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‘Financial planning is a job really suited to women’

Chartered financial planner Rowena Griffiths set up Female Financial Management in 2013. Fiona Bond talked to her for ABR about the female approach to financial planning, working in a male-dominated industry and how she is growing the business

Adviser Business Review: What was behind your decision to set up a female-focused firm?

Rowena Griffiths: I was a Honister adviser and when they went into administration, I made the decision to become directly authorised. In hindsight I should have gone down that route a long time ago, but you often become comfortable under the umbrella of a network and applying for direct authorisation can be a daunting prospect. It took me about seven months, but I did it with the help of SimplyBiz who were great.

When I was thinking of my proposition and the business I wanted to build, I thought to myself, only around one in 10 advisers are female and around 15% of advisers are chartered financial planners yet I ticked both those boxes. In all honesty, I was very unsure about whether it was a good idea to position myself as a female financial adviser. What I didn’t set out to do is try to become the poster girl for female advisers, but I did think to myself that the idea of a woman might be appealing to some clients who prefer a softer approach. The name of my business however, refers to the type of advice given, rather than the type of client I serve. I have many male and female clients, as well as couples.

ABR: How do you think the female approach to financial planning differs to the male approach?

RG: I think women tend to be more cautious. For me, it’s all about really getting to know the client and their objectives and there’s absolutely no rushing in and telling the client to invest their money here or there. To make a generalisation, I think it’s a female trait to approach things in a softer manner.

I receive a lot of divorce enquiries from women, who might previously have relied on their husbands to deal with the finances and have never really been confronted with questions about pensions or had to discuss their own financial future. For these women, they’ve never had to consider their appetite to risk or their financial goals, so they tend to appreciate a more cautious, consultative approach where everything is explained jargon-free and they’re not afraid to ask questions.

I really do think there is a shortage of female advisers. Financial planning, for various reasons, tends to largely attract men, which I think is a shame, as I do believe this job is really suited to women.

ABR: Describe your ideal client?

RG: My ideal client is someone who really wants and will benefit from holistic financial planning, so whether they’re male or female is irrelevant. A typical client would be someone planning for retirement or in retirement. The pension freedoms have created a fantastic opportunity for these clients and have allowed people to think about passing their money down the generations.

Historically, my clients were quite evenly split gender-wise, but since setting up FFM I do tend to attract more women. I think there are still men for whom a middle-aged female adviser isn’t very appealing and they feel more comfortable working with another man.

ABR: How do you grow your client base?

RG: I have between 60-100 active clients, and a number of transactional clients. I was fortunate that most of my clients followed me from Honister. Since setting up FFM, I’ve relied heavily upon word of mouth and referrals to attract new business and I would say I roughly bring on around 10 new clients a year. I’ve also registered on Unbiased, which I feel is a good platform to attract enquiries.

I’ve really struggled forging good professional connections, annoyingly. I feel like I have something to offer them but it’s difficult finding a good fit and building those relationships.

In the past, I have tried holding joint seminars with other advisers, but while we were able to quite easily fill a room with attendees, the majority weren’t in a place of wanting or needing advice so it wasn’t the most successful tactic.

I do understand the importance marketing has on growing your business, but as the only adviser in the firm I must admit it’s hard finding the time and resources to dedicate to it. As both the business owner and the adviser, it’s a real juggling act and I have to concentrate on what I’m good at. I know I can do a great job for clients, but recognise there are other areas, such as marketing, which are not my forte.

ABR: What is the biggest challenge for a firm like FFM?

RG: The biggest challenge for me are the regulatory costs imposed on small businesses. My FCA fees have gone up 50% over the past year, which is a huge burden. I am loathe to raise my clients fees to cover these rising costs, but eventually you need to look at ways to keep your margins. It would be far better and fairer for businesses like mine if the FCA were to review its costs and the impact on advisers.

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