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The heart of Talking Finances with Women

It’s a glorious summer’s day and I’ve just taken a break from the computer to have my coffee outside. The warmth of the sun has made me reflective and the caffeine has spurred me to action. It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I feel the need to share a couple of recent experiences that sit at the heart of Talking Finances with Women.

The first has to do with conferences – the kind that financial advisers and planners like me get invited to from time to time. I’ve attended two in the last month and I’m going to briefly describe them for you:

  • One was about pension tax
  • The other was about imposter syndrome, personal values, self-belief, acceptance … and pension tax
  • One was led by a male speaker who addressed a room full of people of whom five were women
  • The other was led by a number of female speakers who addressed a room full of people of whom five were men.

A world that remains stubbornly male

I think you know what I’m going to say now. For the avoidance of doubt, it contains the words “no”, “prizes” and “guessing”. Events aimed specifically at women in the advice industry are rare and well received. It was an all-dayer and there were plenty of opportunities for us attendees to mingle and chat and share our experiences, thoughts and frustrations at a world that remains stubbornly male (in 2020, it was reported that just 14% of financial advisers were women)*. So, applause all round. Yes, events like that are a good thing.

And yet.

No amount of cinnamon swirls will solve the problem

I couldn’t help wondering if that same conference wouldn’t be better be aimed at the men dominating the advice world. So much of what I read and hear about the way that women are under-represented and under-served in the world of financial advice is preaching to the converted. Don’t get me wrong, I love a chinwag with a Fellow Female in Finance over a coffee and a pastry along with the best of them. But there’s no amount of cinnamon swirls that will solve the problem at its most basic level: many women who need financial advice don’t know where to go, what to expect or even whether they ‘qualify’ for asking for it in the first place (it’s not just the female advisers who suffer from imposter syndrome!). Some of this has to be down to the way that financial advice is perceived by the outside world.

‘Women save, men invest’ with local women in their seventies

Which brings me to the second experience I wanted to share. A couple of weeks ago I spent a hugely enjoyable couple of hours with a small group of local septuagenarians who had requested one of my ‘Women save, men invest’ workshops. We talked around budgeting, saving, investing, risk, tax wrappers, interest rates and inflation. But although these topics were all covered, the actual conversations ranged from widowhood to housekeeping allowances, shopping for bargains, grown-up children settling all over the world, keeping cash stashed in unlikely places and the “awful” and “confusing” adverts that we see for financial products, none of which we could actually remember or identify! On walking in at the start of the workshop, one of the attendees declared how nice it was that this was just for women because, as she put it, “you know, women understand women”.

Not brought up expecting to invest

I’m going to caveat this with an observation that this is a viewpoint that seems to grow with age. Which kind of makes sense because it is our life experiences that shape us and, the older we get, the more of these experiences we have had – many of which are unique to women. And it’s as much about the experiences we don’t have as the ones we do. If we weren’t brought up to expect to be making investment decisions in our lives or be paying for financial advice – maybe because the other women in our family weren’t doing these things either – then it can be a daunting leap.

What the “how” questions tell us

I was struck at the workshop by the number of “how” questions: “How do we do that? How can we access that? How does that work?” I recognise this in myself – a real need to understand the unknown and to go in with eyes open, which I think comes from a fear of being out of our depth, of straying into unchartered waters or of being chased by sharks (too many watery references, sorry, blame the heat!). What we want is to be able to confidently access the help we need without feeling judged or without making mistakes. What we don’t want is to be asked questions that we don’t feel are relevant or give answers that will misrepresent us or lead us in the wrong direction. And when we feel like that, very often, we do nothing.

Muddied waters

Financial advisers need to get much better at explaining exactly what we do. But where an estate agent, for example, can say that they help their clients to buy, sell or rent houses, advisers are faced with such a long list of possible things that they help their clients with that the waters get muddied (sorry, there I go again) before we’ve even started.

To do: ‘Sort out finances’

Yes, a lot of what we do involves the technical aspects of pensions, investments and tax – but it’s far from the whole story. More often than not, it will be something in a client’s life that prompts them to address the ‘Sort out finances’ item that has been languishing on their to-do list. It’s life that brings them through the door, not an in-depth knowledge of hedge funds.

So, instead of listing the solutions that an adviser can offer, I’ve gone for a list of circumstances that typically drives someone to find out if they could benefit from paying for a service that gets their finances on track and keeps them there.

  • A change in life circumstances, such as a new job, parenthood, divorce, bereavement, inheritance or blending families – how do my new circs affect my lifestyle and how I pay for it?
  • Mid-life – I’ve just realised that I won’t live forever and need to make sense of these unfathomable pension statements so I can see how long I will work for
  • Coming up for retirement – what options do these unfathomable pensions give me and how can I make sure I have enough to live on?
  • Saving for something in particular – is my money invested appropriately and in the right place given what I need it for?
  • Helping others – how can I support my children or grandchildren as they start out in life?

You’re the one doing the hiring

I know that some women worry that they don’t ‘fit’ or that they haven’t ‘got enough’ to merit paying for financial advice. If it helps, when you are looking for an adviser, think of it like a job interview – but you are the one doing the hiring. Check out their website, see if they are upfront about their fees and give them a call. If they are decent people, they will happily give you an hour or so their time to listen to where you are in life and tell you if it will be a good use of your money to pay for their service. If it turns out it’s not for you, no harm done but you may well have a better idea of your options and where to go for a more cost-effective way of sorting things out.

Keeping it real

There are many reasons why some women feel uneasy about seeking advice – which is why I believe the service should feel like something that is relevant to their life. ‘Keeping it real’ is the best way to broaden someone’s understanding of things like pensions, investing, risk and tax so that they feel comfortable with the choices in front of them. Going at the client’s pace and working out what makes them tick is key to this and that goes for anyone new to investments or pensions or what have you, not just women.

One day…

Talking Finances is unusual in that we have five advisers – and two of us are women. The breadth of experience that we collectively bring to the table definitely enhances our service to men and women alike. One day, I want to go to a conference where all of this is a given. Where the women don’t feel the need to prop each other up in a male industry and where the men who respond with empathy to all their clients regardless of who they are get recognised. Until then, I just want women to know that not all of the financial advice industry dances to a male tune.

Enjoy the sun.




* Fidelity’s Unlocking the Power of Advice 2020 report cites the Financial Conduct Authority, September 2019, FOI request into the gender status of individuals registered under set controlled functions

Talking Finances is a trading name of Talking Finances Ltd. Talking Finances Ltd is an appointed representative of Parallel Lines The Advisor Collective Ltd, No.2 Sopwith Court, Slough Road, Datchet, Berks SL3 9AU, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. FCA Registration No. 967228

This article represents the personal opinion of Carole Haswell only and does not represent any opinion of Parallel Lines the Advisor Collective Ltd. Financial decisions should not be made on the basis of this article

This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice.