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How Diverse Are Europe's Financial Boardrooms? – Here's The Data

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor, London, 28 June 2022

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There's much talk about diversity in the world of finance, but sometimes not much concrete evidence of how this pans out in practice. EY recently polled hundreds of institutional investors to get the data.

Many of the boards of Europe’s largest financial services firms don’t have enough skills, experience in diversity that directors claim is important, according to EY’s inaugural survey of the region’s corporate boardrooms. Among its findings is that wealth and asset managers have the highest percentage share of women at boardroom level.

EY, the global accountancy and professional services firm, polled views of more than 300 institutional investors in financial companies across the UK (202), Germany (33), Switzerland (34), and France (33).

“The Boardroom Monitor shows that boardrooms across Europe demonstrate a great depth of experience in many of the traditional areas which investors deem valuable. While they may be underrepresented in newer areas, such as sustainability and tech, and still have work to do on diversity, we can see action is being taken to address this,” Bruno Patusi, financial services country leader at EY in Switzerland, said.

The study found that 44 per cent of respondents said gender diversity in the boardroom “significantly” influenced their decision to invest in a financial services company, compared with only 16 per cent who say it does not influence their decision at all. Although all European financial services firms monitored have some female representation at boardroom level, the gender split across all firms stands at 37 per cent female and 63 per cent male. 

Among Swiss banks and insurers, the percentage of female board directors is even lower: The gender split stands at 28 per cent female and 72 per cent male. The German financial services boardroom is the least gender diverse, where the gender split of board directors in Germany is 25 perc cent females, 75 per cent male.

Overall, France and Italy are the most advanced in gender diversity at boardroom level. The gender split among board directors in Italy is 47 per cent female, 53 per cent male, and in France, it stands at 44 per cent female, 56 per cent male. In the UK, the gender split among board directors is 39 per cent female, 61 per cent male.

Gender diversity is highest among board members of wealth and asset management firms, where 41 per cent are female and 59 per cent male. Across banking boards, this drops to 37 per cent female and 63 per cent male, and within insurers it is 36 per cent female and 64 per cent male. 

EY said its analysis shows that 42 per cent of female board members have been appointed within the last three years, whereas only 31 per cent of male board members have been appointed within the same period. The average board tenure for female directors is 55 months, compared with the average board tenure for men of 65 months.

Age diversity
On age diversity, 45 per cent of shareholders think financial services boards need representation from a wide age range to operate effectively in a digital era. Just under a third (31 per cent) of shareholders believe that boardrooms do not need representation from a wide age range. Despite these views, only 8 per cent of companies monitored have any board members under the age of 40.

More than half (51 per cent) of institutional investors say having political experience within the boardroom is “significant” in terms of making a company an attractive investment, including a quarter (25 per cent) who think it is “highly significant.” Ninety-seven per cent of financial services firms monitored have at least one board member with experience of working in politics or for a government industry body, and 44 per cent of all businesses monitored have more than a third of their boards comprising individuals with political experience.

The market with the lowest political expertise is Italy, where just 20 per cent of board directors have this skillset. At a sector level, all asset management and insurance boardrooms have members with political experience, while in banking, 94 per cent of firms have members with political experience on their boards.

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