You’re only as biased as your blind spots #BreakTheBias
By Simeon Levin, Lead Adviser
The last time I wrote an article on this topic, twenty years ago, I received a lot of backlash for calling out financial advice as a male dominated domain.
Backlash or not, it’s part of my experience, even to this day.
Female advisers and clients alike can be unknowingly, and therefore easily, unsupported and misunderstood – which is a shame when family life enrichment is at stake. Therefore, in support of International Women’s Day theme of #BreakTheBias and for our mutual collective growth, I dare to share again.
Because I think you’re only as biased as your blind spots.
Let’s begin with some scene setting background. In the early 2000’s the founders of Fitzpatricks’ Private Wealth successfully challenged the industry status quo. Tired of selling commission-based products that fell short of meeting clients’ needs, they started asking “where do you see yourself in three- and ten-years’ time?”. While it wasn’t comfortable to head in a new direction, it felt right for all involved. That is exactly how our shared community mission of Enriching Lives took precedent over any product – and stands strong to this day.
Our Group CEO, Jodie Blackledge recently raised the stakes and asked who is Enriching the Enricher? It was a pivotal point in understanding the next evolutionary leap we’re embarking on, as we seek to elevate financial advice to a profession — maybe even setting a new professional standard! All well and good for us to have our clients’ best interests at heart, but who has our back? After all that advisers have been through recently, who is providing us with a nourishing environment to flourish in?
In that vein, picking up the baton and pacing forth, can we explore the current landscape of women in financial advice, and the female clients seeking our expertise? Can we openly ask; are there blind spots?
If there are blind spots, or unconscious biases, these could be potential opportunities for growth in our profession! For instance, to this day in my own professional experience women are not only responsible for their jobs/careers/businesses, but they are also often primarily responsible for managing their households and family life. In order to “divide and conquer”, husbands and fathers often take charge of all things financial. Does this traditional split leave women exposed and by extension, families exposed? Indeed, does this unconscious blind spot impact the greater picture of family life enrichment? According to one recent Fidelity Investments study, across age groups and ethnicity 7 out of 10 women (71%) are eager to take action with their finances in the next six months.
As trusted advisors, is it our responsibility to better manage this gap?
With that in mind I’d like to attempt to unpack the blind spots I’ve experienced for clients and advisers alike.
BLIND SPOT #1 Don’t talk at – coach
Where does the traditional family model leave women when families break down or when they have to take the financial reins for other reasons? Typically, I find it’s at a low point on financial matters. Fronting up to a professional financial adviser with years of experience can leave some women in this position feeling uncomfortable, possibly even intimidated.
The reality is that many women may need to be handheld through foundational financial concepts. Taking the time to educate women on how a fixed income investment works versus a share on the Australian stock exchange, the complex rules around superannuation and how risk and return are inter-related is paramount to building financial confidence.
Therefore, grounded knowledge, sharing, teaching, coaching and getting women to feel confident in basic concepts is often necessary. While they may not admit it, women often need nurturing and coaching to gain the confidence to grasp more complex financial matters. They need all this while not being made to feel like they are being patronised.
As advisers we need to have the patience and the care to coach them on that journey.
BLIND SPOT #2 – Coach everyone individually & collectively
I have had clients confess to me they’re seeking a female adviser because their existing adviser would not engage with Mrs client. In their words, when strategy is being discussed, it would be a man-to-man discussion to the exclusion of the wife.
As advisers with a high level of technical skill it can be easy to want to impress our savvy Mr client with our knowledge on content, but this can backfire and lead to unintentionally excluding less financially savvy Mrs client, resulting in both clients disengaging with the adviser.
To avoid this, there is a framework that can help us stay focused on the context for our clients; asking open ended questions like, “what does a life well lived look like for you Mrs Client and Mr Client?”. We call this the 10-3-Now at Fitzpatricks, a simple methodology that works to keep everyone engaged equally. Fundamentally, we must remain open and willing to listen to both Mr & Mrs clients’ stories and act as the conduit for achieving their couple, family and individual goals.
