Among financial planners, there are more and more female professionals – I was happily surprised at how many female delegates there were at the recent 2019 convention of the Financial Planning Institute (FPI) in Sandton.
I am also pleased to record that last year’s Financial Planner of the Year was a woman, Janet Hugo, and the institute has just appointed a female chief executive, Lelane Bezuidenhout.
In fact, there was a distinctly female slant to the convention – I am not sure if its proximity to Women’s Month had anything to do with it. Interspersed among presentations by men, we had Dr Moira Somers (whose excellent talk on giving effective advice I covered recently), Gyongi King from Alexander Forbes on trends in investment markets, and Fatima Vawda from asset manager 27Four on environmental, social and governance factors in investing. Caroline da Silva from the Financial Sector Conduct Authority updated delegates on the regulatory changes in the industry.
There was also a lively panel discussion, “The power of the female factor”, chaired by Janet Hugo. The panelists – Lisa Linfield, Kim Potgieter, Gugu Sidaki and Sunel Veldtman – were four Certified Financial Planners who are at the forefront of initiatives aimed at empowering women financially.
What came through strongly for me in the discussion was that the financial planning profession is benefiting hugely from the influx of women into its ranks. Not only are female planners helping female clients who may feel uncomfortable discussing their affairs with a man; their softer approach to planning is rubbing off on the profession as a whole.
Household finances still left to men
The mindset among women that their husbands control the finances still prevails in South Africa. However, progressive financial planning practices are encouraging couples to attend planning sessions together. Linfield said this was important – not only did the planner acknowledge the needs of both partners, but it could bring a couple closer together. “Couples then have a better sense of their pathways together and are more prepared to make shared sacrifices,” she said.
Potgieter, who runs workshops for couples, said that while planners were not meant to be marriage counsellors, there was an aspect of it to the job, and planners needed to be able to cope with a couple’s differences.
Sidaki said the man was often the dominant person in planning sessions, but the planner “must also engage with the wife, who may be the quiet person in the room”.
Women view money differently from men
The panel agreed that women don’t relate well to numbers and technicalities when talking about money. Instead of looking at risks and returns, they think more broadly, with money as a means to an end. “Women have a much closer tie between money and their life goals rather than money being just a number,” Linfield said.
Women make good planners
An empathetic mindset is an important attribute in a planner. Potgieter said women tended to connect with clients in a unique way and had the inherent skills to form meaningful relationships. Women instinctively tend to place themselves on the same level as their clients, not talk down to them or use language they do not understand.
Sidaki found that her clients had a big hang-up around financial jargon, and there was a big difference between explaining something to someone so that they understood it and talking down to someone. “Material targeted to clients must not be dumbed down, but simplified,” she said. Veldtman agreed, saying: “People don’t understand what we’re talking about half the time. We need to talk in humanspeak.”
Male planners can learn from their female counterparts
In all these aspects – being empathetic; forming deeper relationships; suppressing the urge to impress clients with financial jargon; looking at clients’ personal needs and goals instead of just numbers in a portfolio – male planners can learn from women. I think the good ones intuitively do these things, but there are many financial advisers out there, particularly among the wider adviser community, who would do well to tone down their macho image and give expression to their softer side.