Women advisers put the boys on the back foot

Why are so many of us looking for expertise with a feminine touch? Simon Hildrey reports

At first glance, there's nothing out of the ordinary about the recent launch of yet another firm of independent financial advisers (IFAs) - except that this one specialises in advising female clients.

Set up by Eve Callaghan and Julie Clapperton, Edinburgh-based Financial Direction for Women is one of relatively few IFAs targeting the many women - and men - who prefer to consult a female adviser. Fiona Price, the founder of another company in the field, Fiona Price & Partners, says that when she established the Women's IFA Group in 2001, only 1,200 out of 35,000 IFAs were female. Since then, she believes, the number has increased to 2,700.

Women IFAs argue that their clients prefer dealing with them because they are more understanding of the financial issues facing women, particularly during and after a divorce.

Julie Lord, the managing director of Cavendish Financial Management, goes so far as to say that women make better IFAs than men. "Women tend to be better listeners, take a sensible approach to money and understand the work-life balance," she explains. "A successful relationship between client and adviser rests on trust, chemistry and empathy, all of which women can provide. Talking generally, most of the fly-by-night practices in the industry have been carried out by the old-school male advisers."

One IFA, who prefers to remain anonymous, agrees that women often make better advisers, pointing out that, in many cases, they are "more conscientious, careful in the advice they provide and take longer over planning for each client". In other words, this makes them "less prone to mis-selling financial products".

Ms Price says research conducted among 600 IFAs has shown that 95 per cent of respondents think women IFAs are good listeners, while only 17 per cent think this applies to male IFAs.

"Not one respondent thought female IFAs were arrogant or unprofessional," she continues, "but 64 per cent say that male IFAs are arrogant, and 22 per cent see them as unprofessional. Interestingly, 55 per cent of male IFAs rate IFAs of their own gender as arrogant."

Ms Callaghan and Ms Clapperton decided to establish Financial Direction for Women after realising the level of demand for this type of service.

"Female clients tell us they want to see a woman adviser," says Ms Callaghan. "They feel more comfortable with them and are not confronted by a pushy salesman - especially as meetings often take place at their home and at night. Many men are also more comfortable talking to a woman, particularly about the more emotional aspects of finances."

Ms Callaghan and her partner argue that women need specialised advice on a range of financial issues and products. For example, since they tend to outlive their husbands, they are more likely to be involved in inheritance tax (IHT) planning. Assets passed from husband to wife can be treated as a tax-free gift between spouses, but the wife then has to plan to limit her children's IHT bill. Their longer average lifespan also means that more women than men have need of products designed to finance long-term care.

Many women seek financial advice on their own behalf for the first time either during or after divorce. "Divorce doesn't affect just women, of course, but some women prefer to talk to another woman when they are going through it," says Ms Callaghan. "Women can share their ex-husband's pension [as part of their divorce settlement]. But they must remember this is not their only option: they may want a clean break and move their share away from their husbands' pension pots. And the husband's pension may be badly invested and therefore lose value for both him and his ex-wife unless she moves her share on divorce."

Ms Callaghan says Financial Direction for Women has many male clients; in fact, the split between women and men seeking advice from the firm is 50:50. She also finds gender differences in clients' attitudes to financial planning. "It is difficult to generalise, and depends on the point they've reached in their lives, but women tend to have a long-term view on investments. If investments are volatile, they are not as quick as men to withdraw their money.

"Women tend to diversify more. They also have different objectives, such as school fees planning."

Ms Callaghan's company holds seminars every two months addressing financial issues of concern to women, and offers a full financial planning service rather than simply selling products.

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