Anna Sofat looks at the disconnect that still exists for women in financial services, both as clients and practitioners. She also explores what needs to change to improve the situation for everyone.

Financial Services is a profession I love and am proud to be a part of.

As you would expect, I care about the future of our industry and our responsibility to our clients. I’m passionate about addressing the disconnect between the sector and what it offers women, both as clients and practitioners.

This disconnect exists for many reasons, but the common denominator is culture – the fact that we’re in a sector that is still very sales oriented and seemingly focused on transactions and hitting targets rather than really listening to customers. I think this culture lies at the root of many of our industry’s issues – from lack of diversity to the low numbers of women working in financial services in the first place.

Practice What You Preach

But, while out-of-date cultures in some financial services companies can seem entrenched, they are not difficult to shift when you practice what you preach. At Addidi [Latin for ‘We Inspire’], our culture is based on simple values: mutuality, inclusiveness, inspiration and nurturing. Of course, being independent means it is easier to effect change but the principle of putting your values at the heart of your business, every day, is something we can all aim for.

As soon as you start to run a value-led business, issues which may have seemed intractable very quickly fall into place – like concentrating on equitable selling; achieving good governance; having a balanced board in terms of gender and race; establishing true independence for your non-executive directors; paying a living wage; and monitoring and acting when any of the practices we live by have the capacity to create harm.

It sounds simple, but when good values become a part of business culture, they turn into positive behaviour. I believe that our regulator could champion this a lot more. If it did, I think we would achieve positive changes, such as, flexible working and workplace equality much more quickly.

So what else would help speed up change in our industry? A good starting point would be for more providers to sign up to The Women in Finance Charter. For companies who wish to promote what they can be proud of rather than simply what they offer as a product or service, it’s a great place to start. The rise of women’s wealth is an unstoppable force that our industry needs to embrace through values, culture and representation.

Professional ‘Ambiguity’

There’s a second factor that creates the pushy, sales oriented culture that typifies the negative experiences my clients often report.

There is a lack of clarity between what constitutes guidance, often towards products, and what constitutes real advice. Too many individuals can still call themselves advisers, when they are really about selling specific products. This is a training and education issue which maintains the negative cultural norm. Target-based behaviour distracts from listening to customers’ needs and undermines the real value that experienced advisers offer.

Imagine how confusing it would be if there was such ambiguity in other professions? In accountancy, for example, graduates must go through years of training before they can call themselves an accountant. But this is not so in financial advice. We need much clearer definitions about what constitutes the skill sets we offer our clients. What criteria must be met by those looking to become expert financial advisers?

My preference would be for levels or grades of financial planner to be introduced, for example, level 1 planner rising to the highest level of professional competence in advice. The regulator could certainly add weight and urgency to this agenda, and our profession and our clients would benefit significantly from the clarity. Increasing demands for transparency will require service providers to be clear about what they do, and at what level they are qualified, so if the industry does not move, then customers will.

If we are really to effect positive change, we must look outside our sector as well as within our own business environments for good examples and embrace the values that we personally believe in. Let’s be bold enough to demand change.

It is not just about making the industry more diverse and equal but also about creating a beautifully different future, together.

This is reproduced from Professional Adviser; all views are from the publication. This originally appeared online on 18 September 2018.

To read more articles like this, sign up here

Further reading on this topic:

Women need help in FS to negotiate ‘middle years’

Anna Sofat is managing director of Addidi Wealth