Profile: Susan Hill on making planning appeal to women
By Amanda Newman Smith
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.”