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Vivienne Starkey

It’s now or never for financial services, believes Equal Partners’ managing director who believes the muddle of depolarisation could confuse consumers who already lack basic financial knowledge.

Equal Partners director Vivienne Starkey is a big Elvis fan and All Shook Up is her favourite song but it is the shake-up of the industry caused by new regulation and depolarisation which currently occupies her mind.

She believes a number of serious obstacles will be put in the way of IFAs and the industry has yet to decide how best to tackle them. “I think the industry is far from settling down. Depolarisation is not going to work in the way the FSA wants. I see problems in the fact that advisers will be able to trade with a number of different hats on.”

Equal Partners will remain independent so Starkey does not envisage consumer confusion being an issue for her firm but others will have to work to create clarity for the consumer.On that note, Starkey stresses that at the same time a great deal of responsibility should fall on clients and the public in general – a public she believes is lacking in basic financial understanding.

“There will be confusion for as long as people refuse to take responsibility for themselves. Some people think they can come to us and we will solve everything. They want a perfect solution.”

Indeed, Starkey has clients asking her to make major life choices for them, which she does not feel comfortable about. “A lot of people think I can just wave a magic wand at their financial affairs. They do not want to think for themselves.”

Starkey is often quoted in the media and IFA Promotion awarded her its Media Services IFA of the Year accolade in 2004. IFAP’s Alexandra Richardson says: “She has regularly given up her time, often at short notice, to provide incisive comment on a range of personal finance issues, meet broadcast requests, write articles and review case studies. Through her work in the media, Vivienne has helped to promote IFAs as the premier providers of expert financial comment. She has also raised the profile of female IFAs by providing another authoritative voice in the financial press.”

Kevin Tooze of Equal Partners says: “Vivienne is regularly ready to comment on a broad range of subjects. She does not come from the same angle as other IFAs you see quoted in the press. She looks at the bigger picture, thinking more holistically.”

Equal Partners started trading in 2000. Starkey was an IFA at Haddock Porter Williams and became partners with Kay Lowe in December 2000. Lowe retired and in March 2002 Equal Partners became a limited company with Starkey’s current partner Tooze joining.

It was a reunion of sorts as the two had worked together in direct sales at Hill Samuel and Aegon. It was Starkey’s first job in the financial world but not her happiest or most successful as she freely admits: “Direct sales was not for me. It was awful having to cold-call people offering them services they did not want.” Starkey has since had far more success in her role as IFA and has won several awards.

Equal Partners has only three full-time members of staff – two advisers and a PA. Starkey believes this enables them to steer clear of problems encountered by bigger organisations. “I have no desire for us to become a large company. To work together well in a firm, people do not necessarily have to have identical opinions but there does have to be a central ethos to knit the firm together. I think this is sometimes lost in larger institutions.”

Starkey is a big rugby fan and the team spirit and determination of the England World Cup winning team was something that she greatly admired. “The way that everyone worked together so well in a team, the whole squad was amazing out there.”

Her leisure time revolves around her family and friends and she is keen to emphasise the important role that family plays in her life. She drives up to the Cotswolds every other weekend to see her mother and mother-in-law and this week will see her celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary.

Any other free time that can be snatched away from advising concerns is spent listening to Radio 4 and reading, both novels and poetry. One of her favourite poems is Roger McGough’s Let Me Die A Young Man’s Death.

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Starkey understands the hurdles that female IFAs have to overcome but is wary of overplaying the issue. “I have never suffered from any gender discrimination, both men and women are only as good as the advice they give.”

She sees the career of a financial adviser as perfectly suited to many women’s lifestyles. “In many ways this is an ideal job for a woman. It is not many people’s first choice when thinking about a career but there are so many advantages. You have the flexibility to fit it around your life and it gives you lots of control.”

She also admits that her gender can act as a good marketing tool but she is not a big fan of women-only award ceremonies, which she sees as unhelpful as “you would not have a male IFA of the year award”.

In the future, Starkey hopes to create more time for herself by having a more hands-off role in the company, eventually allowing Equal Partners to run without her.

But at the moment, life is hectic, with socialising and networking within the industry, usually a couple of nights a week. Last week, she was introduced to karaoke, the perfect chance to celebrate her love for Elvis and spread it among the wider financial community. Alas, Starkey says she is tone-deaf and could not bring herself to destroy the Presley repertoire.

Born: September 1942

Lives: East Grinstead

Career: 1991: Hill Samuels, direct sales; Aegon direct sales;Fiona Price. 1996: Haddock Porter Williams. 2000-present: Equal Partners, director

Education: Went to nine different schools finishing studies in India at the age of 20

Likes: Family, friends, watching rugby, horse racing, reading,theatre, Radio 4D

Dislikes: Paperwork, insincerity.

Life ambition: Creating a company that can function without me.

Heroes: Elvis Presley, Elizabeth I, the England Rugby World Cup winning side

Car: Mercedes

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