Grosvenor Consultancy’s Alice Douglass explains why life as a financial adviser suits her down to the ground and how technological advancements are aiding rather than threatening an industry that continues to evolve.
When you were at university, where did you see your career going? Did you end up where you thought you would, or has life taken an unexpected turn? Alice Douglass, an Independent Financial Adviser with Grosvenor Consultancy, did a Masters degree in fashion retail before changing tack and taking up life in the financial industry.
“I found fashion a bit fickle,” Alice says, “so I temporarily started working for my dad’s company, called Professional Insurance Services, where he was a financial adviser. I soon decided I was going to stay permanently and become a financial adviser. My aim was to eventually take over the business. Unfortunately for me, my dad and the other directors sold the business in 2007.”
Alice initially stayed at Professional Assurance Services, but eventually decided the new company’s values weren’t really aligned with what she wanted to do. A move to Standard Life was followed by a spell at Zurich Insurance before she joined Grosvenor Consultancy four years ago.
“We’re self employed financial advisers within the company, so I started off without any clients and built my business up over the last four years,” she says.
While her profession may not have a reputation as the most exciting in the world, Alice maintains that there’s nothing she’d rather be doing. “I think some people think financial services and being a financial adviser is really boring,” she says, “but I find it really exciting and I think that people should find their money exciting and want to be engaged with it.
“I love my clients and I really love getting to know them,” she continues, “no two clients are the same, no two days are the same, it is really brilliant. I just love the human side of things, and I love the analysis side of things.”
Almost half of the financial service firms in the UK (47%) did not employ any female advisers in 2017, according to research from Investec Wealth and Investment. What’s it like working in an industry which is still heavily male dominated?
“I went to a seminar today and as I was I was walking to it I looked through the window and thought ‘ah, a room full of men, that’s got to be where I’m headed’,” Alice says, “I have had instances whereby people have asked me if I’ve been let out for the day, or just presumed that I’m an administrator or paraplanner.”
“If I answer the phone when clients phone the office,” she continues, “they again assume that I’m an administrator. They don’t ever think that I might be a financial adviser. They automatically assume I can help them with their queries even though I don’t know anything about other advisers’ clients.”
Surely these sexist assumptions must be incredibly annoying? “They shouldn’t make the assumption that if I’m out with my male colleague that I’m his administrator. It is quite frustrating. I do tend to just laugh it off, or say ‘Oh no, I’m a financial adviser’ and make sure I put them right. I do think it is happening less, but it does still happen,” Alice says.
Despite these early assumptions, Alice doesn’t think female financial advisers are treated differently to their male counterparts once people realise the woman is qualified to help them.
“I’ve had one client where it was quite clear that he wasn’t impressed that I was a woman, but I think that’s maybe more personality. I’ve had male clients who haven’t gelled with male financial advisers and they’ve found that they’ve gelled with me better. It’s who you have similarities with, who you get on well with and work well with,” she says.
While statistics in 2018 showed that just 17% of financial advisers are women, annecodately things seem to be slowly changing. “Today at the seminar there were 32 people and seven of them were women. So there’s still an imbalance there,” says Alice, “but I keep an eye on the numbers and it is improving and getting better.”
“I think it’s making people more aware of what financial advisers do and actually that it is a really interesting people role to encourage more women to consider it as an option,” she continues, “I probably wouldn’t have chosen it if my dad had not had the financial advice company.”
What advice would Alice give to young women who are interested in a career as a financial adviser? “I would suggest in the first instance they go and have a conversation with a financial adviser to see what their experience is,” she says, “perhaps a female financial adviser, so they can understand what their perception and perspective is and how they work. I would definitely say to go for it, understand more about it. Go for it.”
“I think it’s an absolutely brilliant career,” she continues, “the nice thing about it is you can be quite flexible with it, so if you have children, you can work around them and potentially work part time or do evening appointments. It’s a brilliant career, very flexible. I do feel that every week there is something I’ve done which has helped people.”
Alice started her career fourteen years ago when technology was very different. How have technological advancements changed the industry?
“I remember when I started out I would ring up probably about 10-15 different providers to get evaluations,” Alice says, “review their prices and client holdings to prepare for their review meetings, whereas now we are able to use online platforms and so on. It just means we’re not spending so much time gathering information.”
“Back office systems have evolved massively and you can quite easily share documents without having to post them,” she continues, “which is brilliant because one of the things I’m quite passionate about is the environment. We tend, as a profession, to generate a lot of paper, so with the ability to encrypt things and share them on the cloud … it has made it a bit better for us, the clients and the environment.”
As technology continues to advance and artificial intelligence grows smarter by the day, are financial advisers at risk of being made redundant?
“I don’t think so,” says Alice, “there is a place for AI to sit alongside financial advice, but I don’t think they will replace us. I think advisers themselves should almost embrace it as a proposition that they can put forward for their clients who don’t require full face-to-face financial advice.”
“There’s an advert on telly for a robot that mows your lawn,” she continues, “and the robot mows it, but it seems to do it in some weird pattern and you’re just going to end up with a patchy lawn. Some people won’t mind that, but other people will need an actually pristinely mowed lawn. It’s not a very good analogy, but I just think for some people the robotic little lawn mower is fine, but for others it won’t be.”