The first Women in Advice roundtable on 17 August.

An ongoing shortage of financial advisers is highlighting the long-standing gender imbalance within the advice sector, where the ratio of women to men has remained unchanged for more than a decade despite repeated calls for greater diversity.

The first of three roundtables hosted by Professional Planner and The Stella Network, sponsored by BT Financial Group, heard that women are well-suited to working in the flexible and people focused advice industry.

But the discussion revealed that issues still exist – such as the industry being dominated by men, women lacking confidence, and low awareness of employment opportunities – which is putting women off becoming advisers.

Recruit 2 Advice principal Duguld Braithwaite said when he recently asked a female colleague her view of the financial advice industry, her reply was: “stuffy white men in suits.”

When Siboney Corrales-Palacio was promoted to a financial adviser role at Adviser fp, she had a couple of young female support staff.

“When I talked to them about careers in financial advising, [they would respond with] a firm no,” she said.

“When I asked why, they said, ‘Well, it’s all men’. They don’t feel comfortable, which is understandable. But we need to have more strong women in the industry and engage with more young women to consider a career in financial advising.”

We need to have more strong women in the industry and engage with more young women to consider a career in financial advising.

Siboney Corrales-Palacio & Anne Maguire

Minchin Moore Private Wealth Advisers associate partner and senior adviser Jane Hopkins said she works with “some great males” at the firm.

“But I genuinely think I need the perspective of a female who challenges things from a female perspective, because some men just don’t get it,” she said.

Breaking into the boys’ club

BT national account manager Penny Romanella said that when she first started in the industry “a long, long time ago, it was an absolute boys club”.

“There was only a couple of women and you had to fight to be heard,” she said.

“[Things have] improved a lot [since then]. But almost like you still have to coach yourself to speak up and be heard.”

Romanella said she believes the industry still has a long way to go in educating men about gender diversity.

“[But it is still important for women to have the] confidence to stand [their] ground and not feel like [they’re] going to be victimised because of it,” she said.

Profile Financial Services CEO Lena Ridley said she sees “unconscious bias even in [my] own workplace, from different people”.

“It doesn’t matter whether they have a support structure around them, there’s still this unconscious bias towards the expectation of women and the responsibilities outside of work,” Ridley said.

“It’s still there. It’s still everywhere. It’s a better place right now, but we’ve got aways to go.”

We’ve all felt the brunt of boys’ clubs over the years.

Jane Hopkins

Millenium Wealth senior financial adviser Jules Bernstein agrees that there is a lot of unconscious bias in the workplace and it’s not restricted by gender.

“It’s important that we have these discussions and are talking about it,” Bernstein said.

Ridley added that there are strong male role models who “don’t buy into the boys’ club stuff” and “see strength in diversity”.

“We’ve all felt the brunt of boys’ clubs over the years,” Ridley said.

Viridian Advisory senior financial adviser Daniella Elchaar said men do not realise the impact of boys’ clubs, “even when they’re told”.

“They don’t realise they’re excluding others,” Elchaar said.

Daniella Elchaar & Siboney Corrales-Palacio

Leaders make it happen

HUB24 business development manager and former financial adviser Anne Maguire said there  had been some good leadership at the firms she’s worked at; however, when her last employer decided to exit advice, she left as well.

“When I looked around, I didn’t see that many other firms that were really appealing,” Maguire said.

“It’s interesting being in a platform space now and looking at all the different firms. I still don’t see that many [of them] encouraging women.”

It is up to organisations to ensure there is a good composition.

Jules Bernstein & Jamie Johns

The roundtable heard that more women will take up careers in financial advice when more people understand what advice is and what advisers do.

A common myth is that financial advice is all about investment and maths, but roundtable participants were adamant that this is not the case. Advice is all about relationships and helping individuals with their financial needs, they said.

Educating adults

Many of the advisers at the roundtable admitted they did not even know what financial advice was when they initially discovered it, including Bloom Advisory Group financial planner Jennifer Porter.

“It was fortunate that a friend of my first husband happened to develop a platform,” Porter said.

“When I said, ‘What’s a platform?’ he explained what they are, and I asked how I could get one. He said I’d need a financial adviser. I then asked what an adviser was.”

Porter was a high school teacher at the time. When it was explained what an adviser does, she realised that financial advising was essentially educating adults.

“I wasn’t much enjoying schools, but I loved the teaching component,” Porter said.

She subsequently quit teaching, trained as an adviser, and eventually founded Bloom Advisory Group with her husband, Barry.

Ridley knew a financial adviser when she was studying business at university.

“I had case study assignments, and I had to find a business to do an assignment on,” she said. She chose financial advice.

“[By the time I graduated], I knew quite a lot about financial advising, so I hit [an advice firm] up for a job and that was that.”

Corrales-Palacio said she, too, fell into financial advice.

“I had no idea it even existed as a career option,” she explained.

She said she was studying marketing and public relations at university, “and I loved it, but didn’t want to pursue it long term”.

“Then I sat in a lecture about macro and microeconomics and thought, ‘this is so fascinating. Why don’t people apply it to themselves? These are concepts that you can apply to yourself personally’,” she said.

“I was sitting with future successful people who would probably make poor money decisions, and I thought, ‘how do I fill this gap? How can I teach people because I want to apply it to someone’s personal circumstances?’”

