Olivia Grant was 17 years old and thinking of becoming an economist when a female financial planner gave a talk at her Melbourne school.
Grant remembers little of what the planner said, but she does remember feeling that an entirely new future career path had opened up before her.
“It was not only a female planner who spoke to us, but she was from a firm that was dominated by female planners,” Grant recalls.
“There were two female principles, one female associate and one male paraplanner at this particular firm. I didn’t realise at the time how rare this was.”
The planner recommended an internship program at her firm, which Grant applied for and got. She started in client services, moved into paraplanning and later become an associate.
“I remember being in the interview for the internship and asking, ‘What is it exactly that you do?’ “ Grant recalls.
“Ten years later, here I am, a planner in my own right.”
Grant no longer works for the firm — she moved to Melbourne’s Oak Financial Planning five years ago — but the years she spent at the firm were clearly pivotal to her professional development.
“I definitely learned a lot from having two strong female role models and I picked up a lot of skills from observing them,” she says.
“One of the big things I learned was the different way to interact with clients.
“There was a real flexibility in their approach to each client and I think women planners are really able to adjust their communication in a way that works best for the client and the situation.
“It’s an adaptable communication style.”
The second lesson Grant learned was that gender was irrelevant to success.
“I saw that being a woman doesn’t stop you from achieving and I could do just as well as male planners,” she says.
“But I think there is this ingrained attitude still [that it’s an industry for men] and that may be a barrier of entry for a lot of women.
“It’s changing, just slowly.”
Grant would like to see more female advisers step forward and become mentors for younger women to encourage them to enter the industry.
“We do have some fabulous and visible female role models, but a handful can’t do the job of everyone,” she says.
“If we can all back initiatives that break down barriers for women and promote planning as a career path through internships and community engagement, then I think the movement will gather momentum.
“People need to know, too, [in the wake of the Hayne Commission] that we’re not all charlatans just after people’s money.”
Grant, who has a Bachelor of Business and a CFP qualification, has been advising for five years now, and works mainly with clients in the accumulation, rather than retirees, although she admits her clients are a mixed bag.
“Accumulators, however, are often the ones you can help the most as they are so early into their financial planning process that you can make significant positive changes,” she says.
Oak Financial Planning runs internship program for university students in their penultimate year, allowing them to work with the firm’s 12 advisers to get a real sense of what being a planner is actually like.
This program has given Grant great hope for the future.
“Students come from all over Victoria and they are all studying to be planners,” she says.
“They are studying full-time, often have a part-time job on the side, and are doing this internship as well, which is great in terms of initiative.
“There is so much enthusiasm and talent from most of the interns we get, that if they stick with it, the industry will be in very good hands.”
Grant is also passionate about improving the financial literacy of her clients and is working alongside other planners at Oak Financial Planning to devise an education program that Grant will deliver in a series of small group workshops on-site.
“The workshops are designed for people who cannot afford to access an adviser, or they don’t have the need to yet, but really want to put in place habits that will help them better manage their money,” Grant says.
“That is something I really care about.”