Sole traders can play vital role in diversity and inclusion

Sole traders can play an important role in encouraging diversity and inclusion within financial advice, the chief executive of the Personal Finance Society has said.

Keith Richards acknowledged that a sizeable portion of the financial advice industry is made up of sole traders or companies with maybe just two full-time members of staff, more often than not, male.

Speaking to FTAdviser, he said: “While it is vital our profession reflects the diversity of the clients we serve, a sole trader can hardly split themselves in half to create a gender balance in their own firm.”

But he said there were many ways to think more proactively about advising diverse clients, working with external companies to improve inclusion and making sure the advice firm is on board with initiatives to help the whole profession become more diverse and serve a wider customer base.

Sian Fisher, chief executive of the Chartered Insurance Institute, highlighted two pledges for the ‘united profession’ that were made last year by volunteers as part of the Insuring Women’s Futures programme launched by the CII last year.

She told FTAdviser: “One is on a commitment to financial, flexible working, which would help women working in financial services. But the other is what we have called ‘inclusive customer – financial lives pledge.

“This is aimed at evolving our attitudes to all customers in fact”, she said.

The Chartered Insurance Institute recently published a manifesto to help women in particular live a financially resilient life in the UK.

The idea behind the publication of the Insuring Women’s Futures report, co-written by Sian Fisher, chief executive of the CII, and Jane Portas, partner for PWC, is to help advisers and the wider financial services industry reach women and tackle head-on some of the barriers that are preventing women from having a secure financial future.

She said: “It is a market programme to evolve the approach of the insurance and personal finance profession towards the financial risks that women face in their lives.

“Research has shown clearly that women lack financial security across their whole life, and particularly at the end of their lives. So we wanted to do something to change that.”

The manifesto has brought the profession together, Ms Fisher said, because if women lack financial resilience, it is “a problem for all of us and for our economy”, and people have realised this.

Recently, the Office for National Statistics published figures which stated that, by 2025, 65 per cent of the UK’s wealth will be controlled by women, while consultancy McKinsey has predicted there is £150bn of potential extra financial contribution to the economy coming from women’s wealth over the next decade.

Given these statistics, Mr Richards and Ms Fisher were asked for their best practice tips for financial advisers when it comes to reaching out to and advising women.

Mr Richards said: “In my experience, advisers have taken an unbiased approach for years based on client needs. Financial advisers would naturally gather all of the key information to ensure they ‘know their customer’, including family and dependants, in line with good practice and FCA rules.
“However, rather than assuming the financial planning methodology will always capture sufficient information to inform a recommendation, it is worth consciously considering some of the more unique differences that women may face, such as the impact on their pension following periods of child care, or impact of divorce.”

To help advisers, the PFS has created a guide, highlighting the various financial perils and pitfalls that female clients face to help advisers consider these on an individual needs basis.

“These are detailed in the Insuring Women’s Futures report, which I would urge financial advisers to read”, he said.

Moreover, having more female advisers and paraplanners will go a long way to helping advisers capture a slice of this potentially lucrative market.

Both bosses said they are seeing change. “Many of the medium and larger advice firms have been consciously working towards a more diverse workforce”, Mr Richards said.

Both agreed gender should not be a barrier to success in the financial advice profession, and even though recent FCA data showed fewer than one in five financial advisers was a woman, Mr Richards added: “The PFS is starting to see a more positive picture emerge.

“The make-up of the profession is changing. We have noted a marked and steady improvement in the gender diversity of the profession. More than 30 per cent of 10 graduates at our most recent ceremony were women under the age of 37.”

He also said it was important to promote female role models within the profession, such as its Chartered Financial Planner of the Year Gemma Siddle and past president Sharon Sutton as well as many other female leading lights in the sector.



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