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Suitable job for a woman

The macho image of the finance industry has deterred women from joining but times are changing and the profession must adapt so women want to participate
and thrive, says National Skills Academy for Financial Services South-west board member Diane Weitz

Diane Weitz Managing director Ashlea Financial Planning

Why is it that more women are not attracted to a career in financial planning? An analysis of almost any industry event will show that women rarely make up more than 10 per cent of the attendees. Yet those women who have made this their chosen career are often among the best qualified in the profession. What does this tell us?

Maybe women have been deterred in the past by the rather macho image of the financial salesperson and also put off by the aggressive targetdriven environment. I know as a former teacher, an advocate of higher professionalism and qualifications in the industry and through playing an active role with NSAFS in the Southwest that skills development is personally rewarding and vital for the health of our industry.

To quote Bob Dylan who has, I believe, some presence in artwork at the FSA offices: “The times they are a-changing.” Demographics show that fewer people will be working in future to support an increasing number of pensioners. We have also seen the demise of defined-benefit pension schemes, leaving individuals responsible for their own retirement plans.

A robust financial planning profession is needed to cater for the increasingly diverse needs of the population. Women, with their multi-tasking ability and adaptability, are well suited to the profession.

The retail distribution review has emphasised for the first time the importance of true financial planning. This involves encouraging people to take charge of their finances to achieve what is most important to them in their lives. Research has shown that clients really value the relationship that they have with their financial planner. When properly done, this is a service for which people are prepared to pay.

So, what is financial planning? How does it differ from the perception of a “commission hungry”, “target-driven” salesperson, often berated in the press? What special qualities can women bring to the table?

We are living in a world where women are now accepted in the workplace and the glass ceilings of the past are being prodded, if not smashed. More women are reaching the pinnacle of their professions and the number on the boards of FTSE-100 companies is slowly increasing.

These professional women will need specialist advice and, in my experience, many of them would prefer to be advised by another woman. Often, women are juggling a successful career with bringing up a family. This presents its own strains and it helps to be able to take advice from someone who has experience of this in their own career.

Although stakeholder pensions and individual savings accounts provide flexibility for women, the bedrock of financial planning is cashflow analysis. This looks closely at income and expenditure and provides detailed information of any gaps in the planning process. The structure of this analysis means that events, such as taking a career break, can be built into the plan.

At the same time, as a career, financial planning for women provides plenty of flexibility. Planning childcare in the holidays can still be a headache but the job is flexible enough to allow for parents to attend those vital school events such as plays, matches and concerts.

Although representing a small percentage of the total advisory community, the women in the profession are often prominent skills advocates. Most of the women that I have met in my 23 years in the profession have not shied away from obtaining qualifications – well before the RDR appeared on the horizon.

Good financial planning provides the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives. Building relationships with people involves having the ability to empathise with their situation. Financial planning involves building up trust to facilitate the leadership and coaching that goes into the decision-making process. These are skills that often come naturally to women.

So what can be done to encourage more women to get actively involved in a financial planning role? The RDR is encouraging the move towards fee-based planning. This leads to practices being set up with employed financial planners and support staff. In this environment, it should be possible to provide training contracts in a similar way to solicitor and accountancy practices. Growing professionalism will provide an opportunity to level the playing field and, I hope, encourage more women to take up advisory careers.

The NSFAS is working with providers all over the country to help develop courses to enable existing advisers to improve their qualifications. In the South-west, NSAFS provider Bristol College is about to launch a full-time course which includes taking four CII examinations at diploma level to provide the Level four qualification necessary to give independent financial advice from 2012. This could provide a good opportunity for women with some experience who, returning after having a family, need a quick route to qualification. Some funding may be available from Business Link.

The RDR is creating more opportunities for professional women to train as financial planners. The need for high quality advice and guidance will increase in the next few years as everyone will have more responsibility for their own financial planning.

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