Parsonage Financial Services managing director Flora Maudsley-Barton says gender is as much a problem or an advantage as you choose it to be
Grouping people together based on shared characteristics is how we make sense of the world, rightly or wrongly. We talk about “the adviser community” as if all the individuals doing this particular job are one homogenous group and we do the same thing when breaking that down to focus on female advisers.
But just as every client has different needs and circumstances, the experiences women have as advisers in what is still a male-dominated profession vary greatly.
Parsonage Financial Services managing director Flora Maudsley-Barton joined the world of advice in the 1990s and, although she was often the only female in the room at industry events, she never felt her gender was a barrier.
As a trainee IFA at Thomson Morley Jackson Accountants, Maudsley-Barton says the gender split was around 50/50, so it was never a problem. It was only when she was outside her office environment, attending seminars and such like, that it became noticeable how few women there were.
“I did feel patronised sometimes but that was more because those people were patronising, not because I was a woman,” she says.
Now a working mum with her own advice practice, Maudsley-Barton acknowledges that being older, with more experience and more confidence can make a difference.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Being reminded that each prospective client was worried about seeking advice.
What keeps you awake at night?
Anything I haven’t dealt with yet. I’ve never come across a problem that didn’t get better by deciding what to do about it.
What has had the most significant impact on advice in the last year?
The British Steel pension scheme. It has put the reputation of financial planners back years.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…?
Somehow remove the lobbyists that have got a lot of money.
Any advice for new advisers?
Be polite but brave when talking to clients. Be willing to challenge them because you’re the adviser.
“Over the years I’ve made so many friends in the sector that you don’t notice gender differences. But at events there are a lot more women in the room of all ages. If some of them are the same age as me, where were they back then?” she says.
“Gender difference is as much of a problem as you choose it to be and as much as an advantage as you choose it to be. I don’t feel that I’ve ever been treated badly just for being in the minority. Perhaps people in the majority might have a bias but they don’t realise it, so shouting at them doesn’t feel fair. “
To illustrate her point about unconscious bias, Maudsley-Barton points out her HR person is female, as are many of her support staff, and none were deliberately chosen for being a woman.
“If I have that bias, it’s only when I look around me that everyone is female. If I’ve done that without noticing, how can I criticise men for doing the same thing? Psychology is such that we are filtering out people for jobs without knowing we’re doing it. All you can do is be aware of it and challenge yourself.”
Maudsley-Barton started her advice career after asking her brother-in-law, adviser David Cathcart, how to get into the industry.
She established Parsonage in 2008. She wanted to do things differently, with an ongoing service that could be paid for directly.
“In 2007/8 there was a strong expectation that, other than the ultra-rich, consumers would not pay for advice. People did a double take; they’d say ‘customers pay a cheque for what you do?’ And I’d say yes,” she says.
A decade on, Maudsley-Barton would like to add one or two financial planners to the firm over the next few years but has no desire to grow nationally.
“Having regional respect is where I want to be,” she says.
Choosing to remain a regional firm is at odds with Maudsley-Barton’s nature in wanting to help as many people as she can. She contributes widely to the consumer press as she acknowledges there is a limit to how many people she can help personally.
2008-present: Managing director, Parsonage Financial Planning
2006-2008: IFA, Aqua IFA
2004-2006: IFA, JSJ
2001-2004: Compliance case checker, Sesame
2000-2001: IFA, David Cathcart & Associates (now DC&A Financial Planning)
1999-2000: IFA, Mazars
1994-1999: Trainee IFA then IFA, Thomson Morley Jackson Accountants
“It does worry me that people know they need advice but might not be able to articulate it. I spoke to a man last week who had been sitting on a pension sharing order for over a year. He didn’t know what to do. He was eventually given my name and got in touch.
“We have a joke in the office about things being put into our “too-hard tray”. When you say out loud that something is going into your too-hard tray, it allows you to say: ‘I don’t know what to do about this’. The client with the pension sharing order had put it into his too-hard tray.”
So how do you encourage people to dig financial matters out of their too-hard trays?
“Some of it is education and some of it is about facilitating a one-off need for advice. We could do with a framework for pro-bono guidance. There are cases where I know stuff that can help people and a reduced fee will not cut it. It’s easier to help people pro-bono.
“I understand there would need to be rules as it could be abused, but it would be fab if the industry could give back. Citizens Advice was running a trial of pro-bono guidance but when I called to volunteer I found they didn’t do it in my area.”
She points out that, under the old Unbiased business model, where advisers signed up and got enquiries from consumers, it was easy to call people back with little snippets of information that might help, such as a phone number.
“Most advisers do have that spirit of generosity. But now Unbiased charges for that and I’m not paying £35 to get someone a phone number. We lost the closest thing to a national service when Unbiased changed its business model, but that’s not my call,” she says.
“VouchedFor is the closest thing we have now as a way to find advisers. A lot of advisers don’t like it but consumers love it because it gives them the opportunity to see what others think.”