Leasing Professionals

Emma Simon tells of the rise & rise of UK female asset finance brokers

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The role of women in the broking industry has changed beyond recognition over the last 20 years.  Far more women are now in senior positions in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.

These changes aren’t just helping the next generation of women, looking for challenging and rewarding careers in finance. It is also benefiting men, who can now enjoy more flexible and family-friendly careers.

Deb Chick, the director of Axis Leasing (pictured below), has worked in the leasing industry since the 1980s. She said: “When I started, women were mainly in administrative roles. But today I see women as sales managers, and finance directors, with many holding senior roles at funding houses and running their own brokerage businesses. It’s been a huge sea-change.”

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This hasn’t happened overnight of course. It has been a gradual process, but one that has gathered pace as more women have moved into management positions.

Sue Chapman, the founder of Midlands Asset Finance, said that when she started working for a lender 20 years ago “role models were few and far between”.

But she added that she was ambitious and was soon running her own team. This she claims helped more women move up the ranks. “I didn’t make a conscious decision to promote women – I’m not interested in tokenism, I don’t think that helps anyone.  I just wanted the best people working for me. But I think people saw me in this role and thought ‘I could do that too’, so more women started applying for these positions.”

But although the ratio of women to men has improved, it’s still far from a level playing field.  Broking remains male-dominated – particularly in the agricultural, haulage and motor-trade sectors. It is for this reason that leading financial services firm Hitachi Capital Business Finance continues to champion the role of women brokers.

“More opportunities for talented women in the industry as well as men means efficient business and better service.  The situation has improved but there is still some way to go.” said Gavin Wraith-Carter, general manager at Hitachi Capital Business Finance.

This isn’t necessarily a disadvantage for women who’ve carved out careers in these sectors though. Heather Wagstaff has set up her own business Midshires Rural Finance, which specialises in credit finances in the agricultural sector.

She explained: “It’s a competitive market and I think this gives me a unique selling point. There are a lot of – shall we say – rather bland men in suits, so perhaps potential clients are more likely to notice and remember me.”

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Jo Hayton, who works under franchise at Asset Finance Solutions (pictured above) agrees. She specialises in arranging finance for engineering equipment and says the lack of women in this niche sector has been more of a help than a hindrance. “I think it helps me to stand out.”

However, she concedes that women still have to work a little harder than men to demonstrate their knowledge and competence. “Women have to work harder than men to build credibility, and earn respect. But once this is established, then I think it gives us an edge. Many clients appreciate the fact that we’ve worked hard to make a mark in this industry.”

Hitachi’s Gavin Wraith-Carter agrees with the sentiment: “The world has changed rapidly and to compete effectively in today’s competitive market, firms need to recruit the best people available. Old stereotypes can no longer be justified as ‘good business’.”

That’s not say, of course, that some sexist views don’t persist. Wagstaff says she’s been blanked in dealerships, before now: “You have to work at being taken seriously, even among people of your own age.”

Kate Mills, who recently joined PJ Financial Solutions says this is more of an issue among her older agricultural clients. “Some are a bit surprised to find a woman on the end of the phone talking about leasing deals and farm machinery.”

But she doesn’t tend to encounter the same problem when talking to younger suppliers or clients. In many ways she says being young – she is just 23 – is more of a problem than her gender. “People might not take you seriously at first. I just have to convince them I know what I’m talking about and am keen to learn more.” She believes this has always been an issue for women and men starting out in the broking industry.

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These attitudes are disappearing though. Chapman (pictured above) said: “People are just more professional in the workplace now. For most people it doesn’t matter one jot whether they’re dealing with a male or female.”

She added: “In broking we need people who are outgoing, competent and can deliver on what they promise. It’s not for shy and retiring souls. This is far more important than gender.”

Many women established themselves in the industry by working for banks, asset managers or larger broking firms. However some have moved to set up their own businesses, often after having children. Running your own business can provide more flexibility – although less job security.

“It’s not about working fewer hours,” Wagstaff said, “I often work more hours a week than when I worked for a large insurer. The key is that I can work the hours to suit me: I might be up and working at 7am, but then can stop and take the kids to school.”

Beth Atkinson, who works at Leasing Programmes (pictured below), says this makes broking a great career choice for both women – and men. Having more women in senior roles in larger firms has helped introduce a more family-friendly working culture. “This has been supported by both legislative changes (more flexible maternity and paternity leave, for example) and advances in technology, which gives brokers the opportunity to work remotely and from home.”

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She said that broking offers other advantages: it is first and foremost a ‘people-business’; attention to detail, patience and an ability to communicate with others are all important skills.

Wagstaff stressed this is one of the reasons she loves her job. “I enjoy visiting clients, understanding their business, walking round farms. It’s not all deals whizzed through on email. People want to sit down and discuss their options. They trust you to try and help them develop their businesses.”

Many of the brokers we spoke to said the industry should being doing more to attract talented graduate and school leavers. Chick said: “Most people fall into this industry, they don’t aim to work in broking.” She added that specialist exams and more professional qualifications could help attract more women into broking.

Mills has worked in the industry for 18 months. She explained that when she was doing her finance degree she had very little idea about what the broker market offered. “I’ve really enjoyed the challenge it’s given me. I think more women and men should look at the opportunities it offers.”