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Profile: ‘I’d encourage any business owner to build community ties’

BRI financial planning director Hannah Edwards on diversity, giving back and women’s role in the industry

The term ‘giving back’ has almost become part of the job description for financial advisers. Go to the website of any financial advice firm and you are bound to see something about charity runs, free surgeries for locals, or fundraising events – you name it, advisers are doing it.

Aside from the fact helping people is rewarding in itself – and is the reason many people become financial advisers – there are strong business reasons for doing so.

In 2012, Hannah Edwards, financial planning director at Midlands-based BRI Wealth Management, joined the board of governors for local end-of-life/palliative care hospice St Richard’s. She also sits on its finance and general purposes committee and its investment committee.

“As much as it has been personally rewarding, it has had other benefits for my employer. It has helped with the firm’s profile and my own,” she says. “From a business point of view, it’s not about winning clients but making sure the people who work for you are well-rounded and not all about themselves. I’d urge any business owner to encourage their teams to build ties in the community.”

Edwards thinks it is positive for clients to see her giving up her time to help others as it can show financial planning in a good light. This can counteract negativity such as that surrounding the British Steel pension crisis, which Edwards believes has taken some of the shine off the great strides made towards professionalism.

Raised profile

Being seen to be giving back to the community can also generate interest among the local press, which can be useful in raising a firm’s profile. While some firms may want to build their relationship with the media even further – contributing to national press and trade titles such as Money Marketing – others prefer to shun publicity altogether.

Profile: ‘I was in the minority not only for my gender but also for my age’

“I’m sensitive to why smaller practices might do that – they may have limited resources to manage media enquiries. To do it well, you need to have not-infrequent press relationships and to have clients already lined up for case studies,” says Edwards. “But it is a really good springboard to build a reputation.”

Edwards observes that, as the size of the team and the number of clients grow, there may be less time for advisers to commit to media work. However, she says it can help the adviser to stay up-to-date and stay prepared for questions from their own clients, as they will be asked by reporters to comment on various topical issues.

“Individuals who pore over the personal finance pages will email their planner a list of questions,” she says. “When I left my career with Killik & Co in London, there was a lot of gravitas for wealthy and desirable clients in the Midlands to see my name in the Sunday broadsheets. It gave them a lot of confidence.”

Edwards is that rare breed who always wanted to work in financial services, unlike so many who fall into it. As the daughter of a financial adviser, Edwards grew up around her late father’s business.

“He opened his office six days a week, so I spent many Saturday mornings visiting dad’s IFA practice, sitting in with the admin group and meeting clients,” she says. “I have a book of press cuttings and articles my dad dug out for me as a teenager. I was definitely encouraged into the industry because of the opportunities for women.”

Following trainee roles at Origen and Mazars, Edwards recalls that in her role as a private client broker at Killik & Co, only three out of 45 brokers were women. “I was always in the minority but I never felt being female was a barrier,” she says. “I was promoted, while on maternity leave, to head the new client division of Killik in the Mayfair office and I’ve always found my peers and colleagues supportive.”

Since she joined BRI in 2010, the firm has grown from £103m in assets under management to over £500m now. Its headcount has also grown from 16 to 43 over the same period.

Edwards says the focus is currently to build on career progression for people who come to the firm as paraplanners, researchers or investment managers who want to broaden their skills and move into client-facing roles.

As an employer, you have to always be looking out for people who have great potential

For women who are juggling a job in financial services with the demands of a family, Edwards believes demonstrating your commitment to your role and managing your time are important.

“Having children doesn’t mean you have to take your foot off the gas,” she says. However, she acknowledges the need for more women at board level.

“I don’t think that is specific to financial services; it’s more of a national issue,” she says. “I’m not in favour of board quotas but I am in favour of diversity, and that overlaps with things such as ethnicity.

“I think that, over the next decade, we will start to see an improvement in the trend for diversity at board level. There is an appetite for it at BRI.”

Stepping stone

Edwards acknowledges there are more women to be found in roles that support advisers than as advisers themselves, but points out these can be used as a stepping stone to becoming an adviser, if that is what women want to do.

“When looking at new client-facing roles, we are not screaming for females but we do provide support and bring on females in those roles,” she says. “Two of my qualified financial planners are an example of that. One started off as a personal assistant to the chief executive and the other started as a financial planning administrator.”

Edwards believes it is important advice firms try to keep creating those support roles so women continue to have the choice of whether to move on from them.

“I have very successful female clients and personal friends who are equity law partners, and entrepreneurs who own multi-million-pound businesses. They have been in committed relationships, they are mothers, they have given back to the community – but combining work with family is a mindset,” she says.

“I’ve seen that there can be a loss of confidence when women return to work after having a child but, as an employer, you have to always be looking out for people who have great potential.”

Five questions

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

Check and check again when you’re writing client emails, reports or a financial plan. You always find something in further checks.

What keeps you awake at night?

My 11-year-old and six-year-old. It’s a challenge being a working mum and juggling lots of things.

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

We are around 18 months out of Mifid II and since October, we’ve had the Insurance Distribution Directive. The cost and change have a big operational impact on financial planning firms.

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

…do as many client meetings as possible with planners around the country to get an up-to-date feel of how far our profession has come in recent years.

Any advice for new advisers?

Be an absolute sponge – be the first in and last to leave – and do your exams as early as possible.

CV

2010-present: Financial planning director, BRI Wealth Management

2006-2010: Private client manager/new client team, Killik & Co

2005: Assistant financial planner, Mazars

2003-2005: Programme director support/trainee IFA, Origen

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