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Financial services women speak out on International Women’s Day 

8 March 2019

Around 60% of paraplanners are women, recent Professional Paraplanner research has shown, but that is far from reflected across the financial services sector, with the figures for the number of female financial advisers described as ‘woeful’.

On this day a number of female practitioners within financial services have spoken out on what they see as key issues for the industry and its consumers, including Kate Smith from Aegon and fund managers and staff from within Quilter. Best use of talent, decision making, ability to save for the future and disintermediation of women by financial advice firms are issues raised.

Vastly unequal split

Jane Goodland, corporate affairs director at Quilter, described the gender balance in the financial services sector as a “seesaw” with a vastly unequal split between men and women, particularly in senior roles.

Addressing the issue, Goodland said: “Having a balanced workforce, particularly at the senior level, can mitigate groupthink thereby helping firms make better decisions by drawing in diverse perspectives. We are seeing a step change in business with a clear realisation that companies that fail to fully benefit from the talents of both genders won’t flourish in the future.”

The sentiment was echoed by Quilter’s client and proposition director Sarah Waring who said that the low number of female financial advisers, with estimates pegged as low as 16%, has a “noticeable knock on impact” on the perception of the industry, with less women getting advice.

Waring explained: “As an industry we’re not blind to the issue and several firms and companies have pegged their colours to the mast and said they will do more to address the gender gap in advisers and clients. However, pace does need to quicken. All advisers and firms need to be reviewing their processes and style of communicating to ensure that they aren’t inadvertently putting off half the population.”

Pensions issues

A key issue arising from the gender gap is women’s inability to save as much as their male counterparts. Kate Smith head of pensions at Aegon (pictured), said the introduction of gender pay gap reporting last year showed a substantial difference between the pay of men and women, the ripple effect of which will be felt in pension pots.

She commented: “The pensions gender gap is a huge concern and shouldn’t be ignored. Many women are failing to plan adequately for their retirement years, which is extremely worrying as they tend to live longer than males so if anything they need to build up a larger pension pot to cover their later life financial needs.”

Smith said the issue goes beyond the fact women simply aren’t saving as much as men.

She continued: “A woman’s ability to save for retirement is often interrupted by unavoidable career breaks, such as to raise a family or care for elderly parents, making it difficult to catch up. Women on average have far less in their private and workplace pensions than men, leading to a significant gender pensions gap.”

Alix Ainsley and Charlotte Cherry, directors of talent and culture at Quilter said flexible working is key in helping more women back into work and close the gap between the sexes.

“It’s hugely important that companies walk the talk on thinking innovatively to remove the barriers that prevent people – typically women – progressing to senior roles. Culture is central to this as it requires a degree of open-mindedness and for leadership to say it is ok. A boss will largely determine whether a job share will succeed or fail. More businesses are realising that this is a great way to attract and retain the best people.”

Smith said women should consider topping up their pension when they return to work to fill the gaps in their employment. For women who take a full year’s maternity leave and stop making contributions to their workplace pension, they may find themselves needing to work longer to make up the shortfall.

Aegon’s research has shown that by the time women reach age 50, they have on average just half the private pension savings of their male counterparts.

According to Smith, women are also disproportionately excluded from auto-enrolment for not meeting the £10,000 earnings threshold. Some women may have several part time jobs amounting to over £10,000 but if no single job pays more than £10,000, they are excluded entirely.

Smith said the equalisation of the state pension age and future planned increases should act as a “prompt” to women to think about how much they’ll need to save privately for a comfortable retirement.

“The earlier women work out how much they will need to set aside for retirement and begin to address the shortfall, the better,” she added.

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