A safe space for advice

08 June 2021

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

Niche market segments, like the LGBTI community, present practitioners with an opportunity to tap into an under-advised segment of the population. Mark Clayton CFP® enjoys advising to this exciting and diverse community. He talks to Jayson Forrest.

In 2012, former United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, opened up a Human Rights Council session with a speech that specifically addressed discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities:

“To those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, let me say: You are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle. Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold. Today, I stand with you, and I call upon all countries and people to stand with you, too.”

Almost 10 years later, and today, equality and freedom from discrimination are fundamental human rights that affirm that all people are born free and equal, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, with the same rights to be treated equally and fairly. And an integral part of the principle of equality is non-discrimination, as it ensures that no one is denied their rights because of gender, age, ethnicity, religion, disability, marital status, or who they love and how they identify.

A long road to here

It has been a long, hard road for Australia’s LGBTI community to achieve equality under the law in Australia, but that’s precisely what happened in August 2013, when the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 was amended to make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Despite this being a significant legislative amendment, roll forward eight years and sadly, statistics from the Australian Human Rights Commission reveal that some LGBTI people – which make up approximately 11 per cent of the Australian population – may still experience discrimination, harassment and hostility in many parts of everyday life.

But thankfully, the tide is changing fast, as societal views and values become more accepting of the rights of the LGBTI community.

Just ask Mark Clayton CFP® – principal and financial adviser at Sydney-based Clayton Financial Planners – who has seen this amazing progress over the last 10 years. As a gay man himself, Mark is actively working with the LGBTI community to empower individuals to take control of their own financial wellbeing, although he does acknowledge that the historical pressure exerted on LGBTI people in having to deal with the prejudice of others within society, may make them more reluctant to get help with their financial planning.

“As a practitioner, it is important to acknowledge the LGBTI community may still have some apprehension, so we need to create a professional ‘safe space’ where clients can feel comfortable opening up about their financial goals and personal finances,” says Mark.

Clayton Financial Planners

Established in 1994 by John Clayton – Mark’s father – today, Clayton Financial Planners is owned and operated by Mark. The boutique family-owned financial planning practice offers personalised financial advice to individuals, trusts and self-managed super funds. It also has a strong focus on education and financial literacy, with clients able to access a ‘Knowledge Centre’ that contains a suite of resources, including articles, videos, tutorial modules, quizzes and calculators.

Since joining the business in 2015, Mark has focused on developing and serving a client base that increasingly comprises of LGBTI clients.

“My decision to move in this direction started as soon as I joined the practice six years ago,” says Mark. “Back then, I began my involvement with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association (SGLBA), which is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the professional support and development of members of the LGBTI community throughout Sydney.

“From there I have built a profile in the LGBTI community as an openly gay self-employed financial adviser.”

Mark must be doing something right, with his business gaining significant momentum within the LGBTI community, on the back of plenty of referrals from clients and friends.

“In recent years, I have found myself increasingly focused on the LGBTI community, due to the professional and deep personal satisfaction I get from working with this community,” he says.

In need of advice

This under-represented but significant part of the market can also be a potentially lucrative market to build a business in, with Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data recording the LGBTI sector typically comprising of individuals who are well-educated, high income earners.

According to the 2016 ABS Census, people in same-sex couple relationships were more likely to have higher personal incomes than those in opposite-sex couple relationships. The data reveals that 23 per cent of men in same-sex couples earned $2,000 or more a week, compared with 18 per cent of men in opposite-sex couples. For women, the difference was greater. Women in same-sex couples were twice as likely to be earning $2,000 or more a week as women in opposite-sex couples (14 per cent compared with 6 per cent).

“This provides financial planners with a fantastic opportunity to work with a niche market that is in need of quality advice,” says Mark.

Hurdles to overcome

For any client, starting the financial advice process can be a daunting task at first, and it’s no different for LGBTI people.

“We all know that opening up about your income, finances, spending, sexual and medical history (for insurance applications) to a stranger can be confronting and uncomfortable. Add sexuality to this and it can be too much for someone to deal with and so they may avoid financial advice,” says Mark.

Members of the LGBTI community may be more sensitive to opening up to an adviser due to some of the common problems faced by many LGBTI people, which include: a lack of support from their biological families; varying levels of empathy, understanding and support when ‘coming out’; and insecurity about talking about their sexuality or gender identity in public for fear of judgement, discrimination or even violence.

“So, one of the key challenges facing this community is having a safe space to be open about their life and finances. Regrettably, avoidance can often be the best strategy for LGBTI people in this situation and that’s something I want to change.”

Moving in the right direction

So, how is the financial planning profession tracking in responding to the needs of LGBTI clients?

“The last 10 years have been sensational,” says Mark, who confirms there has been a substantial increase in the number of people from the LGBTI community getting quality financial advice.

The amendment of the Marriage Act 1961 in December 2017 to recognise same-sex marriage, bridges the gap between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, while also becoming a new area of advice that practitioners need to deal with when working with same-sex couples, particularly in relation to superannuation and estate planning.

The 2016 ABS Census counted just under 46,800 same-sex couples living together in Australia, representing a 39 per cent increase on the 2011 Census.

Improving the advice process

Mark admits that working with the LGBTI community has not only helped improve the way he operates Clayton Financial Planners but importantly, has also led to greater satisfaction as a professional.

“By focusing on creating an open, transparent and safe space for my clients, and then seeing how well that has worked in developing more constructive and productive advice relationships, has led me to concentrate more strongly on this approach when dealing with every client,” he says.

“It’s an approach that has definitely led to an overall improvement in my client engagement, client retention and the advice I provide across my entire client base.”

Working with niche markets

For practitioners and advice businesses looking to work more closely with niche market sectors, like the LGBTI community, Mark’s best advice is to become actively involved in the community and learn from the ground up about what the specific needs and objectives are of the niche market they are looking to serve.

He also recommends joining specialist community or business groups – like the SGLBA, the Pride Business Network in Brisbane, or Melbourne’s Gay and Lesbian Organisation of Business and Enterprise – that engage with members of the community.

“Once you really get to know and understand the community or sector you want to serve, you then need to develop a value proposition that meets their needs and objectives. Only then will you naturally start to build a client base in that specific market.”