What's it like being a woman in the financial planning industry?

We sat down with chartered IFA Sandra Saint to talk about her career, and how the industry has changed for women.

What got you into financial planning?

For me, it was about becoming self-employed. I really didn’t like being trapped in a 9 to 5 job. I had a PhD in chemistry and a job in industry, but the drudgery of keeping to a fixed schedule made me look elsewhere.

I originally started my career in finance, actually – in my first ever job. But I didn’t get very far. This was in the 1970s. It was difficult; you really felt like there was a ceiling.

I was working at a major high street bank and I got sent home for wearing trousers. So, after that, I came in every day wearing trousers until they stopped sending me home. My boss was livid, but I wasn’t standing for it – it was my Emmeline Pankhurst moment.

Thankfully the industry has changed a lot since then. But it was the lack of progression in finance that made me go back to college and start studying to become a scientist.

What were your goals going into this business, and have you managed to achieve them?

I’m not a sales-oriented person. I don’t do targets or product pitches. My biggest goal was to become chartered – and to be the best I could as an adviser so I could help my clients.

My experience gaining a doctorate had taught me that, once you’ve got your qualifications, no-one can take them away from you. It gives you a lot of clout, and it makes people take you seriously.

It also gives you the confidence to sit in front of clients. You feel more comfortable in yourself because you’ve got plenty of knowledge. Clients see that – and I can honestly say no client has ever doubted me because I’m female.

If anything, you sometimes have more of an advantage as a female adviser these days. Men and couples don’t tend to mind either way, but you will get some single female clients who prefer to discuss their personal finances with another woman.

It’s a lot more common for women to be independently wealthy nowadays – especially among those who are a bit older and maybe retired or divorced. So arguably it’s a good time to be female in the advice profession.

What would you say to other women considering becoming a financial adviser?

Study, study, study, is the first one. Let’s face it, male or female, becoming highly qualified is the quickest way to progress in any career nowadays.

I’d also say you need to be patient. Building a client bank doesn’t happen overnight. I lived off my savings for three years before I started making a decent income from being an adviser.

For younger people who don’t have savings or a partner to support them, it might take a little longer. You might have to go down the paraplanning route or try to get an employed trainee role. But there’s nothing to stop you if you’re committed to making it a success.

Lastly, I’d say work-life balance is essential. My main hobbies are rock climbing and yoga – I teach yoga in my local area. These activities really clear my brain and help me unwind if I’m having a stressful time at work.

Keeping the right balance is especially important when you’re self-employed, as there’s no-one there to tell you to take a break. If you’re not careful, you can end up working around the clock.

Overall, it’s a very rewarding career path, as you get to see the direct impact you’re having on people’s lives. If you’re a people person and willing to work hard, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

My only regret is that I lacked the confidence to make a go of it the first time around. If I could talk to my younger self now, I’d tell her to keep focused on her goal and not let anyone undermine her confidence in herself and push on through. Then maybe I never would have made the detour into academia, and I would have become a chartered financial adviser much sooner. Young women today are in a much better position in that regard.

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