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Profile: Magenta Financial Planning boss on encouraging more women to become advisers

Magenta Financial Planning managing director on the difficulties of diversity and promoting the profession

There are a couple of misconceptions about Magenta Financial Planning. One is that it must be specifically targeting female clients because it has a pink logo; the other that because all its current staff are women, it must be a female-only firm. Not so on both counts, says Magenta managing director Gretchen Betts.

“Julie [Lord, Magenta’s chief executive] and I both like pink,” she explains. “And most enquiries we get are from men. Some love the colour of our logo and say it’s great branding. We have seen a slight increase in female clients because we are looking to specialise and grow our connection with a solicitor who deals with divorce. She’s a female solicitor with female clients which she sends our way.”

Betts — who is chair of the Wales branch of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment — also points out that Magenta’s all-female workforce is not deliberate.

“We are not a female-only firm,” she says. “We had a male administrator for a year but we’ve just ended up all female.”

More women seek financial advice but firm diversity lags

Magenta was recently presented with an Exemplary Employer award from the Welsh gender equality charity Chwarae Teg — which means ‘fair play’. The award recognises employers that promote equality among their workforce.

Some have found this difficult to square with Magenta’s current all-female status. However, Betts points out the award is more about having the right working practices and policies in place to attract and support a diverse workforce (such as flexible working) than having an equal gender split at any given time.

She says: “It’s never going to be 50/50. It comes back to what we’ve been doing in hiring the best person for the job, which isn’t necessarily about gender. We told them [Chwarae Teg] we are not very diverse at the moment but that’s just how it’s worked out. Maybe because Julie and I are female we attract more females.”

Anyone concerned that the anecdotal ‘10 per cent of advisers are female’ figure has not changed must see it is a good thing that firms such as Magenta are attracting more women.

However, Betts would like to see more in senior roles, which is why the business has signed the HM Treasury Women in Finance Charter.

“We’ve already got women in senior roles but we’ve signed the Charter to encourage other businesses to think about it. There are lots of male directors and planners who would love to have women in senior roles but, typically in our profession, women are in administrative and paraplanning roles. We need to encourage more to become advisers.”

Women feel gender bias in quality of advice

Betts is already doing her bit by working with Bridgend College to encourage more women to consider finance and financial planning. She is particularly keen to explode the myth that you need to be an expert at complex mathematics.

“They need to know that you can get by with a GCSE in maths and a lot of hard work. You need good communication skills, empathy, attention to detail and the ability to learn,” she says.

Betts is a shining example of that. She took a ceramics degree at university before falling into financial services as an administrator at Nationwide, then a trainee IFA at accountancy firm Grant Thornton. She says it was the ability to learn and interact with people that prompted her to build a career in the advice sector.

“Unless you’re able to build empathy and encourage people to be open, you will not get very far. Julie and I joke that we’re the type of people who make friends in a queue at the shops or with the person next to you on a plane,” she says.

Betts met Lord — a former president of the Institute of Financial Planning — while working for Bluefin. Lord had sold her business, Cavendish Financial Management, to Axa-owned Thinc in 2007 and stayed with the company. Thinc later rebranded as Bluefin and its advice arm was acquired by Towry in 2013.

Betts and Lord left the firm in 2015, a year before it was acquired by Tilney. Magenta was established in 2016 as an antidote to everything that clients and advisers found frustrating about big firms.

“We knew what we didn’t want and we also knew from client feedback what they found frustrating about the big company approach — not being able to speak to the same person or being told they had to speak to an adviser, not the administrator they’d been speaking to for the last five years,” Betts says.

Having been part of the big company approach at Towry, Betts believes vast numbers of advisers at a given firm creates a higher risk of the occasional ‘rogue’ one, inevitably increasing the need for monitoring and reducing adviser autonomy.

She says: “The bigger the chain, the slower the service. Not because they’re giving worse advice or everyone is not working to the same standard, but because they’re heavier. The sheer size of the undertaking means they have to have stricter compliance in place and the process can stifle advisers’ creativity.”

Robert Reid: Don’t let social media comments diminish our profession

Magenta is completely different. Betts says: “I wanted to increase reaction times and service levels, and have a personal approach so clients could speak to the entire team. It’s important for staff to make decisions. Julie and I can’t be there all the time so we have to empower them to make decisions. You have to have trust within a firm. I want Magenta to be a happy place to work and for people to get that from us.”

One of the ways Betts conveys that message is through social media.

“It’s important to be able to engage with people and show your personality and your business’s personality. But I don’t tend to get into Twitter disputes or debates that could be viewed as too opinionated or antagonistic,” she says.

“It’s the responsibility of all financial planners to be seen as promoting the profession. It’s easy to make comments quickly without thinking of the potential impact but if you are seen to be malicious, judgmental or disrespectful it can give a bad impression.

“If you want clients to have confidence in your ethical stance, sometimes you might have to bite your tongue. Anything you say is going to be out there for a long time.”

Five questions

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

Know what you stand for and what you don’t.

What keeps you awake at night?

Basil the cat.

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

Defined benefit scheme problems and failures.

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

Set about re-writing the handbook in plain English.

Any advice for new advisers?

Work hard, find the best workplace for your skills and personality, be kind and generous.

CV

2016-present: Managing director, Magenta Financial Planning

2015-2016: Certified financial planner, Broadway Financial Planning

2012-2015: Wealth adviser/financial planner, Towry (formerly Bluefin)

2003-2012: Financial adviser, Clay Shaw Thomas

2001-2003: Trainee IFA, Grant Thornton

1996-1999: Data input, Nationwide Building Society

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