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Profile: Affinity’s Julia Warrander on the importance of diversity

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Profile: Affinity’s Julia Warrander on the importance of diversity

Julia Warrander often finds she is the only woman in the room at a fund manager meeting.

‘I’ll go to a meeting, where you’ve got a visiting fund manager, and I’ll sit around the table and sometimes there are 10, sometimes 20 people at that breakfast or lunch and, more often than not, I’m the only woman,’ she says. ‘The simple fact is, there are not enough women in wealth and asset management.’

Her qualitative assessment is strongly supported by Wealth Manager’s quantitative research. Statistics obtained by this magazine under a 2017 Freedom of Information act (FOI) request revealed that just 14.3% of CF1 and CF30 permission holders identified themselves as female.

Warrander is co-chief investment officer at Affinity Private Wealth, alongside former Wealth Manager cover star Russell Waite. Together they oversee the investment side of the business, and helped the firm as a whole to reach £1 billion in assets under management (AUM).

Over the next decade, Warrander hopes to grow the investment side of Affinity from its current £250 million AUM to near the billion figure on its own. This goal correlates with her equally strongly held ambition to do whatever she can to promote equal representation in wealth management.

Warrander does not see the goal of more diversity in wealth as simply an abstract virtue – though it is – but something which is ultimately of service to the end client.

‘[Women] don’t represent even close to half of the number of employees, and yet we make up half the population.

 

‘So whether it’s our client base or making good investment decisions, it’s diversity in a broader sense – it’s not just about attracting women, it’s about attracting diverse people from diverse backgrounds. I think you make better investment decisions at committee level if you’ve got that.’

This is something that has been close to Warrander’s heart since she started in investment management almost two decades ago. ‘I have been in the industry since 1990. When I was out in Asia with one of my former employers, I co-headed the women’s leadership committee out there.

‘I’ve been involved in it for a long time and I know many people, men and women, including the guys I work with here, are very active in trying to change this. It’s been disappointingly slow and we need to do a better job; we can probably do better.’

She notes that when she arrived in Jersey 10 years ago she was a little surprised that there were not more female investment managers on the island. ‘I think there are a few less than in London – and I am not 100% sure I know why,’ she admits.

Even Affinity – the business she established alongside Waite and David Stearn (another former Wealth Manager cover star), as well as Justin Thomas and Ben Stott – lacks more women on the investment side, Warrander admits.

 

‘Certainly, when I look at both sides of the business, the trust side of the business is much more diverse than the investment side of the business. The trust business has a much higher proportion of women.’

So where does this lack of women in wealth stem from?

‘When I’m asked why there weren’t more female managers, I said it was an issue of attraction, retention and progression.’

Warrander herself had no interest in working in financial services – and actually planned on going into fashion retailing – until three weeks before her final exams.

‘Citibank gave some money to my college at Oxford and gave a presentation. I went along to say thank you, and got into an interesting conversation. They asked if I would like to come and see the trading floor – it was the investments and dealing floors that appealed to me.

‘They called me the next day and it kind of went from there. So I was late, and I certainly never ever considered investment before that.’

She suggests that one of the reasons that the gender imbalance is so persistent compared to fields like law or accountancy is that cultural issues play a significant part in impeding women’s progression. This, in turn, means there are few success stories evangelising the sector to job seekers.

Although she was recruited at graduate level and has herself run women-only recruiting events at Harvard and other universities, Warrander argues this may already be too late to capture aspiration. 

 

‘We need to start very early on in education. Jersey Finance [a not-for-profit marketing organisation to promote Jersey as an international financial centre] runs a career in financials programme which gives students in secondary school a taster of what it is like to work in finance for a few weeks.

‘We participate in that, alongside lots of other firms, but I think – and all the research seems to agree – that children’s career choices are fixed quite early, nearer the age of six or seven, not by the time they’re 15 or 16.

‘They are a bit late to the game because by then you might not have even considered a career in finance. Frankly, by the time you pick your GCSEs you have already begun closing down opportunities.’

Beyond this lack of applications issue, Warrander regards wealth management’s diversity problem as a structural issue of how wealth firms are run.   

‘It is about making sure that firms, not just Affinity, have that flexible mindset that says we can make this work.’

She questions whether the rigid nature of an industry such as wealth management can promote diversity.

Warrander explains that firms need to encourage flexibility, whether that is in supporting maternity leave or greater freedoms in regards to working from home, and this applies to both men and women.

‘I work with four guys who all have kids. Some days when their children are sick, they have to work from home.

 

So, it’s about making sure all employees feel safe in asking for these changes – that it won’t damage their career. We need to make sure people feel confident and can see people have that flexibility and progress in their careers.’

Warrander has somewhat taken advantage of this flexibility herself. After leaving Goldman Sachs in 2002 – where she had been a vice president in the firm’s New York branch – she took a break from wealth management.

During this period she graduated with honours from KLC School of Design and set up her own landscape design company – with her commission coming from the Duke of Westminster.

She then spent two years working in Italy as an independent consultant specialising in providing luxury brands and retail companies with strategy, marketing and branding services.

Warrander returned to investment management in 2008 when she joined Fairbairn Private Bank in Jersey. There, she met her future Affinity co-founders, and began carving herself a space in wealth management as a business owner.

‘We all have to be macho and tough, which is probably unnecessary. There should be a space in this industry for all different types of personalities.’

‘The definition of what makes someone successful should be that they have a passion for investing. And that shouldn’t require you to be superhuman in any way. We are human and we need to take care of our minds as well as our bodies.’

Despite the forward progress, Warrander does not think the number of women in wealth management will change overnight, but she does believe there is a sizeable need for more diversity in order for firms to make better investment decisions.

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