Profile: Susan Hill on making planning appeal to women

By Amanda Newman Smith

Go to the profile of Money Marketing
Oct 24, 2018

Susan Hill director on making finance more appealing to women and the need for a central training academy

Think about your favourite products and services – the fragrance your partner bought you last Christmas; the last concert you went to; that meal you recently had at your local restaurant. Now think about the way they were packaged or presented to you.

Chances are someone somewhere gave it a million times more thought than you because their commercial success depends on piquing the interest of people like you. So why does the financial services industry not take a similar approach in trying to appeal to women, both as consumers and advisers? Susan Hill Financial Planning director Susan Hill wants to find out.

“This is one of my bugbears,” she says. “Nearly all literature, initial disclosure documents and product brochures are written as a manual.

“But it’s an academically proven fact that women learn differently; they are more visual. So why are we producing great swathes of text littered with obscure, pretty pictures of happy families?

“Wake up marketing departments – not every woman has children, not every woman is happily married, not every woman spends her retirement sitting on a sandy beach looking adoringly into her husband’s eyes.

“If you want to appeal to me, try working out what matters to me, how I learn; then I might engage.”

If the industry’s literature does not have wide appeal, is it any wonder many women go through life thinking advice – or a career in advice – is not something for them?

“I want to see a serious push, a serious recruitment drive, of women into this profession,” says Hill. “Running a small business is perfect for women who need time to fit a career around family.”

Hill should know. She has been running her own small IFA firm for the past six years, having entered financial services after six years in the Royal Air Force.

She had applied to a stockbroking firm after graduating from university, only to be told it just took women on in the back office. So she joined the RAF instead.

“The RAF has about 17 per cent women – more than financial advice which, at the last count, is 15 per cent,” she says. “The RAF treated women on par with the men. I did my officer training with men, I was commissioned with men, I did the same job as men.

“The only difference at that time was I was non-combatant, which meant I didn’t carry arms, although I trained on weapons during ground defence. I was an RAF accounts officer so, in effect, I never left finance, just a different area.”

Hill left the RAF in 1983 to move into tied/restricted advice. So why the transition to independent advice after 27 years? “I realised there would be a seismic shift to independence when commission payments were ended under the RDR,” she says.

“If you are new to the industry and inexperienced, being restricted may actually help because you shouldn’t go wrong – it’s laid out for you. But I feel I am too experienced now to be restricted. You get to a level of experience where you need to be in control of the things that matter.”

Since setting up Susan Hill Financial Planning in 2012, Hill has never wanted to run anything other than a small firm.

She says: “The small business IFA is the power of the advice profession. We know our market, we know our clients, and we are nimble enough to adapt to market conditions. What is painful is the burden and cost of regulation, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme levy and professional indemnity insurance. But being part of a network helps.”

Hill has spoken previously to Money Marketing about why, as a small business owner, she chose to become part of a network – currently Tenet – rather than go directly authorised. She says: “The biggest challenge when starting my own business was deciding whether to be directly authorised or an appointed representative, then finding the right network to work with. It goes back to values – where money is their key driver, I’ve tended to fall out with people. Finding a network with an ethical values fit wasn’t easy.”

Despite her enthusiasm for smaller firms, she acknowledges there are some challenges. “Where I struggle, like any small business owner in any industry, is training and recruitment,” she says.

“The cost of training someone to take on a technical role can be hard to sustain. There’s no obvious training system to bring through new entrants.

“We need a central professional training academy, but it will take money to provide the physical facility and then money to fund the training.

“We need Allied Dunbar’s old training facility at Wanborough. Just like my officer training days, some will love it and go on to have a successful career, while others will drop out. Small businesses could recruit from it and it could be easy to recruit women.”

Hill wants to be an inspiration for younger women to become advisers. She was among the first intake of advisers to become chartered but does she still think it is relevant as a mark of distinction, given how many proudly lay claim to the status these days?

“Chartered really does matter – it shows you are continuing your knowledge base – but I do wonder if it is being undermined. A chartered individual is different from a chartered firm and, as I am a sole director of a limited company, my firm doesn’t qualify for chartered status because there is only one director,” she says.

“Someone who is not chartered can say they are part of a chartered firm where there are three or more directors and can display the chartered firm logo everywhere, but I can only display it with my name.

“My other worry is the number of ‘youngest ever chartered financial planners’ aged 23. One of the chartered qualification requirements is to have five years’ relevant industry experience.

“Perhaps we ought to define relevant industry experience? I’m not sure your first job straight from school aged 18 should qualify.”

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