Caroline Bell is the chief operating officer of Europe-based FinMarie, which aims to help women achieve greater clarity, control and confidence over their finances. FinMarie launched at the beginning of 2019 and combines a financial platform with human expertise. Although now based in Berlin, Caroline has worked as a financial adviser for more than 28 years in Australia, Germany and the UK and is also the Principal of Summerhill Invest in Australia. She speaks to Six Park head of communication Erika Jonsson about her goals for women as investors.
What was the first thing you remember saving for? How long did it take?
I saved for a school camp in Grade 5, when I was 10 years old – it took a few months of doing odd jobs around the house but got there in the end. I then was sick for most of the camp, including the boat cruise that was the activity that had excited me the most. Even all these years later I still remember the devastation of missing out.
What motivated you to work in financial services?
Managing, saving and making money always came very intuitively to me, and I always saw money as a means of achieving independence and having options about how you want to live your life. I wanted to have that ability not only in my own life, but to help others achieve the same.
I started out thinking I’d work in tax, because the concept of a financial adviser didn’t really exist yet and it was still very much about product pushing. After finishing my Bachelor of Commerce, I was accepted into an internship with Arthur Andersen and offered a graduate position. I already knew I had no interest in corporate tax so I accepted the job as long as I didn’t have to do the standard rotation in corporate tax – this was during a recession, back in 1992, and I still can’t believe they accepted my conditions. During my 10 years with Andersen, I worked in personal and expat tax, financial advice, as well as managing an expat outsourcing contract.
I’m also very process-driven, logical and organised – it’s a great combination for an adviser, but it didn’t truly hit me how valuable that was until I was in my early 30s and realised that it wasn’t intuitive for everyone. I then set up my own business to be able to offer advice the way I envisioned it, having done it in lots of different ways by that point. Sometimes learning what not to do is just as important as learning what you should do.
Your businesses use technology to enable wealth creation for more people. How big a role do you expect digital advice and platforms to play in the financial services landscape in the future?
Having worked as a financial adviser in three countries, it is fascinating to watch the change, and as someone who thrives on change and development, as well as technology, I chose the right profession.
I’ve always been interested in technology and if I had to rescue one item from a burning house I’d probably grab my Macbook because my whole life is online. Technology helps drive business efficiency; it also helps me deliver services without having to manage lots of people.
When I was running my business alone, I needed to be able to work wherever I was so I could work remotely and travel, so as technology continued to develop over time, I’ve always incorporated new things into my business.
Technology and digital platforms will continue to evolve and play a bigger role in the provision of advice, especially as the cost of advice rises and especially in Europe, there is a growing demand for financial advice as people realise that they cannot rely on the pension system as previous generations could.
Technology will not replace the personal connection that is needed with personal finance, but it can be used as a tool to help deliver an efficient and cost-effective solution to clients. It also helps connect with more clients with live streaming and creating online communities that we have built with both FinMarie and Summerhill Invest – our members connect with a real financial adviser, even if it’s online.
How has COVID-19 affected your businesses in Australia and Europe?
My team in Australia and I have been working remotely and conducting online meetings for years, so there has been no change in that regard. What has been interesting is the difference between newer and experienced investors – clients that have been with me during the GFC have been cool, calm and collected. Those that have never been through a downturn before and so have not had the experience needed a little more assurance.
In both Europe and Australia, there’s been a lot more interest from people wanting to start investing and particularly millennials are seeing the opportunity in starting to invest at a time when markets are down – they’re taking advantage of an opportunity, which is exciting to see.
What differences have you observed in how and why men and women invest?
Women want to understand what they’re investing in and how it operates, and that gives them a sense of confidence and knowledge. Once they make a decision, they’ll actually take more risk than men at times, but they need to understand it. Women stay the course more than men; men are more likely to jump in but they’re also more likely to jump off. Women are also better at having savings plans with their investment portfolios.
What’s the difference between the gender pay gap and the gender wealth gap?
The gender pay gap is the difference between what men and women are paid for the same job. As individuals we have little control over that, unless we’re determining salaries. The gender pay gap then impacts on the gender wealth gap – women who are paid less then have less money in retirement; many take time out to care for children or family and then have less to contribute to investing and saving for retirement. We want to offer women more tools and opportunities to improve their own position. Over the years, I’ve assisted women who find themselves alone for the first time and many of them need help with their money for the first time – so it’s a particular passion for me.
What was the first investment you made outside your super?
I started buying shares as a teenager – even back then, it was important to me and I wanted to have the flexibility that money provides. I got hit by the ‘87 crash – I’d been investing for a couple of years at that stage and saw a lot of the value of my investments disappear, but it was a fantastic learning experience because, while I could see how much money I theoretically lost, I held onto those assets and saw them rise in value again.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about money?
Be mindful with spending – spend on what is of value to you. It’s important to have a balance to enjoy life today – we don’t know what will happen tomorrow – but also planning for the future as well.
Six Park knows that confidence is an important part of investing decisions. The Women in Finance Q and A series helps women build their financial confidence by providing advice and inspiration from strong role models in Australia’s financial services community.