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Why we need more female advisers

To work in insurance requires a sharp suit and a mathematical mind? Wrong.

Saturday, July 15th 2023, 12:43PM 19 Comments

The persistent gender gap in life insurance in New Zealand can be observed through two major metrics.

One is that women are heavily under-represented in the advisory industry; according to the Financial Markets Authority (FMA), as of June 2021, women make up around 28% of financial advisers in New Zealand.
The other - likely a consequence of the first, at least in part - is that in an overall underinsured nation (per Financial Services Council research), women have significantly less cover, with between 14 and 25 percent lower sums insured than men for trauma, life, and income protection insurance.

Gemma Vivian (pictured), general manager Adviser Engagement Distribution at Partners Life, knew nothing about insurance when she started working in the field nearly 14 years ago.

“Back then, Naomi [Ballantyne] was one of the only female CEO’s. If you put on a women’s event, there were about 15 women on the invite list as they were really the only ones in the industry. When I joined the BDM team six years ago, there were only two women and now half our team of 15 are female."

"What I’d like to see though are more women, especially younger women, in the field as insurance advisers as they play a huge role in education and wield massive power for change.” She notes that anecdotally just around a third of those who have income protection with Partners Life are women.

A common misconception, Vivan says, is that working in the world of insurance requires a sharp suit and a mathematical mind.

“You’re not in the financial services industry, you’re in the people industry. You’re changing people’s lives. The more diversity of thought we have; the more people are represented and the closer we all come to seeing more equal insurance protection across gender and ethnicity.”

Vivian points out that insurance advisers have the flexibility to get out what they put in. For women who are looking after young children, for example, the hours are flexible and bringing your authentic self to meetings – many of which now take place online – actually attracts clients who are drawn to that.

“Dealing with rejection is also a big part of the job, and so is the tenacity it takes to make approaches and seek connections to people who could be helped. Confidence plays a role in this, and this is an area where the vocabulary should be more inclusive of young girls whose view of the world and their place in it is being critically shaped at a younger age with the modern connectivity we now have.”

The comparatively low profile of women in the advisory sector arguably contributes to lesser awareness of what insurance can do - even among people who do hold policies. Raelene Rees, a self-employed chartered accountant, has had extensive cover for herself, her family, and her accountancy practice for many years, and for the past two decades has used the services of her friend and one of the industry's top female advisers, Steph Wiki.

When she switched to Wiki from her previous adviser, Rees says, "It was just a relief to have someone in charge of our insurances that knew our family and had our back. I fell off my bike and broke my pelvis and was telling Steph I was on crutches. She said, You can claim for that. I would have had no idea otherwise - Insurance not being front of mind I never considered being able to claim."

Though her professional background meant the claims process was not daunting, it is telling that the strength of Rees's relationship with her adviser - mentioning in a casual chat that she'd had an accident - was the necessary trigger for a claim.

Rees has ideas for how to improve New Zealand’s woeful stats around personal insurance: "I think when someone starts their job, takes out KiwiSaver, they should also take out insurance. Get good habits early on. I have never understood why so few people have trauma cover when the risk of trauma is so high."

Cheryl Bowie, director and executive coach at Mind Coach, also works with Steph Wiki and says she selected her for her experience, credibility, and rapport, having used a different adviser previously. In terms of specific advice about issues she hadn't been aware of, Bowie says,

"Steph did an amazing job of finding a way to get more cover for pre-existing conditions that no longer existed or risk factors which felt, in my mind, really unfair to be penalised for.

"I feel very strongly that there needs to be more financial literacy in our school curriculum, especially targeting girls and young women so they are empowered to have more choices later in their lives that financial literacy and savvy affords."

What can the industry, and wider society, do about this gender gap across pay, insurance, and even KiwiSaver inequalities – where data gathered by Te Ara Ahunga Ora the Retirement Commission shows the average balance for a woman is 20 percent lower than that of a man?

Encouraging more women into the advisory space to offer guidance to people who can relate to them is a start.

The team at Partners Life see that closing the gender pay gap, and properly calculating the value of all work done by women, whether inside or outside the home, translates to more equitable insurance outcomes. The difference in the sums insured between men and women exists in part because men earn more than women on average, so they have a higher income to replace in the event of their death or inability to work.

