Opinion  

Time for girl power in financial services

Kevin O’Donnell

Kevin O’Donnell

I have always seen the financial services sector as a modern, forward-looking part of the UK economy but its recognition of the talents and abilities of women leaves a lot to be desired.

This applies not just to the IFA sector but also to many others areas including, surprisingly, fund management, where the representation of female managers is utterly woeful. I am no feminist but things have to change.

I was reminded of this after reading through the latest research from FE Trustnet on the number of what it calls ‘alpha managers’ – those who are in the top 10 per cent of UK retail fund managers.

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According to FE, based on the latest performance figures, there are 165 ‘alpha managers’ on its list of the UK’s best fund managers. Disappointingly, however, only 10 of these are women, just 6 per cent of the total. In other words, 94 per cent of top fund managers are male.

The figure of 10 female managers is just two up on last year. The reason for this is that female fund managers still make up only a tiny proportion of the total number of fund managers.

That is an utterly shameful figure in the 21st century and suggests that British fund management companies need a rather sharp heel pointed in their direction or at least a sharp elbow in the ribs.

Of course at this point some male readers will be saying that there are good reasons for the imbalance: it takes years to train a fund manager and traditionally it has been dominated by men; women take career breaks for children and you need continuity for many years, perhaps, change just takes time, and so on.

All of these excuses have some truth but they simply ignore the epic failure of the fund management industry to nurture and promote female talent.

This is a shame because I am sure that our universities are full of bright female graduates itching to learn the well-remunerated skills of investment management. Anecdotally, I am aware that there are a growing number of female researchers and analysts, which is a positive sign, but the figures are just not good enough and human resource managers in particular need to do more to correct this imbalance. Female brains are just as capable as male brains when it comes to fund management, as FE’s research proves, and we are wasting a vast pool of potential talent.

Many others areas of financial services are little better and IFAs have no reason to be smug. While there are many excellent female IFAs and financial planners, and I have met many, the advice profession is again overwhelmingly male. Many will have started their own businesses and perhaps equalising the gender imbalance is not a priority in a small firm, but I wonder how many have missed an opportunity to employ an outstanding female partner?

To give you an example: I have read several case studies recently involving advisers who were asked to help a widow with her inheritance. In most cases these were written by male IFAs. I know all of these will have done a decent job but I wonder if many widows would have found more empathy and rapport with a female adviser? Quite a few, I suspect.