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Rise of women in the WM business

Rise of women in the WM business

The wealth management industry is busy getting ready for the next
generation of private banking clients – the millennials, who want to do things digitally and invest responsibly.

But there has been comparatively less focus on a related trend: the rise of female clients.

According to UBS research, the number of female billionaires has grown more than eightfold in Asia over the past decade, having doubled in Europe and increased by 70% in the US over the same period.

What’s more, 52% of Asian female billionaires are self-made, compared with 19% in the US and 7% in Europe.

The UBS report admits that this change has come from ‘a very small base’, but adds that ‘it tells the story of how women have played a part
in Asia’s economic rise.’

But it’s not just as clients that women are changing the wealth
management industry.

Several private banks are preparing to address the needs of high net worth women by boosting the number of female executives.

As Grizelda Lee, head of discretionary portfolio management for Asia at Indosuez Wealth Management, explains: ‘A woman can have a different discussion with a woman. The rapport might grow quicker.’

Lee even has first-hand experience of this difference. ‘I have this client who has a son with respiratory problems and we immediately struck up a conversation because my son had the same ailment. We started talking about remedies, solutions and doctors, and that broke the ice.’

‘Female clients definitely prefer having certain conversations with a fellow woman than with a man,’ she added.

For Anthonia Hui, co-founder of independent asset manager AL Wealth Partners, wealth management is a perfect industry for women.

‘If you look at the majority of private banks, they're dominated by women. There’s a reason for that.

Private banking is all about caring for your clients’ wealth and in the process of managing your clients’ wealth, you build a relationship. It’s about emotional exchange and that’s what women are comfortable with.’

The twin rise of female clients and female executives seems to be the product of a wider shift in attitudes in Asia. ‘Anecdotally, we see with the families we work with that this notion in Asia that sons go into business and daughters go into philanthropy doesn’t hold any more.

More and more, we meet women who are setting up these family offices, running the investments and being CEOs of the businesses.

Maybe [the trend is] even stronger here than in Europe,’ said Eric Landolt, head of Asia Pacific family advisory at UBS Wealth Management.

Making progress

It’s certainly heartening to see gender inequality being gradually dispelled from financial services.

Historically, the predominance of men in the industry has been the product of education and opportunities that were offered exclusively to them a few decades ago.

But things are changing; for the next generation of executives and relationship managers, gender seems to play a smaller role in their progression up the career ladder.

Speaking about the wealth management side of the industry at the Milken Institute’s Women Leaders’ Summit in Singapore, Tracey Woon – UBS Wealth Management’s Asia Pacific vice chairman – noted a stark difference from investment banking, where she spent 35 years.

‘In the wealth management world, there are far more women than there are in investment banking. When I was in investment banking, I
don’t think there were more than two women in my department at any given point of time, apart from me,’ she said.

Maternity leave has long been a major hurdle for women in the workplace, but female executives are increasingly taking it in their stride.

In fact, Indosuez WM’s Lee said that she was promoted soon after coming back from her maternity leave.

However, for others, like AL Wealth Partners’ Hui, becoming a mother can still mean making some sacrifices.

‘You can’t get everything. If I have to take maternity leave, my career will take a backseat or it will slow my career progression. So be it, because you want to be a mother and you want to have a family,’ she said.

Advice for advisers

Hui offers some advice to ambitious women within wealth management who feel they are at a disadvantage. ‘Men are not shy of asking [for promotions and pay raises] but women feel they need to be recognised before they can ask, because we are brought up with that and we doubt ourselves. Women also don’t put a number on it.

Unless you start talking like that, you won’t get what you’re worth,’
she said.

It may also be prudent for women who want to make it to the top to avoid companies with structural gender inequality through wage gaps
or discriminatory practices.

However, Hui prefers a more head-on approach to tackling the divide. ‘If you know how to work on your situation, there’s no inequality.

Break one glass ceiling at a time. Especially for the millennials – learn how to build up your qualities and control your own destiny.’

Most importantly, Hui recommends staying professional if you want to get on. ‘I’ve heard of women wining and dining and flirting. Then they ask for gender not to play a role!

‘If you are professional, you have no gender,’ she concluded.

This article was originally published on the Citywire Asia October issue magazine.

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