Initiatives like AFA Inspire and the Stella Network are not merely symbolic, but are an essential component of the new sales pitch financial advice sorely needs.
Regular readers of ifa will know we don’t pull any punches when it comes to the ‘professional’ associations, believing it to be our role to hold the industry’s political representatives to account.
Similarly, we have never shied away with pointing to systemic conflicts within the institutional boardrooms that control most of Australia’s advice practices, calling them out consistently for behaviour that has damaged the profession’s reputation and resulted in advisers being a scapegoat and copping mountains of unnecessary red tape.
But when it comes to initiatives like the AFA’s Inspire project and BT Financial Group’s Stella Network, you won‘t hear anything but praise from us, which is why I was happy to accept a kind invitation to take part in Inspire’s International Women’s Day (IWD) event last week.
Some of you may look upon these events cynically, as nothing more than hollow PR exercises in corporate political correctness.
In fact, I know you do, because I see the stuff that comes into my inbox and the website comments section every time we publicise them (including the comments we can’t publish).
To some extent I understand the scepticism, and there is obviously an inherent free marketing kick for organisations that support things like IWD. But let me tell you, I am not in the business of helping institutions or associations look good for the sake of it – that is not why we consider these initiatives worthy of support and will continue to give them oxygen.
Instead, efforts to raise the number of female financial advisers – and more importantly, the number of female senior executives and entrepreneurs in the sector – are immensely valuable, not just as exercises in ‘political feel-good’ but as tools of a renewed contract with consumers.
Failure to engage more female consumers is one of the biggest missed opportunities plaguing the financial advice profession.
According to research conducted by ING Direct in 2015, 66 per cent of women are joint financial decision-makers (alongside their spouse), while 27 per cent make the majority of financial decisions and 8 per cent make all financial decisions.
And yet, just 31 per cent of women receive professional advice. That’s a hell of a lot of potential clients.
The research also found that greater effort to cater financial products and services to women specifically would likely result in greater take-up from female consumers. This includes having a greater number of female advisers.
With major generational wealth transfers ahead, this ability to cater to a broader range of consumers is vital. While male advisers are still perfectly capable of providing advice to women, and should be encouraged to do so, having a greater number of women working in the profession (especially in senior roles) can only help.
These initiatives to do precisely that are therefore not just about politics and symbolism, but have a very real commercial outcome in mind – raising the number of Australians seeking professional advice, thereby increasing opportunities for the entire industry.
The Inspire event panellists were united in their concern that only around 20 per cent of those working in the profession are women – a number that is likely even lower at executive and licensee level and in the independent and non-aligned sub-sector.
But while that number needs to trend upwards, it is important to remember there are signs of positive momentum.
The number of female non-aligned dealer group bosses has recently jumped by a considerable percentage (possibly 50 per cent) with the announcement of former BT/Securitor exec Annick Donat as the new CEO of Madison Financial Group. Ms Donat’s appointment follows Philippa Sheehan’s move a few years back to the top job at growing licensee MyPlanner Australia.
Sure, these are but two examples, but they are two more than were represented just a few years ago and are no doubt providing inspiration to many a young and talented female adviser or industry participant with executive ambitions.
Moreover, there are a growing number of male champions of change emerging that refuse to be silent about misogynistic behaviour or language from blokes within the industry. Synchron adviser Phil Thompson wrote a hard-hitting piece for ifa last year criticising some of his peers.
More recently, outgoing AFA CEO Brad Fox and Stanford Brown CEO Jonathan Hoyle joined myself and a number of female thought leaders on the Inspire IWD panel.
As a former AFL footballer and London City trader respectively, neither of these gents are strangers to the locker room culture than can too often spill over into the workplace. Both spoke passionately about the need for men to lead this change and provide opportunities for women within their organisations to lead and grow.
They were not asked to be involved because suitable women thought leaders couldn’t be found. Neither was I. Instead, this is part of Inspire’s strategy to be inclusive rather than engage in a dialogue of man-bashing and contempt.
It is the right way to go, and more male advisers should get onboard, for the sake not only of a more harmonious community, but a more commercially successful one also.
Aleks Vickovich is the managing editor of ifa
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