Talking to an adviser or a financial planner means sharing personal information in order to get the most efficient solution for your finances.
But what happens when a client is LGBT+ and they don’t feel comfortable opening up?
To understand why the LGBT+ community sits on the fence when it comes to engaging with the financial services industry, International Adviser spoke to Attitude Financial Services, an advisory firm that is just a few weeks old, but wants to do things differently for LGBT+ customers.
The company is part of Intrinsic, Quilter’s financial advisory network, and was formed by Darren Styles, Ian Meekins and Dawn Gale out of “need and opportunity” they told IA.
Gale and Meekins have extensive experience in the financial advisory space. She is currently managing director of Blueprint South West, while he sit on the board of directors and is also the director of financial consultancy business Meekins and Co.
Styles is the publisher of Attitude magazine, which he described as “the biggest gay media brand in the world”. He is also a client of Meekins’.
Experiencing discrimination first-hand
“I am 54 years old; when I was born it was illegal to be gay in this country,” Styles told IA.
“And then when I left school and started work, the age of consent wasn’t equal. Once we’ve got beyond that, there were no rights no marry, there were no rights to have a partnership recognised. And so, as I built my own businesses and started to earn my own money, I became acutely aware of the huge imbalance in my life, because I had a straight business partner.
“The first time we went to buy a pension, it was October 1996, we’d done very well and at that point each of us had £25,000 ($31,793; € 28,127) to invest as a lump sum.
“So, we sat opposite a financial adviser, but he wasn’t aware of my personal life because, at that point, it wasn’t something you would talk about openly.”
While everything went smoothly for his business partner, who got the “red carpet treatment”, it was not the same for Styles.
He had to disclose his sexuality.
“The temperature dropped by a few degrees, he stops filling in the form and says: ‘Ah, well, you see, the thing is, before we can do any of this for you and look at any life cover, you’re going to have to have an Aids test; and, unless that comes back clear, I’m afraid you can’t progress any further with this’,” Styles revealed.
Everyone has the same value
“It’s hard to feel more belittled, more crushed than I did at that moment because I worked at least as hard as my business partner, I had the same amount of money he had, and my money had infinitely less value, apparently,” he admitted.
“When Ian [Meekins] started looking after me a few years ago I told him about my pension tale.
“Things have changed since, but I never quite got over that. So, what I said to Ian and Dawn was, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could be in an environment; whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or non-identifying as any of those things, where you could explain that to somebody and not have a flicker in the eye on the other side of the table?
“Where you know from the get-go that your money has exactly the same value as anybody else’s, your love has the same value as anybody else’s, and your partner has the same value as anybody else’s?’
“That’s when we started, really.”
“Financial services needs for the LGBT community are exactly the same as the financial needs of everybody else,” Gale told IA.
But what LGBT+ people require is professionals that understand their personal background and situation, without feeling alienated by the industry.
It was Styles who came up with the idea of leveraging the Attitude brand to direct its audience into a “safe harbour” in terms of financial advice.
“I looked at myself and at my industry and it became apparent to me that there was both a need and an opportunity for us to do something a bit different and a bit better – and the outpouring of that is Attitude Financial Services,” Styles said.
The firm was formally unveiled at a party in May 2019.
‘Doing things right’
Meekins told IA that the three of them took their time to make sure everything was in place before announcing the creation of Attitude FS.
“We’re still at the very latter stages of the process, because we wanted to get everything right before we launched, rather than launch and hope we got everything right.
“Everything’s in place and we formally announced our existence at an event at the Foreign Office. But the first initial offerings to the public will come out through [Styles’] media brands over the next few weeks.
“We are looking to offer everything that everybody else gets. There’s no differential. The whole purpose of Attitude is that the LGBTQ community gets offered everything that everybody else does, without any issues.”
Straying away from ‘traditional’
But what can Attitude FS offer that is different from any other financial advisory firm out there?
“What we think we’re going to be able to offer over and above is the planning that goes around not being a ‘traditional couple’ and what we have to do to assist with that,” Meekins said.
“The LGBTQ community is disenfranchised from the financial services and we are planning on using the [Attitude] brand to build a team of advisers who are capable, understanding and able to work within that marketplace, without any precursors.”
The focus on creating a friendly environment, Styles said, came from their desire to not make people feel scared or judged when opening up to their financial adviser or planner.
“There is no point going to a financial adviser and holding back or having a secret because then your life cover is invalid, or your money is not in the right place.
“It’s actually quite a deep investigation. You’ve got to share everything and then explain to a stranger what your life plan is, who you love the most and where the money is going. It’s quite an intimate and intimidating thing.”
Breaking down barriers
Styles said there are many people around his age cohort that have been through similar experiences and that could not access any kind of advice when it came to dealing with their finances.
“The nature of financial planning and investment is that it starts at age 30+, but most people of my age or a bit younger have been through the same experience that I have – in terms of coming out; and, obviously, people who have or had HIV and didn’t expect to live this long.
“Similarly, a whole group of my contemporaries hasn’t had the same opportunities or access to this kind of advice or partnership because they lived the same life I had.
“And you need to know that, before starting any processes, you need to come out to a complete stranger. A number of people we know of our age are just sitting on a pile of cash, which is ultimately not the best plan.”
Styles added: “The response that we’ve had from Intrinsic and Quilter in particular has been electrifying. The level of support, anticipation and understanding of exactly what we’ve been trying to do has been brilliant.”
To celebrate Pride month, and to mark 50 years since the Stonewall movement begun in 1969, International Adviser is publishing a series of profiles of LGBT+ professionals to understand their working and personal experiences in navigating the sector.
Last Word has partnered with LGBT Great, a financial services representative organisation focusing on diversity and inclusion.