Comment: Encouraging women to enter investment fray

Women still typically earn less, invest less and retire on less than men, says Bain. Picture: Fiona Hanson.
Women still typically earn less, invest less and retire on less than men, says Bain. Picture: Fiona Hanson.
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Today, it’s my privilege to be hosting the Future Asset Conference at Strathclyde University, where hundreds of schoolgirls from all over Scotland will not only hear from an array of formidable women, but have the incredible opportunity to learn about an industry that’s so critical in our lives – yet goes all-too-easily under the radar as a career option for young women.

Many of the 15- to 18-year-olds who will be attending may have no idea what they want to do in life, least of all a career in investment. I can strongly relate. Not so long ago, I was a state school pupil in Edinburgh, more interested in music and make-up than Isas and pensions.

It was only when I left university and stepped into the real world that I began to understand how important money is (the theft of my piggybank in a burglary in my early 20s, containing most of my earnings, was an eye-opener!).

I was fortunate that my father is Simon Bain, a now-retired and a much-respected financial journalist, who encouraged me to pursue my newfound interest. Today, I have a fascinating career writing and talking about finance. But I am saddened by the sheer number of young people – particularly young women – who have a negative view of the financial industry.

It’s understandable. The legacy of the financial crash is still being felt all around us. Young people now see debt as an inevitability and saving as a luxury. Most don’t understand what a pension is and how it works, while investing is widely seen as a complex pursuit only for the wealthy.

Furthermore, women still typically earn less, invest less and retire on less than men. While the gender pay gap is still a very real problem, we should also be worried about the gender prosperity gap. A continued reliance on a male partner’s investments and pensions puts many women in a fragile position – one that can’t just be resolved through higher earnings.

I am far from alone in believing that more brilliant women from different backgrounds working in our financial institutions will create an industry more relevant and accessible to half our population.

There has never been a better time to be a woman in finance. Firms are strengthening their commitment to gender equality, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes business sense.

Companies are retaining staff and inspiring loyalty by being family-friendly, encouraging shared parental leave and promoting flexible working policies. They’re also appealing to a new generation that cares about the environment, corporate responsibility and the future of society.

Which brings us back to Future Asset. Set up in 2017, the organisation’s purpose is to help young women understand the world-changing potential of investing, build valuable skills and see a way into this industry.

It’s driven by a tireless steering group of top women in Scottish finance and this year, the conference launches a competition, where entrants research and pitch investment ideas and recommended firms for investment.

Real investors will assess the entries based on the girls’ understanding of business models, practices, sustainability and opportunities for growth. The schoolgirls will be helped by firms including Artemis, Baillie Gifford, Cornelian, Kennox and Stewart Investors.

A career in asset-management isn’t for everyone, and Future Asset doesn’t pretend it is. But even if many of the attendees decide this world isn’t for them, I’m sure they’ll come away feeling more confident and optimistic about their future, knowing there isn’t only one way to be “successful” in today’s society.

Because while understanding how finance works is crucial, it’s the means to an end, not the end itself. What really matters is being able to live, work and manage money so you can fulfil a purpose and help others around you – whatever field you choose.

Iona Bain is host of the 2019 Future Asset Conference. She is a financial writer and founder of the Young Money Blog.