Finance Monthly Women in Finance Awards 2021: Interview with Susie Hillier
We hear from Finance Monthly's Wealth Planning Leader of 2021.
As of this summer, you have been with Stonehage Fleming for over five years. How has the company evolved during that time?
I joined the businesses in 2012 on the Fleming (FF&P) side to strengthen and transform their Wealth Planning division. In 2015, FF&P merged with Stonehage to become Stonehage Fleming and I became Head of Wealth Planning for the new combined Group. Being part of a wider international family office has many advantages for our clients. Our broad in-house expertise allows us to advise complex clients in a streamlined and efficient way. Our clients have access to numerous specialists, who they can engage with without building relationships from scratch. They have confidence in us to refer them to the best person for the job, whether inside or outside of the firm.
We have grown substantially in the last few years both in clients and staff and our growth has enabled us to recruit some of the best people in the industry. Group assets under administration are now over £60 billion and assets under management is now £15.2 billion.
What is your proudest achievement from those five years?
It is still quite rare to see gender diversity within the wealth planning industry. It makes me particularly proud that my team is almost 50% women across all levels of seniority. I believe that male and female clients often open up to women and do not feel threatened to approach us for advice – a strength that should be recognised and utilised.
What challenges have you faced in your work since 2020, and how have you overcome them?
The past year brought some of the biggest challenges the industry and the team have seen, but it also brought opportunities. The pandemic triggered a need amongst clients to get their affairs in order and galvanised decision-making on wider topics, such as what would happen in the event that they were no longer around to articulate their wishes for their wealth or help guide their loved ones on financial matters. We also saw the next generation of our client families wanting to get more involved and over the past year have worked closely with them to tease out what their priorities are and to ensure they are well prepared for the future. We have also been fortunate enough to have substantial growth within our team during lockdown. The challenge was virtual integration of these new team members, but our strong culture and work ethic paved the way for success.
I believe that male and female clients often open up to women and do not feel threatened to approach us for advice – a strength that should be recognised and utilised.
In your opinion, what could be done to improve gender diversity and equality in leadership roles in finance?
My mission is to lead by example, and I have built a diverse team who are focused on the growth and development of each other as well as themselves. Our business model involves recruiting and retaining the best people, which means nurturing and mentoring the best people from a diverse base in respect of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, education, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background. In order to excel, our people should expect to operate in an inclusive culture which welcomes and supports differences and where all employees are comfortable in being themselves and voicing their views. In 2020 we launched a diversity & inclusion committee to ensure that our objectives are being met; experience has shown us that we can best serve the interest of our existing clients by drawing on the insights, talents and judgements of a diverse workforce.
Community engagement is also very important and in the past year we have supported a number of mentoring programmes including Envision (designed to help disadvantaged young people develop vital life skills for the modern working world) and the 10,000 Black Interns programme (an initiative that aims to help young adults kick start their career and improve diversity in the City of London). These programmes are a crucial training ground for top talent and give firms like Stonehage Fleming the opportunity to demonstrate to young people, early on in their education, that careers in financial services are a good proposition for them. A more diverse internship pool will ultimately translate into greater entry-level diversity too.
About Susie Hillier
I am a partner of our international Family Office and Head of Stonehage Fleming’s Wealth Planning business. We work with aspiring and wealthy clients to develop and implement strategies to protect and manage their wealth. I have over 25 years’ experience as a trusted adviser to a wide client base of entrepreneurs, board director, professional partnerships and private equity professionals, and have built many long-standing relationships – in some instances now advising the third generation of family members.
My team and I work with a huge range of clients. At one end of the spectrum, we look after ‘accumulators’ who are in the first stages of building their wealth. They could be the next generation who will inherit and require education, or entrepreneurs starting out with limited disposable income. At the other, we look after ultra-high net worth individuals, including private equity professionals or owner managers exiting businesses for multiple millions.
We understand that wealth means different things to different people – you can only help someone think about their retirement, inter-generational planning, investments or tax structuring options if you understand the big picture and the purpose of their wealth. We are unusual in adopting this broader, holistic perspective.
Stonehage Fleming is the leading independent Multi Family Office in the EMEA region. Our vision is to be the pre-eminent independent adviser to the world’s leading families and wealth creators. We maintain that there are few firms that can offer our blend of services and our ability to address the complex needs of families spanning generations and geographies, across the entirety of their private and commercial interests.