Man! I Feel like a (financial advice) woman: some thoughts on International Women's Day

pexels-photo-1386336.jpeg

I give very little thought to the fact that I’m a woman working as an independent financial advisor, but it was brought to my attention in a meeting the other day. I met a nice gentleman in his late 70s who had researched local advisors online before choosing to contact us. The reason he chose our firm, which he correctly identified as being run by women, was simple: he likes to be told what to do by a strong woman. It’s one of the more novel methods I’ve heard for choosing a financial advisor, but all power to him (and I guess to us!) It did start me wondering though; what role does gender play in financial services?

It’s well publicised in financial advice circles that financial services are dominated by men. The financial services sector has the second highest gender pay gap behind the consumer industry, with an average of 26.2% compared with 10.7% in the public sector and 11.6% in manufacturing. I suspect this is because women in financial services are mainly in lower-paid administrative/support roles; women make up just 10% of all leadership roles.

Female advisors are outnumbered by their male counterparts six to one - they make up just 14% of intermediaries in the UK. This is certainly reflected in my experience of financial services events. I regularly attend conferences and open days where women are greatly outnumbered. I’ve sat exams where I’ve been the only woman in a room of 15 men. I often find I’m one of the youngest women at events - there’s always a handful of male advisors in their 20s but there’s very rarely another female advisor any younger than 50!

Therefore, working in a firm where the shareholders, directors and the admin staff are women is something of a novelty. Perhaps even more novel is that we don’t use this as a selling point or specifically market ourselves to gain female clients, we are simply financial advisors who happen to be women offering advice to anyone who needs it.

If I was pushed on the subject, I’d say that I’m good at my job because I display some stereotypically female traits: I’m a good listener, I’m empathetic and I take care to act in the best interests of my clients. To be honest though, I have a problem with setting out my stall as a female advisor displaying these qualities. Because the qualities that have a real impact on my ability to do my job are the same as any other advisor regardless of gender – they are knowledge, hard work, continued development and experience.

Whereas my gender doesn’t play a part in my ability to give financial advice, gender certainly plays a role in financial advice needs. In general women earn a lower salary than their male counterparts, take more career breaks and build up lower pension provision. The days where good advice involved the recommendation that a woman rely on her husband’s pension provision are long behind us, although the number of women taking this course of action is still alarmingly high. 38% of our active clients are women; only half of these women sought advice from us independently of a husband or partner. There’s a lot of noise in the financial media about an advice gap between wealthy and less well-off clients, despite both categories having very real advice needs. I think the same could be said about men and women.

Looking at the figures surrounding women in financial services, there’s undoubtedly scope for more women in the industry, both in advisory roles and as clients. I look at the attention that’s been given to encouraging more girls and women to undertake scientific qualifications and careers, and I wonder if a similar approach could change the future of financial advice. Ideally, I want to work in a world where being a woman in financial services doesn’t set me apart, but I think we’re still a long way from achieving that.

I didn’t originally intend to become a financial advisor, I took an admin-based role 10 years ago because I was interested in business. But I think being mentored by Frances - who qualified as an accountant in the 70s when only 0.3% of accountants were women - had a huge impact on my decision to qualify and nurtured my belief that I could be a good advisor. At the core of my role in the company are two very simple ethics:

1) That I can only continue to give the best advice if I continue to develop my knowledge and skills

2) That everyone should have access to financial advice, regardless of gender, age or wealth.

These are the ideas that form my approach to my career and my clients. Whether I’m predisposed to these feelings as a result of my gender is a topic for discussion in a different forum to this. I’m just happy to be a woman at the forefront of my firm, working hard to improve the financial security of my clients.