How Investment Firms Embrace Flexibility to Retain and Attract Female Advisors

Research has found that the companies that are most successful in recruiting and retaining women are those with a mandate to have more women in leadership positions.ti-ja/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

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Like many women, Vanessa Flockton, senior vice president of advisory services at Nicola Wealth Management Ltd. in Vancouver, took some time off from her commercial banking career to have children. She chose to be a stay-at-home mom for seven years.

“I was one of those women who didn’t necessarily stay connected to all my contacts and didn’t keep my toes in the water,” she says.

When she was looking to return to work, she met John Nicola, Managing Director of Nicola Wealth, through friends who were clients of his firm and she was hired in an advisory role.

Ms. Flockton asked to work part-time. “[John] basically says, “Do what you need to do, build your toolkit and your skills, and when your daughter is older, you can go,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder. In fact, I probably worked more because it was motivating to have control and the ability to make my own decisions.

This flexibility is one of the reasons why 30% of Nicola Wealth advisors are women. The company also has four women in the management team out of 10, including Ms. Flockton.

Although it is increasingly clear that women will inherit most of the wealth of the previous generation and that they prefer to work with female advisors, the investment industry is still strongly dominated by men, according to a survey by Toronto-based marketing firm Strategy Marketing.

This company’s research found that less than a quarter (23%) of councilors are women. This includes those working in retail banking, where the percentage of women is significantly higher than in investment dealers or mutual funds.

“It baffled us that the numbers continue to be low even though many managers are now required to attract women as financial advisors,” says Paulette Filion, partner at Strategy Marketing.

Although the industry wants to attract more women, she says research has found hiring managers, mostly men, tend to seek out advisers who would make good salespeople. When asked why they weren’t hiring more women, managers said they couldn’t find any.

But the research also found that the companies that are most successful in recruiting and retaining women are those with a mandate to have more women in leadership positions. These companies also offer flexibility and understand that the needs of women must be considered in the recruitment process.

Nicola Wealth already had a similar process, which was a benefit, especially for women, Ms Flockton says. Nonetheless, the company formalized a program three years ago where interested employees can progress to a Wealth Planning Associate role and then become a Senior Wealth Planning Associate. After that, they can choose to be advisors, move into management, or move on to other parts of the business.

She says this training and development was already happening in the company, but senior management formalized the program.

“Our model is to grow organically, and we have an ambitious goal that 80% of our new advisors come from our internal pipeline,” she says.

Those interested in the career do not need to have financial knowledge to participate in the program, but they must take the necessary courses, says Ms. Flockton. There is also no set time to complete the program, so people can set their own pace.

“I would describe it a lot as a learning program and…that it recognizes that women need to do things at certain times in their lives,” she says. “You can be flexible with your talent as you go through different stages in life.”

Offer flexibility to women on board

Libby Wildman, Head of Wealth Advisory at Davis Rea Ltd. in Toronto, also says flexibility is key to retaining talent and serving customers. The small investment advisory firm has a team of 11 – including six women – and instead of a one-on-one client-advisor relationship, the entire team works with clients.

This gives the team the flexibility to take time off or work outside normal working hours for personal reasons.

Ms. Wildman gives the example of a team member caring for a sick relative. “She wants to go and spend every afternoon with her mom. She can do it and work in the evening. We told her it was up to her.

That way, when Ms. Wildman sees an email from her at 9 p.m., she knows the team member has chosen to work those hours.

Large companies also have programs in place to support female advisers. One is RBC Dominion Securities Inc.’s RN furlough program. Jennifer Lemieux, branch manager and senior investment advisor in Kingston, Ont., says the company launched the program five years ago after getting the advisers’ comments.

When an advisor must be absent, one wonders who will take care of his clients. With the RN leave program, a dedicated team will work with the advisor to ensure a smooth transition when the advisor leaves and returns to their role. This way, the advisor can take time off knowing they can return and continue working with their clients with minimal disruption.

“Parental leave [part of the IA Leave Program] was historically shorter,” explains Ms. Lemieux, adding that it was around three months. Now, the trend is to take between six months and a year off.

And women aren’t the only ones taking longer parental leave. Men also take time off.

“By supporting these programs, you develop a deeper level of trust with your advisors,” explains Ms. Lemieux. “They know you care about them as an individual, not just as part of the company’s revenue.”

The value of working with an organization that encourages women advisors is that the traditional barriers that discourage women from considering the financial services industry don’t exist, says Ms. Flockton. This allows advisors to thrive.

“The most important thing with women is that you have to be flexible,” she says. “The mindset has to be, ‘He’s a great talent, so how can I be flexible and make it work for them so they want to stick around?'”

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