Tags: Partners Life women

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Comments from our readers

On 15 July 2023 at 8:09 pm LNF said:
There is no impediment to females becoming advisers and never has been. If they want to they can. If they do not then that is their choice
On 17 July 2023 at 11:00 am Frustrated Advisor said:
Female Adviser here - articles like this frustrate me - right person = right job. Should not be you must have to have 50% female or male, or even race both are irrelevant. Right person these sorts of articles take us back to the old ages prior to women being given the vote. We have moved on so much from here and if there are only 28% females so be it! This article also seems to be a promo for one particular female adviser was this the intention. Stop taking us backwards - all genders are equal and if not represented equally then perhaps it is as simple as they were not the right person for the job!!! Ooops sorry rant over was a very mixed up article
On 17 July 2023 at 2:33 pm Do what is right said:
So correct LNF. Where are they? We would all love more advisers whether it be male or female. Why ae they not lining up to join?

We need to remember of course, that you cannot force people into a role that they do not want.
On 17 July 2023 at 4:46 pm w k said:
what the industry need is more dedicated advisers, regardless of race or gender, not just "qualified". of course basic qualifications and some training will be needed.
in my 40 years of practice, not once did my client asked about my credentials, yet 90% of my new biz comes from existing clients. and, zilch complaints in 40 years. i take this as good customer outcome.
On 19 July 2023 at 2:31 pm LLAK said:
Female adviser here. Unless you’ve been on the receiving end of some of the extra obstacles we face merely based on our gender it is difficult to understand.

20+ years in the industry and luckily there is a shift in attitudes and nonsensical rubbish is less tolerated however we still have a way to go.

I believe in right person for the role however it’s nice to see the ‘old boys club’ is slowing fading out.

On 20 July 2023 at 8:52 am JPHale said:
@W K agree. Exactly what's needed
On 22 July 2023 at 9:30 am Assurance said:
The more accepted use of video conferencing has been great and also brings down another barrier for female advisers.

I have had 2 sexual advances from clients in the past, at a home meeting with male clients. One where I had to leave FAST.

Just another example of challenges female advisers have that male colleagues would most likely never have to even think of.
On 24 July 2023 at 3:50 pm Eyeinthesky said:
@LLAK, it would be interesting to hear some specifics (rather than generalities) as to what you are referring to, when you say "...some of the extra obstacles we face merely based on our gender...."
On 25 July 2023 at 12:16 pm Very Frustrated Adviser said:
@LLAK well over 20 years in the industry never witnessed any issues based on gender staff member & adviser. Any obstacles in my way were of my making and not seeking the opportunities not because I was a female! Simply frustrating that this sort of thing is still being talked about we are equal as long as we think we are and act that way. If an old boys club existed then once again all the old boys I have had the priveledge of working with would have "allowed lol" any female to join if they wanted. I have been included whenever I have wanted to be and any opportunity I sought I believe I was treated on equal footing :-) shame if that is not everyone's experience.
On 29 July 2023 at 7:46 pm Assurance said:
Happy to share a few specifics :)

- Unwanted sexual advances from male advisers (multiple occasions, including on a MDRT trip - by a kiwi adviser.)
- Unwanted sexual advances from clients while at their home conducting insurance meeting, where I’ve felt unsafe and had to leave.
- Having to consistently let someone know when you are at appointments for safety reasons.
- At my first adviser conference being asked who’s PA I was (not in a nice way), followed on with smart arse remarks when I responded I was an adviser.

These are unacceptable situations, which if someone was not resilient would make it difficult to continue in any industry.

I’d like to point out the majority of all advisers are fantastic people, who lift one another up.

I’m also really glad to hear above that another female in the industry only has good things to say however unfortunately this has not always been the case for myself and just because you may not have experienced this doesn’t take away from the fact these things happened.
On 1 August 2023 at 11:24 am w k said:
@assurance: i don't know you, but i'm only guessing here, you're very good looking.

here's just my opinion, not an advice,

1. stick with female clients. if it's a married man, meet him together with his wife only or with a colleague. ignore single male clients.

2. harass from male adviser? just slap them hard in the face. they'll back off.

3. nothing against mdrt, but why? is it for the prestige that you have to pay for to join and attend? must have cost more than $5k each year. why not invest those money wisely or go on a personal/family trip to re-charge instead of listening to those "rah rah" speeches? curious.
On 1 August 2023 at 11:51 am EC said:
As a male I think that there are clearly issues that females in our industry face that males do not.

