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The Right Stuff

Julie Jones, Director of Sales and Marketing at DFM Myddleton Croft, talks to IFA Magazine about how strong women are challenging male assumptions

Yesterday: Anne Richards, Global Head of Investments at Aberdeen Asset Management, tells Michael Wilson says that diversity is essential to corporate strength 

Coming from a family where I have three brothers and no sisters, you do learn a man’s perspective whether Julie Jones Myddleton Croftyou like it or not – and it has helped.  So I have never felt uncomfortable in an environment which is predominantly male, whether introducing myself for the first time or presenting.  It became an advantage.

Times have changed so much in the last decade that women’s presence in financial services, fund management and investment/product sales roles has increased.  Not only is there encouragement in education, from high school to university; the ‘older male IFA’ has also been an exponent of seeing their daughters joining them in their IFA practice, with succession planning now high on the agenda.

And of course, we cannot ignore the current employment issues facing postgraduates who are struggling to find places in the career of their choice so the ‘family’ business is an option that has to be considered. Whatever the reason, women can be more adaptable.

Breaking Into the Male Preserve

And so to the predictable question as to whether women are better at financial planning than their male counterparts? Well, that’s not a debate I’m comfortable entering into.  Early in my career, financial planning was still very much a male-dominated area, and so was the investment management arena.  I was tasked with meeting IFAs, stockbrokers and discretionary managers to discuss investment funds and related investment products.

It felt like a huge challenge from the outset.  Not only was I one of only three female industry sales personnel at the time – I was also based in the North of England.  And developing a reputation as someone who was credible, knowledgeable and committed to providing a high standard of service took time to establish.  The average age of the intermediary was in the 50s, and some were rather old fashioned regarding the advent of women in a man’s world.  Determination became part of my persona, and the respect of my male colleagues and introducer connections soon followed along with my developing business success.

Ingrained Assumptions

Many years ago, investment industry marketing events were not only held in the UK but also in Europe.  And therein lay another potential challenge.  When the ratio of male to female is extremely biased, and when you are one of the investment company sponsors, you are always on duty and even on alert.

At the well known annual Investment Management Association Dinner (previously UTA – yes, I’ve been around that long), which is held at the prestigious Grosvenor House Hotel, dresses were always worn long, and so were the sleeves.  As a female host, it was never advisable to drink if you wanted to make sure that your guests were taken care of. It was important that you had to behave ‘respectfully’ – and that, whatever the faux pas, your sense of humour allowed your business reputation to remain unerringly strong.

The Communication Advantage

Other challenges came along over the years.  Maintaining contact with clients when things weren’t going so well became very important.  When stock markets are crashing about our ears, due to some economic or political announcement or natural disaster, you would have thought it was safe to assume that communicating with all your clients would be a priority.  However, with my contemporaries that wasn’t always the case.

The time to talk to your clients more is at times of extreme stress, not bury your head in the sand and hope that all is well once the crisis has blown over.  People need to hear from people, even if the news is not what they want to hear; to be reassured that, even when the current investment pain is acute, it will pass and once again opportunities will present themselves.  What better way to embed a strong relationship than ‘being there’ in the difficult times, and not just the good times?

It’s also worth remembering that during those formative years there were no mobile phones or satellite navigation. It was a case of using a telephone box to contact your office and an A-Z road map to get to meetings – and if you were running late, could not find a place to park and needed a natural break, you were in trouble!

I do believe that women are more patient and take the time to get to know an individual and what their financial servicing or business needs are – whether it’s an IFA talking to a prospective new client or an investment/product Sales Manager endeavouring to engage with a potential new introducing IFA or Wealth Manager.

However, whether man or woman, learning to listen and being aware of that all important body language, is a skill that has to be learned over time.  There is no doubt that many an industry salesperson has missed the ‘buy’ signal because of lack of awareness, confidence or because of something basic as not listening.

Flexible Thinking

What also comes with experience is the ability to know when to step back, review the situation and approach the client or IFA in a different way and, if necessary, let it go.  One thing is definitely certain – no amount of qualifications can necessarily make someone the best at what they do, how you communicate your knowledge in a patient, practical and helpful way is what’s important.  By listening and presenting solutions that could add value to an IFA’s business by enhancing their service offering to their clients, will earn you the IFA’s respect and trust.

Women tend to understate themselves more than men.  Thankfully the draconian ‘alpha’ male is dying out in the financial services industry – and any woman worth her salt, when confronted with said male, should spare no more than 15 minutes before politely leaving the building!

All of this said, if you simply turn the tables and ask yourself: “Would I let this firm manage my financial affairs and my investments?”, it’s the answer that is the key – regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman.

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