“Dressing up is inevitably a substitute for good ideas. It is no coincidence that technically inept business types are known as 'suits.'” - Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator
Casual Fridays are considered a workweek staple across most industries. Some companies have even taken it a step further and forsaken formal business attire altogether in favor of a more laid-back, business casual dress code. One industry is still largely absent from this shift in company culture, though: the finance industry, which remains firmly buttoned down.
Where Formal Wear in Finance Goes Wrong
The majority of financial advisory firms are uptight both in what they wear and how they conduct their practice. In today’s modern business landscape, the suit and tie represents more than just the standard company dress code. They are a symbol of all that is traditional, confined and slow-moving in workplace ideals. Many financial firms hold onto these traditional values and practices, and these seemingly trivial decisions bleed into the company culture.
Business formal is essentially the school uniform of the workforce — it tries to force individuals to mold themselves into a high-heel, high-collar cookie cutter mold. The bottom line is nobody wants to wear a uniform. For firms still preoccupied with dressing like an episode of Mad Men, if they can’t loosen up their ties, they will have to deal with the negative impact the high-strung attire can have on advisors’ morale and long-term growth. Outdated firms like this will have trouble attracting new talent and retaining the advisors they already have.
The benefits of dressing down translate not only to a more positive employee experience, but a better workplace environment. Casual Fridays were originally introduced to boost worker sentiment among cynical white-collar workers during the 1980s and early 1990s, and more and more employers and workers today are coming out with claims that dressing more casually at work actually makes employees more productive and boosts morale. Reports have shown that less formal workwear improves employee morale, worker productivity and work quality, as well as opens more communication between staff and managers — all at no cost to the employer.
The impact of business wear isn’t limited to the people who work at a company, either.
Creating a Client-Friendly Culture
The most important part of business, especially in the financial services industry, is the client, and clients today are not what they used to be. The once homogenous and local client base has grown much more diverse and widely spread. Thanks to technological advancements and a more mobile workforce, financial advisors have the means to serve clients of all ages, races, religions and ethnicities across the world. With a larger and more diverse population of clients and potential clients available to advisors, subsequently, their needs differ drastically more now than in years past. As such, it is absolutely paramount that advisors spend their time focused on meeting the needs of their clientele, rather than something like office formalities.
Today’s clients need more out of an advisor than just a formal figurehead who tells them the current state of their finances. Money is a very delicate and personal matter, and clients want someone they can trust who will act as a partner, mentor and friend throughout the advising process. The buttoned-up environment of traditional financial firms can impede the relationship development that advisors desire because of the gap between what clients are looking for and the image that an advisor projects.
Formal work attire has been known to put employees on a power trip. And while a suit might make an advisor feel more powerful, it makes the people around them feel distanced and removed — two traits a client should never feel when dealing with their advisor. Working with a financial advisor should leave clients feeling like they’re working with a trusted friend; friendships built on trust will never focus on ties, shirts or shoes, rather, they will be focused on fostering the relationship between them and helping one another work towards their goals.
By losing the suits, advisors can differentiate themselves from the product pushers and profit-hungry bankers that many associate with the industry. Dropping the tie also allows the advisor to remind clients that they’re in the relationship business, not the transactional business. This more relaxed dress code is a way of demonstrating that advisors and clients are in a partnership together — they’re on the same team, playing in the same field.
If firms want their advisors to be able to develop closer, more personalized relationships with clients, not only should they loosen up their ties, they should lose them altogether. By stripping back the conservative expectations of office-wear, left is simply the human being behind it — and that’s the person clients truly want to work with.