Heron House Financial Management founder and managing director Saran Allott-Davey is as passionate about financial education as she is about horses.Allott-Davey cantered to victory in the 2004 IFA Woman of the Year awards last week, having forgone a career in eventing to focus on developing a role within the more lucrative sphere of financial services. Eventing’s loss was financial services’ gain as she has spent the last 10 years building Heron House into a thoroughbred IFA business with over 1,000 clients. Last week at a glitzy bash in London’s Docklands, Allott-Davey felt her career had come full circle when she was handed the award by Wig sponsor Axa Sun Life, a financial services provider she worked for at the very start of her career. She initially became an adviser because she was attracted to the flexibility of the role. She set up the business with no IFA experience 10 years ago. “I was quite serious about eventing but I wanted a career where I could earn a significant amount of money, the work was varied and had flexible hours.” After a gap of five years, Allott-Davey has recently resumed riding. She has also bought herself a new horse, Felix Toast Fingle, and is looking forward to a celebratory ride at the weekend. After coming second in the IFA Woman of the Year awards in 2002, Allott-Davey says she went to work on improving herself professionally. “Entering the Wig awards two years ago gave me an opportunity to take a close look at my work-life balance and my professional skills and practice. I was delighted to be runner up. This was a great confidence boost and a confirmation that I deal with many issues successfully. However, it also helped me to identify areas in my life where I felt scope for improvement existed. I have worked on these areas actively since and feel that good progress has been made.” Being first past the post this year is not just recognition of 10 years hard work but an opportunity to use her raised profile to encourage other women into the profession and continue her work to make financial education more accessible in the community. “I want to encourage more women into the industry and show them it is perfectly possible to juggle childcare and a career in financial planning. We have always been very flexible, even before I had children, and now I am a mother I realise just how important that flexibility is. “Encouraging more women into the industry is not about anti-male sentiment, more about encouraging those women returning to work or looking for more challenging work, and we need more new blood coming through.” While not wanting to be drawn into gender stereoptypes, Allott-Davey believes women have a natural tendency to have more empathy with clients and to be good listeners. “There are skills that women have and use as second nature and I want to show them that this is a career where those skills can be put to good use. I have also worked with a number of great male financial planners but the whole area of empathy and understanding people’s feelings is something women often excel at. “I do not like sweeping generalisations but I cannot fold maps unless I really try hard and make an effort whereas most men can do it first time.” This understanding of her clients has helped the business grow from start-up to a respected brand in a very competitive industry. Heron House now has over 1,000 clients and eight staff – three RIs and five admin support staff. Always keen to keep ahead of the chasing pack, Allott-Davey moved the firm to a fee-based structure seven years ago to ensure Heron House built a reputation as “true financial planners rather than product salespeople”. She is a certified financial planner and chaired the Institute of Financial Planning in South Wales between 2002-04 and 1997-2000. She is as an assessor for Certified Financial Planner case studies. “When I joined the industry, you needed no formal qualifications, which is horrifying when you look back on it. My role as a financial planner is to guide clients to make financial decisions which will improve their lives by giving them additional choices. We have been fee-based for the last seven years to allow us to focus on financial planning rather than just flogging products.” She says most of her job satisfaction comes from helping people sort out their finances and improve their current situations. To this end, she does not just target high-net-worth individuals but tries to offer a low-cost service to those most in need in the community. Allott-Davey is also involved in a range of other activities, such as helping the Welsh Development Agency. On a voluntary basis she teaches entrepeneurship in schools, something she feels passionately about and has done for the last 18 months. She works closely with the local parents and teachers’ association, helping organising the catering at bi-monthly meetings. A proud Welshwoman, she is especially happy to gain recognition for the quality of service in the valleys and looks forward to working with the Women IFA Group as an ambassador for female IFAs this year.
Born: January 1966
Lives: Usk, Monmouthshire, with husband and two children, aged four and fiv
Career to date: 1987-88 Natwest graduate management trainee; 1988-94 Sun Life of Canada sales manager; 1994 set up Heron House Financial Management
Career ambition: “To be an even better financial planner and keep learning. Also to encourage more women to take up financial planning and enjoy the satisfaction of helping people turn their lives around.”
Likes: Laughing and people who make her laugh
Dislikes: Pretentious individuals and general snootiness
Drives: A Toyota Landcruiser for its ability to tow a horsebox and not for the school run.