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Financial services at risk of ‘going backwards’ with female representation, says FCA

  • 16/04/2024
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Financial services at risk of ‘going backwards’ with female representation, says FCA
The financial services sector risks “going backwards” when it comes to appointing women to wealth management and financial advice boardrooms, a director at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.

Speaking at the inaugural Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association (PIMFA) Women’s Symposium, Sheree Howard, executive director of risk and compliance oversight at the FCA, said there needed to be a change in firms’ cultures to attract female talent and investors. 

Howard said the financial advice and wealth management sectors still needed a “different and better mix of advisers and advice” in order for women to get the help required. 

While she noted there had been progress in the sector over the 30 years she worked in financial services, Howard said there was a danger of going backwards. 

She pointed to the 28% drop in the appointment of women to financial advice and wealth management boardrooms, saying this was continuing to decline. 

The same data released by EY earlier this year also showed that a third of all board appointments were female directors in 2023, down from 61% the year before. 


Pivot to mid-level and senior level roles 

Additionally, Howard said that, although the financial services sector had grown in the last year, the share of women employed had fallen from 51% to 43%. 

She attributed this to the cull of lower-skilled jobs, which were mainly held by women, and advances in technology. 

She said more needed to be done to attract women to the sector. 

Howard said firms should focus on appointing women into “more rewarding mid-level and senior roles”, saying this could be done by making sure firms had the right culture and women were promoted on their merit and hard work. She also said women needed to be retained within the industry regardless of their life choices. 


Inappropriate behaviour deterring women

Howard said women were mostly put off from joining the financial services sector because of high-profile cases of non-financial misconduct, such as sexual harassment. 

She said such behaviour could negatively affect a firm’s reputation and result in “toxic group think”. 

Howard said firms should deal with people that did “not meet their [professional] standards by risking their firm’s reputation, their clients’ money and their colleagues’ wellbeing”. 

She said people should make use of the FCA’s whistleblowing hotline and raised concerns about the “pernicious use of non-disclosure agreements [NDAs] to try to suppress whistleblowing”. 

Howard added: “It is worth reminding ourselves collectively that nothing in an NDA can prevent an individual from reporting an incident to the FCA. And I mean nothing.  

“Treating colleagues well, protecting against group think and delivering for a diverse range of customers should not be controversial or antagonistic. It’s the right thing to do.” 


Still work to do in financial services

Liz Field, chief executive of the PIMFA, agreed with Howard’s comments. 

She said: “The financial services industry has seen tremendous progress in both providing women with the opportunities that they need as well as creating a workplace [that] allows them to truly fulfil their potential.  

“While this progress is undeniable, it’s clear there is still much work to do and the figures outlined by the FCA are testament to that. Women are set to control 70% of global wealth within the next two generations, which makes the business case for the change in culture we want to see undeniable, and I echo Sharee Howard’s sentiments that this should be a wake-up call to the industry.” 

She added: “The PIMFA Women’s Symposium is an opportunity for our industry to recognise that business case and to seek to address the issues that matter to women, as well as learn more about the issues they face and concerns that [they] have when it comes to navigating investing, saving and advice.  

“We also strongly support the FCA’s expectations of firms to tackle individuals who do not meet their professional standards for both financial and non-financial misconduct. We believe that there is [a] clear role for the regulator to set out its expectations of firms in this regard and are committed to working with other relevant industry bodies to better equip firms with the tools needed to identify and act on issues of non-financial misconduct.” 

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