The times they are a-changin: how financial advice is being modernised by women and technology

In the latest interview in our women in finance series, Sarah Hogan, talks to The Modern Adviser about financial education, the gender gap, technology, and… Serena Williams.

Serena Williams, Sheryl Sandberg and J. K. Rowling,” These are just a few of the successful women that inspire KBA FS Ltd Director Sarah Hogan. However, there is one inspirational figure that Sarah puts above any other — that is former First Lady, Michelle Obama. “She’s a graduate from Princeton and Harvard, a fantastic mother and she has so much grace and class,” Sarah told The Modern Adviser. “She is an inspiration to young women everywhere to spread their wings and soar — and so they should!”

One person to add to the list of inspirational women in the world of financial advice is Sarah herself. Since joining the industry 12 years ago, she has become Director of a leading financial firm and was nominated for Professional Adviser’s Woman of the Year in October. Sarah is aware that she exemplifies the progress made over the last decade but observes there is still a long way to go.

“It’s great to be involved in such a brilliant industry in which women are underrepresented and to be able to show women there is a role for them in the future of financial advice,” Sarah explains.

It was not simply due to her gender that Sarah struggled to thrive in her workplace at first. “I did get some negativity about being a younger adviser, as I joined when I was only 23.”

In 2007 the average age of an adviser was 58 and Sarah had to battle many who told her a young up-and-comer in their twenties could not tell someone in their 60s what they should be doing with their money.

Not one to succumb to such negativity, Sarah learned to disregard her age and focus on her qualifications, her ability to listen to the clients’ needs ,and to learn from more experienced advisers. Her priority is the client and, as she puts it, “I like to help people, so helping clients to reach financial independence and the rewards that brings is a wonderful role to have. I think it’s a fantastic career to have in an environment that is constantly changing and keeping us on our toes.”

In a rapidly changing industry, Sarah suggests the credit crunch was a pivotal moment that compelled positive change.

“The mortgage industry has tightened up, we’ve been through RDR and the scrapping of commissions, pension freedoms — to name but a few — and these are just on the regulation side.”

It is not just the financial market which has evolved. The type of person who deals with them has radically changed too.

“Younger people are coming through structured training programs and academies like the one we have with Openwork,” Sarah notes. “More paraplanner type roles are coming through and more people are seeing the benefit of qualifications as well.”

In the finest traditions of Bob Dylan, it seems those ‘times they are a-changin’, but Sarah does not fear the new age of financial advice. Quite the contrary.

“Twelve years ago we were overrun with paper filing systems and now everything is on a database, it’s online, or in the cloud,” she says. “We use cash flow forecasting and we are now using artificial intelligence to better understand our client bank. Technology will continue to shape the industry.”

Even though technology has entered the marketplace in an unprecedented way, Sarah believes it is just the start of the digital revolution.

“I would like to see more technology to help our businesses; regulation will no doubt change what we advise on as it has done in the past. We need better technology to improve the processes we use, and there’s naturally going to be more use of mobile apps, to make things easier for the consumer. And of course, there’s Robo-advice to consider.”

The future should not just be a progression for technology though, notes Sarah, as there is still work to be done when it comes to negotiating the advice gap. The sad fact remains that on average, women seek financial advice far less than men do.

“Women may have felt intimidated if they had a lack of knowledge,” Sarah acknowledges, “So I think we need to reach more women by communicating effectively — like social media — to explain the impact of delaying financial advice.

“I think we are moving in the right direction but women need to understand financial advice themselves and realise that ‘a man is not a plan’. They need to ensure they are protected.”

Considering some 50% of marriages end in divorce, the need for women to secure their financial situation has never been more urgent.

“It is very likely that at some point a woman is going to have to take care of herself and she needs to know what that entails. Lovely as my male colleagues are, there are more and more female financial advisers that women can seek out for help and guidance and they should do this regardless of whether they are in a relationship or not.”

Come 2050, Sarah remains optimistic that many of these issues will be further addressed by the industry.

“I hope we have a great industry that’s trusted by the consumer, that we have managed to fix the advice gap so that everyone can get good financial advice, and that there’s more of a balance of gender in the industry. And I hope we continue to use technology efficiently to supplement the best human financial advice possible.”

If just half of these issues are prioritised and addressed, the future promises a potential golden age of financial advice based around inclusiveness, facilitated by brilliant tech and exceptional human face-to-face advice.