Pentins director on her mission to discover why there are not more female advisers and her Women’s Wealth brand
When Pentins Financial Planners director Samantha Secomb started her financial services career in the 1990s, being a financial adviser was essentially a sales role. Secomb can understand why that did not have great appeal for women, but she does not get why there are not more females coming into the profession post-RDR, now the job is increasingly about relationships and long-term planning.
Secomb is so determined to get to the bottom of it that she is making it the subject of a dissertation for her Executive MBA, which she has just started. She says: “I’m going to look at why more women aren’t attracted to financial advice as a career and what are the barriers. Being an IFA is about relationships and if the relationship goes well with the client, you get to see their ‘bump’ grow into an adult and get married. Every family is like a story – surely many women would love that?”
Secomb believes many women are not attracted to a sales environment because they are not motivated by the things that entails: moving quickly from sale to sale, being rewarded for hitting targets with a loud public acknowledgement and the ability to buy a new car.
But with the post-RDR shift away from “product flogging”, she believes there is plenty to appeal to women, if only they were aware of it. “I think financial advice gets mixed up with the bigger picture of finance and needs separating out from that. People outside the industry think that you need a good maths grounding and that it’s about charts and trading, but that is so not what the job is about,” she says.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
To manage my time because it is a valuable commodity.
What keeps you awake at night?
Whether consumers realise that advisers who represent providers are conflicted.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
What has damaged advice is the pension transfer scandal – another pension scandal.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
Insist that the regulator gives different job titles to professional financial planners and distributors of products.
Any advice for new advisers?
Clients were people before they were clients, so treat them as people first.
“When I do this job as a woman, I think why don’t more women do this? It’s flexible, well-paid and there are endless opportunities to improve yourself. There are so many levels you can get to – if you don’t want to manage people you can just manage a client bank. Or you can manage teams and be a mentor; you can choose to run a business or not.”
Secomb recalls going to a conference early in her career and thinking how her bird’s-eye view of those attending looked like beans on toast. “It was around 1992/93 and there were all these bald heads, with less than 10 per cent women there. You just wouldn’t expect to experience the same thing now. At the Personal Finance Society conference, there used to be less than 10 per cent women, but it’s over 25 per cent now.”
While that is a step in the right direction, Secomb believes it has not quite got the traction where the number of women becomes a critical mass. She refers to the 30% Club, the campaign to get more women on to the boards of FTSE 100 firms, and how research shows that once a minority group gets to 30 per cent, their voice becomes heard and the culture of a business changes.
However, she sees financial services as being reactive rather than proactive in encouraging more women into its ranks, adding: “The financial services sector is taking the lead from its peers in other industries and becoming more attractive to women as it is desperate to attract advisers. It is willing to change and be more flexible, but it’s generous to imagine it leads the way in changing things for women.”
2015-present: Director/chartered financial planner, Pentins Financial Planners and Women’s Wealth
2014-2015: Chartered financial planner, MMP Financial Planning
2009-2014: Chartered financial planner, Women’s Wealth
2005-2009: Financial life planner, Apollo Pension & Investment Advisers
1994-2004: IFA, Tufton & Farmer’s financial planning arm
1992-1993: Broker consultant, Legal & General
1990-1992: Sales, General Accident
Secomb got into financial services after separating from her husband. She had previously helped him run his plumbing business but following the split, she needed a flexible career that enabled her to bring up their two boys. “General Accident had advertised for mortgage advisers in my town. It was a sales job, they trained you and it was flexible hours, so I could take the boys to school, go to the office and see clients in the evenings,” she says.
She moved on from the sales environment as quickly as she could and saw her broker consultant role at Legal & General as a stepping stone to becoming an IFA, which is what she really wanted to do.
Since 2009, well before her move to IFA firm Pentins in 2015, Secomb has used the Women’s Wealth brand to market her financial planning services to women. The limited company is not currently authorised but Secomb has big plans for it and is going to use her Executive MBA to decide the best way forward. In particular, she is looking to solve the conundrum of wanting Women’s Wealth to be an adviser-owned business that is sharply aligned with clients’ interests, while having access to investment.
“It’s hard to run the type of business I’d like to run if we have shareholders who want their share of the profits. I want it to be owned by the advisers – but that doesn’t work if you want investment,” she says. “It’s easier to find investors when you promise to extract every bit of profit out of every case and exploit every process so you are super-efficient, regardless of how it affects employees.”
Whatever she learns from her Executive MBA will be applied to the business. “I’m still a bit scared of how to charge fees. I don’t want to set the fee too low and attract very discerning clients with complex cases who will demand every moment of my time,” she says.
“I see it as for mainstream clients with under £8m in wealth – maybe over £1m.”
Secomb thinks it is safer for the business to have 30 clients with £5m each, rather than one who has “shedloads”, because if you lose that client it is half your client base gone. “I just don’t know how to pitch the charges so I don’t attract the discerning clients only,” she says.
With her son Oliver increasingly taking over her responsibilities at Pentins, Secomb is planning to devote the rest of the year at least to Women’s Wealth.
She believes that because men and women are different, marketing approaches for financial advice need to reflect that.
Secomb concludes: “I will be doing research to support this but even if their goals are the same as a man’s, a woman won’t describe it in the same way. You can’t motivate a woman by showing her pictures of a sports car or yacht. She wants to know her kids are going to be OK and that she will never run out of money.
“She won’t have the same materialistic goals, and that is harder to pictorialise.”