What spurs people on to commit to producing a podcast, especially in what is arguably already a very crowded market?
For Gretchen Betts, managing director of Magenta Financial Planning, and Olivia Parnell, a trainee financial planner with Ascot Lloyd, it came from a place of being passionate about diversity and inclusion.
It was also about having a forum to have some honest, albeit difficult, conversations.
Their new podcast, Financial Changemakers, launched last week and features guests from the world of financial services and beyond.
Each weekly episode focuses on a particular aspect of diversity and inclusion as it relates to the financial planning profession.
The discussions cover issues such as how to recognise where clients might be struggling with mental health, the issue of race within financial services and the role that age plays in the advice gap.
Gretchen says: “It all started with thinking about my own education around diversity and inclusion, especially spurred on by everything that happened last year with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Then Liv spoke at the NextGen Planners [virtual] conference about her experience and thoughts about race, and after that I approached her about the possibility of doing a project together.”
Olivia: "It felt like the perfect time to be talking about this, and I’ve tried to look at it from the point of view that if I say no, nobody else might say yes. So I’ve wanted to take those opportunities where I can.”
Olivia, who holds a first-class degree in sociology and psychology, has long had an interest in in the wealth disparities that exist for people accessing financial services.
Working on the podcast with Gretchen presented an ideal way to start having those kinds of frank discussions within the profession.
She says: “It’s all well and good to acknowledge the problems, but unless people are willing to have these conversations the ball’s just never going to get rolling.
"Gretchen and I took it upon ourselves to put this project together, and it’s been a really educational process for the both of us. It’s been fantastic.”
Olivia admits to being daunted at the prospect of addressing the NextGen conference last year, particularly as a trainee adviser.
But she says: “I’ve been fortunate in that a lot of opportunities have come my way, and they might not come up again.
"It felt like the perfect time to be talking about this, and I’ve tried to look at it from the point of view that if I say no, nobody else might say yes. So I’ve wanted to take those opportunities where I can.”
Getting past the first step
Gretchen says while there's an increasing awareness around the importance of diversity and inclusion in financial planning, the next stage is to actually do something about it.
“We’re still struggling to get past that step. It’s about taking a step in our businesses to make change, rather than just paying lip service to it. I think that comes through in every episode, but also in the wider discussions we’ve been having.
“The emphasis can fall back on us to explain everything, rather than individuals educating and taking responsibility themselves. So I think the podcast goes some way to help with that.
“It’s not about giving everyone the answers, because everyone’s got to find their own answers. But hopefully it’ll give some guidance about the kind of things we should be thinking about, and trying to get across the human reality of all this. I hope that will come out with some of the really quite tough conversations we’ve had with people.”
Olivia agrees there can be an onus on “proving” the diversity and inclusion cause and having to explain why it’s worth paying attention to.
Gretchen adds some people might not be ready to confront the diversity issue – Nucleus head of account management Amira Norris talked in last week’s episode about how the topic “won’t be for everyone”.
But Gretchen says: “The fact is we’ve all got to take some responsibility to improve the future of financial advice, the culture of our businesses, the experience of those working in them and those coming to us for advice.
“It’s very clear from a lot of the guests that different, diverse groups of people do need slightly differently things. We all need to be able to adapt our businesses for that.”
The podcast episodes are structured so that each episode includes some key takeaways for people to either put into practice in their own firms, or think about how the issues raised might affect those around them.
Both Gretchen and Olivia readily accept that mistakes can be made when dealing with sensitive topics, and that people can worry about offending someone or saying the wrong thing.
Yet they feel by bringing these conversations out into the open, planners can then think in a slightly different way about who might walk through their door, and how that then might inform the approach advisers take.
Following the launch episode last week, Financial Changemakers is set to cover a lot of interesting (and perhaps untrodden) ground over the coming weeks.
The latest episode released today features Anna Sofat, associate director, wealth at The Progeny Group.
Anna focuses on what the statistics tell us about the number of women in financial planning and advice, and how the small proportion of women working in the profession has sadly moved very little in the space of 15 years.
She also discusses what can be done about the ‘sticky middle’, where women still face the crunch point of having a family versus progressing their career, with many choosing to leave the sector as a result.
In another episode, inspirational speaker Nick Elston talks about the lived experience of mental health.
Nick has worked with the Initiative for Financial Wellbeing and NextGen Planners, as well as accountancy practices and tax advisers.
