Financial advice is still a man's world

... but change is coming, says Sam Dunn, as demand grows for women to enter an industry in sore need of a shake-up

The minister for women, Jacqui Smith, was banging the drum last week. British women were excelling in business, she crowed, and entrepreneurship was on the up: in fact, start-up businesses were "rocketing".

Ms Smith's speech may have been greeted with applause in some industries (and in Whitehall), but across the financial-advice sector, a stony silence would have been more appropriate. Less than 5 per cent of the UK's independent financial advisers (IFAs) are female - barely 1,500 at a rough estimate - a figure that has refused to budge in the past couple of years.

This imbalance is thrown into sharp relief by new figures that suggest more people now want to sort out their finances with a female IFA.

Around 1,700 online requests for contact with a woman adviser were made to the IFA marketing body IFA Promotions in January - a rising number. And in a survey from Clerical Medical, one in five people who had recently visited an IFA said they had opted for a female adviser.

Older, married men now prefer female advisers for planning, says Gill Cardy of IFA Professional Partnerships.

"They feel more comfortable at the thought of their wife dealing with a woman adviser once they've passed away," Ms Cardy says.

The shortage of female advisers is of particular concern as the industry is trying to shift away from a hard-bitten, macho, sales-driven culture to one requiring skills that often come more naturally to women. These include developing long-term client relationships, having empathy with people's money problems, and counselling them to help overcome these.

"The industry is all about interpersonal skills, and this is what women have [culturally and socially] been good at," says Ms Cardy.

The problem is partly due to a lack of effort to recruit female advisers in the past.

There hasn't been a single major push to entice more women into the industry, concedes Fiona Price, head of the Women's IFA Group (WIG), set up to raise the profile of those who have already qualified as advisers. She says this is in part down to the fragmented nature of the industry, with thousands of IFAs spread out across the country, and its struggle to adapt in response to recent government and regulatory changes.

Another major issue has been an ageing professional population - the average is 48 but falling - and, particularly in the past, the boorish IFA culture.

"The financial community has been so off-putting for women, both as practitioners and clients - it's full of jargon, and the 'hard-sell'," Ms Price adds.

This perception of the industry and of those who staff it has not been helped by a series of mis-selling scandals such as endowments, split cap investment trusts and high-income "precipice" bonds.

Opening up our personal finances to advisers in the wake of the industry's chequered history is not easy. In any case, talking freely about money matters is something many of us still find difficult. Middle-aged male advisers with a tendency to talk down to clients are hardly helping to change this situation.

More than one in 10 of us feel we don't know enough about finance to be comfortable visiting an IFA, while 6 per cent admit to feeling at least intimidated, the Clerical Medical researchers found.

The male dominance of the financial advice industry is in danger of alienating women in particular, Ms Cardy adds.

"[When couples visit], the male adviser will often treat the woman as if they are not part of the conversation. "This is crazy since, statistically, their husbands are going to die before they do - and, having been poorly treated, a widow will go elsewhere for advice after all the assets have passed to her."

Yet growing numbers of women - both young and old - are seeking advice as they earn, save and plan for their own financial future. More women than ever before are choosing to pursue a career and stay single, and the rise in divorce rates has not let up.

With such a clear demand for women financial advisers, it is good to find signs that change could be on the way.

A co-ordinated drive to recruit women remains one of WIG's "longer-term aims", Ms Price says. "It's a shame that more women aren't aware of the career because it's intellectually challenging, you can make a difference to people's lives, and the money can be good."

Faye Goddard, director of the Association of IFAs, says the flexibility of the work, which can often be done from home, will also broaden its appeal. "While the industry's average age may be 48, that of women [in financial services] is much lower - and we are expecting more women to come through."

The age factor could work in their favour as many older male IFAs will be retiring in the next few years. Their companies are likely to recruit internally for their replacements.

Ms Price adds: "Once this economic driver kicks in, firms will look at their own staff, where most of the administrative roles are filled by women,"

A greater choice of financial degree courses at university should also broaden the appeal of the industry for both sexes.

Ms Price has hopes, too, for a change in culture. "[There's still an attitude that] money is not a woman's subject, that whatever her career or interest in personal finance, she'll be taken care of. Of course, this has changed with younger generations but it's still deep rooted. It makes a lot of women less confident around the industry generally."

This lack of confidence is reflected in "execution-only" business calls, where clients do not require financial advice. At IFA Hargreaves Lansdown, 95 per cent of orders come from men on behalf of themselves or their wives.

The lack of financial education in schools also remains a sticking point. While personal finance stays on the periphery of the national curriculum, it will be difficult to get youngsters of either sex interested in how money works.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Junior Research Analyst - Recruitment Resourcer

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £25K: SThree: SThree Group has been well estab...

    Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

    Associate CXL Consultant

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

    Business Anaylst

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform