply to men.
Conversely, they are at their weakest when they try to ape their male counterparts.
You can see that at all levels. For example, in February last year, Tenet appointed Helen Turner to the post of distribution and development director, replacing Keith Richards, who was leaving to become Personal Finance Society chief executive.
In a prescient article back then, MM reporter Sam Macdonald quoted IFAs saying Turner would need to prove herself by being “as vocally supportive of advisers as her predecessor”.
A few months later, purely coincidentally, Turner launched a populist crusade to garner 10,000 signatures needed for the Government’s petition committee to address the issue of a long-stop for advisers.
To date, the campaign has barely garnered half the signatures it needs, an embarassing reminder that despite a large vocal – and male-dominated – minority bigging up the issue, the majority of IFAs are not hugely bothered by it one way or another.
Of course, if women are potentially so brilliant at being advisers – and they are – the real question is that of how to address the fact that so few of them are joining the profession.
Neil’s very personal solution has been to hire a female adviser whom he felt complemented his business, even though he did not even have a vacancy at the time.
He combines this with an understanding attitude about time off arrangements.
There is also a strong argument for targeting women to enter financial services while still at school and university, perhaps even to apply positive discrimination.
More fundamentally, it is the industry as a whole which needs to move away from a macho culture where sales matters more than consistently good advice and service, or where a female senior executive initiates a misfiring campaign to prove she is “vocally supportive of advisers”.
Vocal support for women to enter the industry is about vocal support for good practice as IFAs – and Gill Cardy, along with other female IFAs I have met, embodies these dual qualities better than anyone.
Nic Cicutti can be cntacted at firstname.lastname@example.org