His episode looks at professionals and mental health and the impact that can have on clients, and also covers the issue of vulnerable clients.
There is also an interesting debate around age and advice with guests Tom Henshaw of Bowmore Financial Planning and Jane Gow of Clear Cut Financial Planning, including discussions on younger planners serving clients of different ages and how to attract younger people to take advice.
From personal experience
As a trainee adviser, Olivia knows all too well the challenges of starting out in the profession.
She is also well versed in the challenges of the advice gap from the perspective of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community; those who would benefit from taking advice but can’t access it or afford to do so.
“I was very aware that I was going to be working in a profession surrounded by people that don't necessarily look like me. And for me, who is employed will inevitably create the culture for who that service is provided to. I want to work in a profession that's representative of the society that we're trying to serve.
“We’re not going to change or fix the wealth disparities in our country and we won’t be able to scratch the surface of this unless we hold up a mirror to our profession, and look at who’s employed in it.”
She firmly believes diversity and inclusion should stem from wanting to create change in people’s everyday lives and through challenging our own perceptions - not from “coming into work and putting your diversity and inclusion hat on”.
On entering the profession at her previous employer (before she joined Ascot Lloyd), Olivia was on the receiving end of comments such as “you only got this job because you’re female and black”, with similar comments when she was asked to speak at the NextGen conference.
“Some people didn’t think about the fact that my sociology and psychology background might mean that when I’m sitting in front of clients, I’d be able to bring something to the table. It makes you have to work 10 times harder, because it puts that pressure on you and makes you question, well, why else am I here?
“When things like that are said to you, it makes you feel like that that's all they see. People just saw me as a diversity quota. I think that's one of the reasons why I've taken all these opportunities, to kind of show there's a reason why I'm here.”
Gretchen says for her the driving force behind launching the podcast and continuing to develop a diverse financial planning practice has been clients.
Female clients in particular have sought out Magenta Financial Planning after feeling spoken down to or bamboozled with jargon at previous advice firms. But Gretchen got to thinking: what if our appeal went beyond women?
“I want to know that someone who’s disabled could feel they could come to us, or someone who’s struggling with talking about their sexuality and not sure if they’re going to be judged when they seek advice. I want people to come in and feel comfortable to have that conversation, with us but also other advisers too.
“There’ll be people who aren’t thinking about diversity, because the current way of doing things is nice and comfortable. I’ve said before about how when I was setting up Magenta my mum encouraged me to let go of the job I’d been in for years, to ‘take the slippers off and put on the stilettos’. The idea being that change was painful, but you’ve got to do it.
“I feel diversity and inclusion is a bit like this as well. I know things are comfy, but it’s time now. 2021 is hopefully going to be better for everyone, the time is now to speak out and do something about it.”
Hey everyone, we are live! 💫🤩— Financial Changemakers Podcast (@FinancialChang1) January 13, 2021
Listen to our opening episode on all the usual platforms, Spotify, Apple & Google 🎧 With thanks to our first guests @AmiraNorris & @NxtGen_Progress Rohan Sivajoti for getting the conversation started! Enjoy!https://t.co/4VEaJTtDnn
The podcast has effectively been built around this idea of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Sometimes diversity and inclusion is a welcome part of the conversation around evolving financial planning for the better, yet sometimes it is met with the refrain that it's ‘not my problem’.
But Olivia says it’s important to recognise that response itself can come from a place of privilege.
“I’ve been told ‘I don’t see race’, or ‘I don’t see racism as an issue’. And my response is: ‘How nice that must be for you where you don’t have to think about that.
“Equally, I don’t want people to assume that because I’m black I know everything there is to know about diversity and inclusion.
“We’re going to say the wrong things or word questions the wrong way. But we can be open to that feedback and think about using more mindful language instead.”
She hopes the podcast will get these kinds of conversations going, whether at work among peers or at home with family, and that it will provide some useful tools in thinking about the people around us.
Gretchen points out that the podcast is called Financial Changemakers to reflect the listeners; those who are interested in learning more about diversity and inclusion and to make a positive change in their lives and their businesses.
“This isn’t about Liv and I, it’s about understanding what we could all do, and taking those small steps. That’s quite important to remember.
“Even if it's just the quote we give at the end of the episode, or the key takeaway, or something one of the guests said, if a listener can relate that to their business, staff or clients, then the podcast will have done what we wanted it to do.”