WIFA Award winner Sonia Wheeler is a shining example of the significant part mentoring can play for women in financial services. Here she tells Sophie King how important mentoring has been in her career.

The talents of an impressive number of women were celebrated last October at Professional Adviser’s inaugural Women in Financial Advice (WIFA) Awards – a great evening that saw Wheeler emerge with the Financial Adviser of the Year – South East gong and only narrowly pipped to the overall Financial Adviser of the Year prize, coming a close second to Tilney’s Eliana Sydes.

Wheeler is the managing director of Essential Wealth Management, a Chartered financial planning firm with offices in Berkshire and Central London, and the story of how Wheeler came to run the firm is more gripping than most.

After graduating with a degree in History in 2003 and then working for three years as a mortgage adviser at a building society, Wheeler joined Essential – known then as The Financial Adviser Company – in a graduate trainee role in 2006. There she was mentored for five years by Helen Newport, who helped her provide more complex financial advice and prepared her to take over the business.

She became managing director of the firm in 2012 and then its sole shareholder in 2014 – but this was not without being tested both personally and professionally.

Indeed, Wheeler took significant personal risks in order to prove her commitment to the business, which meant she had to make serious lifestyle changes to buy the shares. “That made me so determined to succeed and, although I wouldn’t want anyone I coach to go through something similar, I owe much of my achievements to those difficult two years,” she says.

Appreciating the guidance she was offered in building her own career, Wheeler is determined to adopt a similar role within the business she has taken over, and even throughout the wider expanse of the Openwork network, of which Essential is an appointed representative.

Even before she came to her position of influence within her firm, Wheeler says she was determined to raise her profile as a woman in financial advice and help others achieve a similar status.

“I regularly meet with female advisers who want to learn and develop,” she explains. “I dedicate time to listen to them and to help them with where they are and where they want to be. I provide ongoing coaching where needed.

“I am most proud of the development of one of my paraplanners, Hannah Turley. She achieved Chartered status at the age of 24 and she is an outstanding paraplanner. She has worked with me for seven years.”

Wheeler’s efforts to help advance her peers do not stop there, though. She is also co-chair of a women in financial advice forum, through which she plans to hold a large seminar to promote women in financial advice.

“We are looking to engage over 200 professionals – advisers, business owners, paraplanners and the like,” she says. “I am very excited about this project and feel it will have a huge impact on raising the profile of financial advice for women.”

For those who may not have the opportunity to come into personal contact with Wheeler, she has a few words of wisdom for women looking to progress their careers.

“Get to know peers and join peer groups if possible – or start one up,” she urges. “Ask for one-to-one meetings to listen and learn about other’s experiences and the advice they have to give.”

She also says that something as simple as following successful women on social media can offer an extra bit of savvy and inspiration, while attending conferences and seminars is also another way to raise your profile and further your career.

And, as the boss of a Chartered firm, Wheeler naturally suggests striving for qualifications can do no harm. This is an attitude her mentor Newport helped instil in her during the early years of her career.

“I am passionate about qualifications and I strongly encourage advisers to keep studying,” she says. “I am an advocate for this among my peers and encourage them to support their advisers to grow and take further qualifications. You are never the finished article – you can always be better.”

The nomination process for the 2019 Women in Financial Advice Awards is now open, with the winners being revealed at a gala ceremony at Hilton Bankside in Central London on the evening of 3 July 2019. To nominate someone – or yourself – for an award, please click here.

This is reproduced from Professional Adviser; all views are from the publication. This originally appeared online on 19 February 2019.