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Diversity Is Smart Business And Investment, Say Wealth Managers

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , London, 20 February 2020

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This news service spoke to a number of senior figures in the wealth management industry who had spoken at an Edinburgh conference focused on women in enterprise. It was a chance to cut through some cliches about diversity to identify what that should mean, and why it matters.

“Diversity” is a term that trips easily off the tongue but perhaps there’s not enough where it counts - different voices within business and finance. Arguably many recent problems are caused by an echo-chamber effect if talent comes from only one side. Take the 2008 crash and the complacency that spawned it. A bit more diversity of views might have made a difference.

This point arises when thinking about calls to open up wealth management, for example, to a more diverse talent pool. In plain language it means targeting, promoting and investing in more women; and hiring people from different groups outside the “pale, male and stale” backgrounds. It means getting in those who don’t fit the mould, haven’t attended a smart university or business school, and who have got their hands dirty outside bank dealing floors. 

More broadly, there is a need for more women to be involved across the modern business ecosphere, such as in supply chains, sourcing investment ideas and pressing the button in spending on infrastructure, opening markets and acquiring talent.

How does this point apply to wealth management? To address this, senior figures in the business and investment field recently spoke to WealthBriefing about their views on what diversity means in practice when it comes to women’s issues. They had been attending the first international women’s economic empowerment conference held in Scotland and organised by Women’s Economic Imperative (WEI), the global collaborative initiative, in partnership with Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES), the community interest company which focuses on the contribution women’s enterprise makes to the Scottish economy. (Other statements from the conference can be seen here.)

“We should be returning to a more inclusive form of capitalism,” Keith Skeoch, chief executive of Standard Life Aberdeen, said. (Skeoch was named to the post last year and has been a long-standing prominent figure in the UK’s investments industry.) “We are looking to get more women involved in the investment decision and in pushing hard for that.”

“You not only get diversity of opinion [by bringing in more women], there is evidence from surveys that women do take a longer, more balanced approach to things,” he continued. “I think getting more women involved in investment decisions and to allocate capital (to them) is very important,” Skeoch said. Being more diverse is smart business. 

There appears some evidence that hiring more women and pushing above the “glass ceiling” is clever business. Fidelity Investments, the US firm, found that female investors outperformed males in 2016, for example, by 0.3 per cent (source: CNN, 8 March 2017). A report said Fidelity found that females outdid men in the past decade. The same report said that data from Openfolio, an investment tracking app, also found the same trend.

Of course, such data should not be the clincher on its own, as there are wider reasons, so industry figures say, to bring in more women into the industry.

Women are increasingly important sources of investment and have business insights and ideas that need to be heard, Gillian Marcelle founder and managing member, Resilience Capital Ventures LLC, who spoke at the same Edinburgh event, said. 

She has a 20-year history of working towards gender equity within the technology space (besides Resilience, her career includes that of being executive director of UVI Research and Technology Park, and owner of Technology for Development TfDev).

Marcelle argues that while women have progressed in business and finance in some ways, the accelerating pace of technology change can work against them. To a degree, today’s modern technology firms continue to be dominated at the decision-making level by men. One problem is that regulations haven’t kept pace with development, such as the rise of Big Tech, which may work against women, Marcelle continued. 

Marcelle’s current advisory practice aims to provide strategic advisory services and acquire capital, working in regions such as the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa and sectors such as technology, impact investment, telecoms and energy. In her experience with her current and past businesses, overall returns and financial performance improve with a more diverse investment team. 

She also advocates creating networks among women, for example, to learn more about finance and investment in parts of the world that are not on the usual wealth management radar screens. Her Resilience business, which is part of the “invest for better” movement, aims to educate women entrepreneurs at becoming smarter at raising and deploying capital. 

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