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Price of independence

Offering financial advice was not an obvious career choice for Fiona Price who claims on graduating from university she was still relatively non-numerate and “scared” of figures despite a degree in psychology and an MBA.

She was forced to overcome her fear of statistics when she “fell into the financial sector” but says she only ended up in London to pursue her career as a rower – she achieved her dream of competing in the Commonwealth Games in 1986.

She says: “When I first came into personal finance in 1983 I was working in a purely sales-orientated, male environment and had to start my client list with people I knew so I joined every women&#39s network I could find to make things easier. Nearly 20 years on, little has changed. There are still only 1,500 women IFAs out of nearly 30,000,a pitiful statistic.”

The problems she initially encountered led to her latest venture – the Women&#39s IFA Group. The group was set up last September and has announced its short list for the IFA Woman of the Year award. Wig has been running for just over a year and has eight regional branches.

Despite the obstacles, by 1988, Price had set up her own firm. She claims that Fiona Price & Partners was and still is the only all-female IFA firm.

She says: “If it was a level playing field then obviously there would be no need for a female firm. But if you look at the figures it is clear that there is a demographic pressure for younger, female IFAs to come through.”

She is still amazed when she recalls the way that women clients were treated when she entered the industry. “They were just not desirable clients and never seen as important. They were considered to be the bottom of the heap, left out of the loop. I could count the number of female clients I had on one hand.

“I felt instinctively there was an opportunity and the time was right. We are still the leading firm but in the last three or four years a few more have appeared.”

Eighty per cent of her clients are women and she divides them into two categories – those who want to have more confidence in their money and those who are already financially literate.

Although she thinks men and women invest differently, she does not believe there is a demand or need for separate financial products targeted at women.

She says: “Women investors are generally risk-averse, interested in the ethics of investments and in the holistic approach.”

Female advisers, she says, are very orientated towards the ethical. “They are not working from a sales-driven brief so there is far less antagonism in their approach. They value their time and effort and they also seem to be more inter-ested in training and development and in encouraging an inclusive culture.”

She wants to see Price & Partners fulfil its potential over the next two to three years to be a much bigger player in the UK market, with the emphasis on being at the leading edge from a client perspective offering one of the best environments for staff and making a healthy profit.

Nine out of 10 female IFAs now have their own businesses. Research carried out this year for Wig by BDifferent, which spoke to 600 IFAs, show that while almost all the respondents thought female IFAs were good listeners, only 17 per cent said the same about male IFAs. The majority also thought female IFAs were more caring and professional than male IFAs and more than half of the male IFAs rated their own gender as arrogant.

Price describes an increase in FSA regulation as “onerous and restrictive” and believes that some elements are counter-productive.

“Everything has got lop-sided down the regulation side. The FSA are only interested in rules and regulation.”

She believes simplifying products will not necessarily help and segmentation of the market does not bring clarity. “You just cannot plan for every eventuality.”

She feels more women could come into the industry by changing the way that female IFAs are trained. Her firm is running a scheme to train junior advisers with the staff salaried for the first or second year. In the past, new advisers have found it difficult working on a commission basis and having to rely solely on their own client list.

The advisers at Price & Partners are from a variety of professional backgrounds.

Price says: “We have developed a scheme to grow people into the role of senior advisers gradually where they are not already experienced, so they can build their confidence and knowledge.”

Advisers at the company start either as paraplanners or junior advisers and progress through to intermediate and then senior advisers over a few years.

Their time is divided between working on clients provided by the company at the simpler end of things and the rest of the time they paraplan for intermediate advisers.

“The job is flexible, intellectually challenging, remunerative and client-orientated so there is no reason why it should not appeal to more women in the future.” says Price.

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