Knowledge is power

Corrales-Palacio obtained her diploma in financial services before finding a contract role at Westpac. She did that for three months and then decided to go meet advisers.

“I got more exposure to what they do and whether it’s meaningful for me. I found that I absolutely loved it, and I haven’t looked back.”

Women first need to be aware that financial advice is a profession and a career choice.

Jamie Johns, Penny Romanella, & Jennifer Porter

Avanzare’s Johns said women first need to be aware that financial advice is a profession and a career choice.

“Even if they don’t choose [financial advising as a career], just beginning an education journey [early] and telling young people that it is a profession, that could be an option,” she said.

“It will then at least sit there with some knowledge, and they might come back later.”

Striver founder Alisdair Barr said awareness and opportunity are “key” to attracting more women to the profession and he advocates for more female role models in financial advice “all the time”.

“People go, ‘oh, no-one wants [a career in financial advising] because it’s dodgy or because of the Hayne royal commission’,” Barr said.

“I said, ‘Well, [young people] weren’t actually watching the royal commission’. They just don’t know what opportunities there are, even though we’re always ranting and raving about how financial advice is a fulfilling career path.”

To overcome this issue, Striver organises ‘Brimstone’ events for students, graduates, and career changers. The aim is to help them discover career options in the financial industry and understand the benefits of financial advice as a career path.

But Recruit 2 Advice’s Braithwaite is not convinced that university is the right place to capture potential financial advisers.

“The son of an adviser I’ve known for 20-odd years has just hit university,” he said.

“He’s doing finance at Macquarie University. I got the phone call from his dad, saying, ‘oh, can you give him some career advice, and maybe help him get a part time job in financial planning?”

Braithwaite suggested the son focus on his finance degree because “it’s a really high-quality degree” and work for two or three years after graduating. He would then know if he wants to be a financial adviser or not.

Lena Ridley

Career change advisers

Braithwaite added that financial advice “takes a lot of life experience and skills”, which is why he believes 40-year-old mothers would make ideal financial advisers.

“They’ve raised kids, they run a logistics business out of their house, they run household budgets, they are event coordinators,” he said.

“They’ve got this incredible range of life skills. We’re currently transitioning a teacher [into advice].”

Minchin Moore’s Hopkins originally worked in marketing and communications and did not make the career leap to financial advice until she “felt confident enough to be responsible for somebody else”.

“That’s a theme that comes up a lot with women,” she said.

“They don’t feel confident to be responsible for somebody else, to tell them what to do at certain periods of life.”

Hopkins said many women come to Minchin Moore wanting to change careers.

“They’re happy to start in a support adviser role, and they will do their time and get their studies done,” she said.

“Because they’re experienced elsewhere, they’re pretty okay with the study. Sometimes the kids are a bit older, and you don’t have to teach the communication skills and engagement skills and soft skills. It’s just literally getting them across the strategy and we’ve got the support structures around them to make sure that they’re providing good advice.”

There’s a complete undersupply [of women] across the industry.

Lena Ridley & Duguld Braithwaite

Other factors make financial advice a difficult sector for women, according to Braithwaite.

“There’s a complete undersupply [of women] across the industry,” he said.

“There’s increased barriers to entry; we’ve got a loss-making supply chain model; the industry is split into over political lines; we’ve got decreasing competition; we’ve got decreasing profit margins in the present market.”

Profile’s Ridley admitted that she has always had a personal bias when she has looked for jobs.

“I always try to find out about the personal [lives of men who] I’m going to be surrounded by, because I’ve always found that having a male boss who has daughters has actually been beneficial,” she said.

“They are at least more open to the world that their daughters are in. That comes through at work, whether they mean for it to or not.”

But Viridian’s Elchaar said she has seen the challenges that women face in the industry since having two children.

Regarding unconscious bias and men dominating the industry, she explained that, when she went on maternity leave, a male adviser was assigned to look after her clients; however, the adviser would retain a portion of her clients when she returned from leave.

Hopkins does not have a partner or children, so she has been able to dedicate herself to her career.

“But what if I do have to take maternity leave? What does that look like? I know [Minchin Moore] would be very supportive, but I just don’t know how it would turn out.”

Connecting women in advice

BT head of marketing Rachael Dickinson announced at the roundtable the launch of a new BT podcast series, HerAdvice.

In the series, BT asks industry experts about what can be done to create an industry that better reflects all Australians.

“Anyone who participates in the roundtable series, as well as the females within their practices, is also [invited] to be a part of our BT mentoring program,” she added.

“We connect industry leaders and financial advisers to continue the mentoring and growth of people within the advice industry.”

It’s our job to spread the word and empower other females through their own financial advising needs.

Rachael Dickinson & Daniella Elchaar

The Stella Network is a group that aims to bring together men and women who are passionate about making financial advising more inclusive.

“It’s our job to spread the word and empower other females through their own financial advising needs,” Elchaar said.

“We need to shout from the rooftops every chance we get [and tackle all the] unconscious bias,” Ridley said.

One way the network aims to achieve this is increasing the number of women involved in financial advising.

“The more women we have in financial advice, the more women will engage us for financial advice,” Corrales-Palacio said.

Johns said the industry needs to stay accountable to a better standard.

“In order to do that, we’ve got to wrap our arms around and support people currently here and those coming in,” she said.

The network believes that a more balanced industry will contribute to a better future.

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