Additionally, women tend to be much more risk averse than men, and this too needs to be accounted for. Women need to have permission to say what they want to say without the fear of judgement. Just because they might not be across the family’s finances, does not mean they don’t know what’s right for their family.
Inclusiveness with couples can be a natural inclination for female financial advisers but anyone can learn deeper relational skills. They form part of the emotional intelligence frameworks and training we explore (and value) in the Lead Adviser philosophy. Lead Adviser is also a two-day coaching program taught by Fitzpatricks’ founders.
BLIND SPOT #3 – A client centric model is a must
I find that the client centric model suits the learning and discovery journey many of my female clients require. It allows me to step into the coaching role and fosters a mutually enriching experience. When I engage with a female client, the client is supported to take her time learning new concepts and building her knowledge so that she can make better financial choices. I’m in a position to tailor the journey to her specific emotional and financial needs because I’m acting as her coach and charging a fee for that service from the outset.
This is a true professional model and allows me to take my time to work with clients where they need the most education. Regardless of whether it takes three or ten months to have all the necessary conversations and to build knowledge it’s ok because my client is paying for my service.
There’s zero pressure from either end, it’s mutual enrichment at its best.
What all this comes down to is acknowledging that our money stories are not rational, they’re emotional. As the Lead Adviser EQ coach Brian Fitzpatrick puts it, “logic makes me think, emotions make me act.” Therefore, we need to allow time to build emotional trust and create well thought out – head and heart – life plans together with our clients. In this model I act as the family CFO, a trusted adviser, my clients are at the centre, as the CEO. Again, this is part of the Lead Adviser approach; frameworks I have found to be beneficial through my career as an adviser.
BLIND SPOT #4 Create the right environment
The blind spots we’ve already addressed are soft skills based. In my opinion, weaving this into a service offering is going to be an integral part of financial advice in the years to come; a marriage of the hard and soft skills is the future for our profession.
It stands to reason therefore that if our female clients have unique needs so too, do female advisers, trying to run their own businesses.
Women are ambitious but they often need a reasonable balance between running their business/careers and doing all the other things they are responsible for. In order for more talented female advisers to thrive we need our inclination towards the soft skills acknowledged as valuable, alongside the technical skills. We need collegial support, other women to turn to who are also striving to achieve their own version of success. At Fitzpatricks we’ve found this with a collective peer group of the women we affectionately (and unofficially) call the Fitzpatricias. Women also need business models that support the lifestyle we want to lead. For example, at Fitzpatricks we aim for a 4-40 model, working four days a week, forty weeks a year. Finally, we need the expert guidance and coaching that we deliver to our own clients; so we too can carve out the life enrichment we envision for ourselves and our families.
As a profession we impact the lives of many Australians with our wealth of knowledge, skills and heartfelt desire to make a difference to the clients that we care for. Lovingly engaging our female clients, supporting and valuing female advisers, is just one part of the journey we are on, as we elevate our industry to a profession. While it is important not to alienate any of our male colleagues with these anecdotal stories, it is equally important not to ignore our blind spots and pretend these legacy biases do not exist.
Yes of course, some of my female clients are all over their finances and very savvy, in my experience they are a minority. Some female advisers may have large thriving businesses and still hold down their family obligations, in my experience they are a minority.
We have some blind spots.
Continuing to discuss and find creative solutions to these gaps presents an opportunity in the coming years to remove any unintended biases and thereby enrich so many more lives.
Simeon Levin CFP®, LRS®, Dip FP, JP, Lead Adviser has twenty year’s experience as a financial adviser and runs her own Sydney based practice. Simeon Levin is an authorised representative of Fitzpatricks Private Wealth Pty Ltd ABN 33 093 667 595, holder of Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL) No. 247 429.
1. Fidelity Investments® Financial Sentiment Survey