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Regulation: protecting wealth managers' mental health

Has the onslaught of regulation put too much pressure on wealth managers? We examine how wealth firms are checking in on the mental health of their clients.

Regulation: protecting wealth managers' mental health

Has the onslaught of regulation put too much pressure on wealth managers? The tragic death late last year of senior Investec manager James Bedingfield, ruled this month to have taken his own life by Chesterfield Coroners Court, highlighted the immense pressures wealth management professionals are under.

According to the Samaritans, UK men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women, while men aged 45 to 49 represent the highest suicide rate cohort.

Regulations such as Mifid II and the impending Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SMCR) have added to the burden on wealth managers, with more stringent and regular reporting requirements.

Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, group HR director at Charley Stanley, said: ‘We need to be caring about our people, not just our clients.’

She adds that older staff have felt the strain of regulation hardest: ‘There’s been a wave of new regulation since the financial crisis, and if it’s something new to you, it can feel like an added burden on top of the day job.’

Breaking the taboos

The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) ran a mental health survey last year, and the anonymous comments related to the wealth management industry painted a toxic picture.

One respondent said: ‘Senior management are still old school and still perceive these issues as a weakness, you should be at your desk from dawn to dusk and man up!’ 

Another said: ‘Mental health just isn’t an acceptable subject for most managers. There is no training and the subject is seen as a career finisher.’

Quilter ― who’s CEO Paul Feeney told Citywire about his own battles with mental health last year ― runs a mental health initiative called Thrive.

Jane Goodland (pictured), corporate affairs director at the firm, said: ‘Mental health is still a taboo in the City, and perhaps more so among the older generations. It’s important that leaders talk about mental health openly and honestly across the business so that others feel they can do the same.

‘However, for some people privacy is vital and talking to their managers and colleagues about mental health is uncomfortable. One component of Thrive is the employee assistance programme, an online resource to provide an immediate source of information on a range of issues, and contact details for professionals.’

Preventative measures

Griffiths-Lambeth suggests there are a range of preventative measures that can be used to mitigate the pressures of the job. She says Charles Stanley encourages employees to take lunchtime walks, to get enough sleep, and to carve out personal quiet time if needed. But she notes that there is no single solution for everyone.

Charles Stanley also has a cohort of employees who are qualified mental health first aiders, mirroring other wealth managers, such as St James’s Place, which have launched similar initiatives.

Goodland says: ‘We have comprehensive training and education to assist staff when regulations change. This training ensures all teams have the knowledge they need and there are dedicated experts on the ground to deal with any queries.’

Spotting red flags

SMCR will greatly increase personal responsibility for decision-making. How do firms support their staff if errors arise?

‘It’s vitally important that people are able to talk and be open with their managers, including about their mistakes. Keeping mistakes a secret can lead to a terrible snowball effect,’ Goodland said.

‘The best tool we have is to create an open environment to encourage people to have open and honest conversations. It’s vital for leaders within a company to set an example and talk about their own mistakes.’

Griffiths-Lambeth notes that her role has taught her that many people do not know how to look after themselves well, both mentally and physically.

‘There’s quite a difference between someone feeling a bit stressed and someone having a hormonal overdose of cortisol that finally starts tipping them over the edge,’ she said.

‘There are things you can do to spot that earlier. Changes in behaviour, such as somebody being more quiet or louder, looking more dishevelled than normal, seeming erratic, or smelling of alcohol.’

The strain of ‘always on’ culture

The burdens of the modern world’s ‘always on’ culture can also have a detrimental effect on the mental health of wealth managers. Griffiths-Lambeth says that clients themselves are prone to round-the-clock schedules which increases their demands on managers.

The constant updates to technology, including social media, can also be overwhelming for wealth management veterans. Griffiths-Lambeth says many older employees are ‘frightened of change’.

She gives an example of one manager whose father was a typesetter who lost his job when the industry became computerised. She says that any changes in technology triggered an emotional response in that manager.

Not just an ethical issue

Poppy Jaman, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance, suggests that protecting employees’ mental health should not just be a moral concern for businesses.

‘The cost of sickness absence, losing talent and reputation damage are good metrics to start building that business case. Conducting a competitor analysis and seeing what your sector is doing can often lead to a mental health and wellbeing strategy becoming a competitive advantage proposition for businesses,’ she said.

‘Presenting both the business and the moral case has had the most impact on making mental health a boardroom agenda.’

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