Balance's Aldridge: a diverse workforce is a no-brainer

Balance: Wealth Planning bucks the trend with four out of its five planners being women, but managing director Rebecca Aldridge says the profession needs to improve its image

REBECCA ALDRIDGE CV

2018-present: Neon Financial Planning Limited, managing director
2014-present: Balance: Wealth Planning, managing director
2013-2015: Think Smarter Consulting, managing director
2012-2013: Fiscal Engineers, head of operations and compliance
2003-2012: Cooper Parry, operations director

There is plenty of evidence proving that greater diversity improves business performance and customer outcomes. One IFA firm that has achieved a broad mix with its own team says more needs to be done to give young people a clear career path to advice.

East Midlands-based Balance: Wealth Planning bucks the gender balance within the advice profession, with four out of its five financial planners being women.

According to managing director Rebecca Aldridge, the challenge is ‘about going back to the root that people don’t choose this as a profession. They stumble into it and realise it’s quite nice,’ she says.

‘It’s about conveying the message a financial planner is equivalent to an accountant or a lawyer. It’s the same sort of discipline, and it’s the same rewards, technical ability and respect.’

Aldridge, a firm subscriber to the George Kinder methodology of holistic lifestyle financial planning, was shortlisted for an entrepreneur of the year award at the Forward Ladies National Awards 2018.

She says the value of a diverse workforce is a ‘no brainer’.

Whether by diversity of gender, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation, Aldridge says the differences between individuals in her team translates into better business performance.

‘The evidence shows it and my experience shows it as well,’ she says. ‘Each individual has their own experiences, values, beliefs and cultural references.

‘The more diverse the group of people you have, the better the solutions are going to be.’

REBECCA ALDRIDGE CV

2018-present: Neon Financial Planning Limited, managing director
2014-present: Balance: Wealth Planning, managing director
2013-2015: Think Smarter Consulting, managing director
2012-2013: Fiscal Engineers, head of operations and compliance
2003-2012: Cooper Parry, operations director

There is plenty of evidence proving that greater diversity improves business performance and customer outcomes. One IFA firm that has achieved a broad mix with its own team says more needs to be done to give young people a clear career path to advice.

East Midlands-based Balance: Wealth Planning bucks the gender balance within the advice profession, with four out of its five financial planners being women.

According to managing director Rebecca Aldridge, the challenge is ‘about going back to the root that people don’t choose this as a profession. They stumble into it and realise it’s quite nice,’ she says.

‘It’s about conveying the message a financial planner is equivalent to an accountant or a lawyer. It’s the same sort of discipline, and it’s the same rewards, technical ability and respect.’

Aldridge, a firm subscriber to the George Kinder methodology of holistic lifestyle financial planning, was shortlisted for an entrepreneur of the year award at the Forward Ladies National Awards 2018.

She says the value of a diverse workforce is a ‘no brainer’.

Whether by diversity of gender, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation, Aldridge says the differences between individuals in her team translates into better business performance.

‘The evidence shows it and my experience shows it as well,’ she says. ‘Each individual has their own experiences, values, beliefs and cultural references.

‘The more diverse the group of people you have, the better the solutions are going to be.’

Sticky situation

Aldridge says: ‘If you look at equivalent professions like accountancy or tax, or law, they are full of diversity. It’s a very attractive and recognised route and the profession is taken seriously.

‘For financial planning, there’s still a bit of a sticky feeling about it. It still has a bad reputation in a lot of areas.

‘There are people out there looking for long-term employment in something that is technically challenging and interesting. But they’re making a different choice fairly early on to study for law or accountancy instead of financial planning. But with so little structure in place to drive recruitment the profession is still relying on people stumbling through the door.

‘I love what I do. But I didn’t know this career existed, and all the different facets of it, so it couldn’t have been a choice really,’ says Aldridge. ‘I lived in Salisbury, which is where James Hay [Partnership] is based.

‘There was also Friends Provident and Capita. Lots of people from where I came from went to work in those companies, so we sort of graduated on from there.’

