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The female touch

The first five years of the 21st Century have spawned an array of financial advice firms setting up to cater to the female sex. The most recent entrant being non other than legendary City superwoman Nicola Horlick, who last month unveiled Bramdiva – a firm set up to meet and serve the financial needs of high-net-worth women.

There is now a small army of financial advisers playing heavily on the placement of “female” or “women” in the title to bring business in through the door. Targeting the female wallet makes sense from the demographic perspective. Already, some 360,000 women have an individual net worth of more than 750,000 and the number of potential clients is set to rise for several reasons, not least as women move up in the workplace and the divorce rate creeps up.

When Susan Young and her partner Carol Begbie set up mortgage brokerage Female Independent Ltd, they had a clear view on what they wanted the business to be, not just to those walking through the door looking for advice but also for those who worked there. The pair had come from very different advice backgrounds – Begbie had spent years working in a succession of small advice firms while Young had been with a big bank for 20 years.

Young says: “Our secretary came in one day visibly upset as her little girl had been crying because her mummy was the only one not going on a trip. I told her that she was. Even when she calls up and says she cannot come in because of the children, she always makes up the time and it is things like that which would never be possible in a big company, no matter how family friendly they were. There just isn’t the flexibility.”

She puts part of the culture down to an understanding of the many roles that women today have to juggle and how it is not always possible to accommodate them in the workplace without adapting it. The company’s offices are a case in point.

Conscious that many of their clients are females with young children, an entire room at Female Independent is given over to games – creating an atmosphere that Young says helps clients to relax and talk openly about their financial needs.

But not everyone is as enthusiastic about working in such a heavily female-focused environment. Laura Dennigan, an adviser at the Edinburgh office of Chiene & Tait Financial Services, has seen life from both sides of the coin, having previously worked for a female-focused IFA firm.

She says: “It was not a conscious decision to work for a female-only IFA and from the company’s point of view, it was predominately a marketing angle. While the name did attract clients, I do not think the female-only aspect was a particular draw.”

For Dennigan, the decision to leave came down to looking for a company which placed emphasis on qualifications and fees rather than gender.

She says: “I probably would not work for a female-only firm again as it would suggest only female employees and although that is not necessarily the case, I think the atmosphere and the way a group of women work together can be difficult. My experience was that it was just like any other IFA with a trading division in order to attract new clients.”

The notion of female titled businesses attracting only female advisers is acknowledged by Susan Young of Female Independent.

She says: “A lot of our clients are people who work in the profession but want to keep their finances separate from work and I have been approached by a number, all women, who say they would love to come and work here after seeing the set up.” But while women may be voicing an interest working for female focused businesses to the firms themselves, as yet, there is little evidence of them raising the issue with recruitment firms.

Peter Sutherland, managing director of UK-wide financial specialist Westminster Recruitment, can recall being asked only once by a client to be placed with a female IFA firm. Sutherland says: “If you think about it, the majority of female financial advisers have had to come through that male-dominated environment so it is an environment they are used to surviving in.”

He also disputes that traditional firms are not addressing the quest for work/life balance.

“The days when it was all about direct salesforces expected to visit clients in their homes in the evenings are gone and banks are really quite switched on. I am sure one of the reasons we are seeing more lady financial advisers coming through is purely because they have come up through the bank system, which is an environment that suits the female as well as the male.”

One female financial adviser who has taken her company to the next level in terms of work/life balance is IFA Independent Women managing director Lesley Collins, who is building up an international arm of her business in Dubai. Collins made the decision to set up what is a natural extension of her UK business after holidaying in the UAE a few years ago.

She says: “My aim is to go over there, get it fully

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