Sisters aren’t just doing it for themselves

Written by: Emma De Vita Posted: 19/07/2018

BL57_femaleadvisersIt would be easy to assume that the increasing number of rich women would prefer to work with female wealth advisers – but that’s not always the case, often they just want the best person for the job 

The Sunday Times Rich List included 141 women in its top 1,000 this year. That might be a relatively small number, considering women make up half of the world’s population, but it actually represents an all-time high for the list. 

This record figure is symbolic of the increasing number of women who are generating and handling wealth, be that through inheritance, self-made entrepreneurial fortunes or corporate careers. 

And more wealthy women make for more female clients for the law firms and wealth management firms that help them. But how prepared are these firms to cater to female clients, some of whom may prefer to deal with another woman?

Historically, the vast majority of private clients using the Channel Islands have been men. “The ‘pale, stale, male’ cliché definitely applied,” says Colleen McHugh, Head of Wealth Management at Guernsey-based Butterfield Bank. She sees it as a reflection of society where, in general, men were the breadwinners and took care of the finances. 

Yet things are changing. Fiona Waite, Client Director at RBC Wealth Management, says that while RBC’s client base was once made up of men in their 60s, now there’s a 60/40 split between men and women. “This is a significant shift and indicative of an increasing responsibility towards generating and managing wealth for women,” she says.

A growing proportion of female clients are women who are successful in their own right. “We’re seeing more female entrepreneurs emerging who need advice and support while running their businesses,” says Waite. “Many sell their companies when they reach a certain stage. They also need advice on how to manage the money.” 

Lorraine Wheeler, Client Services Director at First Names Group, has also noticed an increase in the number of approaches from self-made wealthy women who are looking to set up trusts for their husbands and children. 

Another strand of new female clients is  divorcees or widows in their 60s who are taking control of their finances for the first time. Some of them “want to deal with a woman who understands what it’s like to be a woman”, explains Wheeler. 

Finding the best adviser

While finding a sympathetic female adviser is important to some women clients, it’s not the norm. 

“In my experience, women don’t typically factor sex into their consideration of which financial adviser to use,” notes McHugh. “Women are used to living in a world where men dominate a disproportionate number of professions. We see male doctors, dentists, opticians, so why not a male financial adviser?

"I think, as with men, women want credible and qualified individuals who don’t use jargon as a crutch – we appreciate forthrightness and honesty, regardless of the sex of the person dispensing the information.”

It’s more a case of matching the personalities of client and adviser, argues Wheeler. “It would be a mistake to say that women would prefer to work with women,” she says. “It’s more down to the actual individual and what they’re looking for and what they want their finances to achieve. 

“If they have children and are looking for a trustee who’ll fit into their shoes, making sure the children don’t inherit in one go and the money is looked after, in that situation women might look to women who are mothers, because they think they would know what it’s like to be in that situation.”

Michelle Tring, Senior Client Manager at Estera, is certain the savvy female clients she has encountered wouldn’t ask for a female adviser just for the sake of it. “If they’ve got this type of wealth, whether through family wealth or building up their own business, they’ve obviously got a strong level of expertise.

"And what they want is the best advice possible from the best person possible. Whether that’s a woman or a man is entirely irrelevant. It’s just about building those relationships and making sure that it works.”

But for those who deal with clients from the Middle East, things can be different. Claire Malkoun, Group Head of Business Development at VG, who’s spent considerable time in the region, says that different cultural sensitivities around gender must be respected. She notes, though, that there’s a growing number of women who are starting up their own businesses or having a stronger voice in family affairs. 

“Clients have primarily been men,” she says, “but I’m dealing with a lot more women in business in the Middle East and there are a lot more entrepreneurs and females within the families who are starting to be empowered. I think we’ll see more female private clients coming through.”

Personal preference

In these cases, it’s a question of personal preference for the female client. “If they’re very strict in terms of their religion and culture, you have to respect that. Similarly, if that client would prefer a female adviser, you have to respect that preference,” says Malkoun. 

However, it would be dangerous to take a blanket approach towards female clients, she says. “Some women wouldn’t have a preference as to whether it’s a male or a female advising them.” 

That said, Malkoun suspects that there are some female clients who would “distinctly prefer a woman because of shared thinking, understanding and perhaps a shared vision in terms of family values”. It makes for a valuable shortcut between client and adviser. 

“This helps the relationship immensely because it means you can build and instil trust very quickly if that female client feels she has that support and comfort from the start,” she says.

Given the growing number of female clients, wealth management and law firms would be wise to increase the number of female advisers in their team, to offer a broader pool of perspectives, experience and personalities to match their changing client base. 

“The industry needs to evolve and become more empathic in the true sense of the word – really striving to understand another person’s viewpoint,” argues McHugh. “It feeds into a broader shift in society, which is becoming more accepting and tolerant of a multiplicity of viewpoints. And that can only be a good thing.” 

“It’s important to note that the pool of women coming into the wealth management industry is limited,” says Fiona Waite. “At RBC, we have a Women in Leadership committee, of which I’m a member, which works hard to ensure that women at the bank stay with us, and are promoted to senior roles, addressing the current imbalance that exists.” 

The business case for having more female advisers is irrefutable. Wheeler tells of a recent instance when her colleagues delivered a pitch and were later told that they didn’t win the work because they were male. “Nobody had told us that the client specifically wanted to deal with women,” explains Wheeler. “Otherwise we could easily have selected a female director to run the pitch instead.” 

The experience proved how easily work can be lost if gender balance isn’t taken into consideration. Wheeler says the firm is now looking into having specific female teams available for female clients. 

“We can’t assume that people want a women-only team, but if they ask for it, we can arrange that. That’s a response to both client demand and the level of wealth in the marketplace and who’s generating it.” 

And the wealth generators of today and tomorrow will no longer solely be the elderly white men of yesterday. 

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