Shared understanding

Aldridge became a Sipp and SSAS specialist with James Hay for several years before becoming aware of the prospect of being an IFA. She says her own experiences of being a woman in a male-dominated profession have primarily been positive.

She says: ‘I have worked for a company that was run by a man who was chauvinistic and unpleasant, but that didn’t last very long. Mainly I’ve worked for companies that have been quite open and diverse.’

How does diversity, not just of gender, help her advice firm?

‘I’m a woman, I’m 40, and I’m white and non-religious. I was meeting with a lady this week who was from an Afro-Caribbean background, 50, and she was religious.

‘We have nothing in common on the face of it. But because I have that breadth of experience of working with lots of different clients, and working with lots of different people in my team, I’m able to draw on that and talk to her about the things that are going on with her life.’

‘I can empathise more readily, so she doesn’t look at me and see difference. She looks at me as understanding and empathising with her situation.’

Davidson says that for most business owners being open to different points of view is ‘a real challenge’.

‘Most of us are more than a little “control-freaky”. Assembling a more diverse team, assuming you are willing to actually listen, is a great way to help yourself open up to new perspectives and new ideas. That can only be good for one’s business, as the evidence seems to support.’

But promoting diversity within the business does not mean setting quotas or seeking out certain demographics. Aldridge stresses the importance of starting with a ‘blank slate’ when hiring.

She says: ‘If you look at the makeup of my team, we have people in their 60s and in their 20s. We have a large proportion of women, particularly in senior positions.

‘We just recruit the best people there are. I actually wish there was more diversification in the people who I can recruit.

‘Of all the people who apply for jobs, I wish there was more choice. I really wish I could see more people from different ethnic backgrounds, to be honest.’

Tina Winter

Financial planner, Balance: Wealth Planning

In 1985 I was the first woman in the office to take maternity leave. I had to push hard to come back afterwards. I got it but it definitely affected my career progression.

In my experience (which is pretty long as I am 65 years old) a more diverse workplace is a much kinder and more cooperative environment than some more traditional financial services workplaces, which tend to be white male-dominated.

I have spent large chunks of my career at a large accountancy firm and a private bank. Both of these were more traditional and less diverse. The accountants were quite a cooperative bunch with a good team culture, and there was a better male/female split when I left in 1998 than when I joined in 1980.

The private bank however was very male-oriented and had a very competitive environment. In fact it was pretty toxic at times. I have my own theory that the macho attitude prevalent among (largely male) bankers at the top of the big banks was partly responsible for the 2008 banking crisis.

Balance has more female than male employees, and also a wide age range (I am the oldest) and it has a lovely friendly atmosphere. There is a variety of types of flexibility in working hours. For example, I now have a two-and-a-half day per week contract but normally work three days, saving up the extra time for additional holidays.

Everyone wants different things from work and from life generally. There is much more likelihood a diverse workplace will recognise that, and allow employees to grow and shine in their own way.

Krupesh Kotecha

Financial planner, Balance: Wealth Planning

I have worked in companies that have been slow to change their culture. It’s harder to voice your opinions or feel like your opinion matters when the vast majority think differently to you but all the same as each other. You feel like you can’t bring your whole self to work. In the end it wears you down and you begin to feel disillusioned with the whole profession.

Diversity in the workplace is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It fosters a greater workplace culture, which in turn leads to greater diversity. This creates a happier environment to work in, which leads to better outcomes internally and externally.

The differences diversity brings to the table support creative thinking, as different people often see things from different angles or in a new light. Importantly, it reflects the society in which we live and work, and this is evidenced at Balance not just by gender but ethnically, socially, and by the age of the workforce.

Financial services is notoriously slow to progress in this area and worryingly some companies will pay lip service to such issues but with very little real change being implemented – which is evidenced by the numbers.

There is more chance for progression in a diverse company. Better than that you feel your voice is heard and your opinion matters, which makes you want to work that bit harder.

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