Advice consolidator Kingswood is struggling to maintain a company wide gender split as it ploughs on with more acquisitions this year, admitting the advice industry presents the biggest challenge.
Kingswood has bought eight advice firms and one asset manager since its UK chief executive, David Lawrence, joined the business in December 2020.
At the top of the business, Kingswood employs four female directors out of nine, and maintains a 50 per cent gender split in the next layer down.
But at an adviser level, just 12 out of the 80 advisers under its wing are female, with male advisers making up the remaining 85 per cent.
“I think where we struggle is with advisers,” Lawrence told FTAdviser. “So today, we’re about 15 per cent female [advisers]. And actually that’s made worse because when we're buying businesses actively, we're also buying in an imbalance of gender.
“No matter what you try to do internally, you’re also fighting against the sea of businesses that we buy, because the industry has got more male advisers than female advisers. To make progress is not without its challenges.”
Lawrence said he is “reasonably confident” the firm can jump from 15 to 25 per cent of advisers being female by the end of the year.
“That’s not necessarily a percentage to be proud of, but it’s a progressive percentage,” he said.
The CEO recognised a “deep-set imbalance” across the industry, admitting that any progress is going to be slower than the consolidator would like.
Research published by the Personal Finance Society suggested some advice firms have been hiring female administrators in their 50s in order “to mitigate the disruption” of younger women leaving their businesses to have children.
This, the research found, can stunt women’s careers and therefore stall their pathway to becoming an adviser.
Kingswood’s chief client officer, Lucy Whitehead, has had three children under the age of six during her employment at Kingswood.
“You’ve got to take a long-term view,” said Lawrence. “It [maternity leave] is not a nightmare if you’ve got the right person, invest in that time. You want someone to stay with your business for 20 years.”
Lawrence also said a role model for other women in the industry “is invaluable”.
“If women see more women, it gives them the confidence to try it themselves. The more we can do to create role models, be that from paraplanner to adviser, the more this will help to address the imbalance.
“Sometimes women need more encouragement. But actually, they make brilliant advisers.”
Lawrence said some clients actually prefer female advisers and are served better by them than male advisers - especially on things such as pension imbalances which women tend to understand firsthand.