Harassment being a big one.

I have seen first hand the behaviour of males within our industry and to act like this does not occur is either based around genuine ignorance or willful deceit.

Thankfully as the demographic in the industry is slowly changing, these behaviours are becoming less and less evident.

That is not to say they are not there in some of the younger males in the industry though. I recently had a female colleague report to me multiple male adviser colleagues who have been "handsy" with her over the past couple of years.

Irrespective of the experiences of some of the females in the comments section,
these kind of occurrences are still a reality for females in our industry.

As "Assurance" stated above though - the majority of advisers are genuinely good people. But like every industry we have our issues that need cleaning up and areas where we need to imrpove.
On 1 August 2023 at 1:01 pm LLAK said:
NB: To avoid confusion, I changed my username from LLAK mid way through this conversation.
On 1 August 2023 at 3:48 pm Murray Weatherston said:
@LLAK your last message a bit confusing to me.
Are you saying you have changed your usernamne on GR from LLAK to Assurance - or am I really confused?
On 1 August 2023 at 6:52 pm LLAK said:
Hi Murray,

That’s correct. Updated my GR assigned username :)
On 6 August 2023 at 12:58 pm Assured said:
I'd like to 100% back LLAK/Assurance's comments, as a female adviser I've been in many of the same situations:
- unwanted advances from male advisers, including one instance where I suspect my drink was spiked by one of them I believed I could trust
- unwanted advances from a male associated with the industry, so bad that I had to ask other men in the group I was with to keep an eye on me as I didn't feel safe (for the record there are a LOT of decent men in this industry!)
- trying to find some way of keeping myself safe when I went by myself to appointments- thank heavens for remote work post covid! Letting people know where I was and when I should be back, giving access to my calendar so someone could see where my last appointment was if I didn't show up the next day etc
- knowing that sometimes you were only getting a yes to interviews because the potential client wanted to size up how open you might be to something 'personal' with them.

@w k I am APPALLED at your response- what does it matter what anyone looks like? This is WAAY too close to the 'she was asking for it because she was dressed a certain way/wore that makeup/said or did that thing so she clearly wanted it' attitude that has been around for far too long- but ironically your next statements underline why we are absolutely limited in this industry.

Your solution- ignore a large chunk of our potential client base- means that for women in some provincial areas would likely not have access to a viable client base- hence those women won't get in the industry.

Your next solution- slap them in the face- you are aware that's assault, right? And given that usually these advances come when we are alone with these men, no, that would NOT get them to back off- that would simply put us in much more danger.

Your last solution- Don't go to something that we believe will further our learning and skill in the industry because we have to put up with this rubbish on a regular basis. WHY SHOULD WE HAVE TO EVEN THINK ABOUT THAT??? It's not your place to tell anyone how they should spend their money, and least of all someone who might be thinking about not going because of what they might face when they're there. How about the men who do these things to us- and hear me out here- HOW ABOUT THEY DON'T DO THEM????
On 7 August 2023 at 11:11 am LLAK said:
@assured I am so sorry to hear you have experienced this too. It’s completely unacceptable.

You hit the nail on the head with your other comments.

In regards to @w k latest post, unsure how looks come into play here? I hope your thinking does not reflect your behaviours.

This proves we still have a way to go to ensure females in our industry are treated with the same professionalism and respect as their male counterparts.


On 7 August 2023 at 2:43 pm JA said:
(F) 20+ years in the industry.

@Assured @LLKA unfortunately I have experienced the handsy colleagues and the stupid remarks like "the girls can make coffee" and "whose admin girl are you" too.
This has happened more frequently a few years ago. So there is change happening.

@wkl we know how to deal with situations. But I refuse to limit my client pool to female only (what a weird idea and I do not believe that any male adviser would find it acceptable if it were applying to them)

My main concern is that women are now often equally contributing to the household income but are hideously underinsured.
On 7 August 2023 at 3:42 pm LLAK said:
@JA I have noticed attitudes improving in the past few years also, however unsure if this is because I am more established in the industry?
It would be disturbing to think new female advisers are still frequently (or at all) experiencing this.

I’m so glad we are having these conversations. 1) for us to share/commiserate our experiences and 2) to bring further light to sexual conduct/gender issues within our industry.

Given the responses here, this alone could be a great article in itself.

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