Shop talk

What do female clients want from their financial advisers? R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Many say they're not thrilled by the condescending treatment they receive from advisers; industry ‘has done a lousy job,' concedes one male adviser

Jul 30, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

By Lisa Shidler

Male advisers: It may be time to reassess.

In a survey released this week by The Boston Consulting Group, more than half of the respondents – affluent women — said that wealth managers could do a much better job of meeting their needs. The report noted that “many wealth managers either overlook women as a discrete and important group or else use superficial strategies to reach them.”

It gets worse. BCG found that some of the most common approaches do more harm than good. Indeed, women-labeled products, pitches or promotions that come across as patronizing or contrived “often alienate the very clients they're meant to attract,” the report noted.

Advisers don't dispute the findings. “Our industry has done a lousy job connecting with women,” said adviser Mark Singer, president of Safe Harbor Retirement Planning Inc. whose firm manages $55 million in assets. “At a level, the male adviser has shown little to no respect for what education or ability women have in understanding financial planning.”

Too often, advisers don't consider women as a strong client base, said Michael Byrnes Jr., president of Byrnes Consulting LLC. That's shortsighted, given the fact that women control about 27% of the world's wealth — roughly $20 trillion. And that percentage is getting larger.

“Advisers as a whole need to open their eyes to having more women as clients,” Mr. Byrnes said. “Where it's been a male-dominated industry, they need to reconsider and look at different target markets.”

Unfortunately, adviser Diane Young, president of The Athena Group Ltd., which manages about $25 million in assets, said she has witnessed firsthand how male advisers and industry leaders can be dismissive to women — even female advisers.

Case in point: Ms. Young said she spoke with a wholesaler a few months ago about the benefits of having a large base of female clients. She said the male wholesaler scoffed at her suggestion. Ms. Young said she also was mostly ignored by male advisers at a recent event.

To Ms. Young, that experience was a searing reminder of the type of treatment most female clients receive from advisers.

“I know male advisers will tell you they think they're friendly to women, but they don't realize they're not,” she said.

The situation is not hopeless, however. Advisers say a few simple changes can make female clients feel much more comfortable and valued.

Simply listening to and understanding a woman's concerns makes a world of difference, said Theresa “Terry” Hannon, founder of an eponymous financial planning firm that has $100 million in assets.

“[Female clients] always say, ‘Help me not to be a bag lady at 65,'” she said. “They want to know that I'm hearing exactly what they're saying.”

Advisers should also take note of how women respond to an investment suggestion. When a man says he'll think about something, it may mean he's not interested. When a woman says she'll think about something, she actually wants to think about it, Ms. Young said. Giving her additional information could be helpful.

In fact, Ms. Young's approach to working with women — who make up about 90% of her practice — is to educate them and offer them insight about finances constantly.

She holds frequent webinars, making them available online so clients can listen to them at their convenience. She also gives seminars on “Five Habits of Financially Successful Women” to groups of women affiliated with local churches and community groups, and the like.

Women appreciate the opportunity to become educated on finances, said Barbara Shapiro, an adviser with HMS Financial Group, which manages $175 million in assets. Ms. Shapiro, who holds educational seminars for women, said they're generally well-attended.

“I try to educate them without making them feel like it's a classroom,” she said.

One financial advisory group, Balasa Dinverno Foltz LLC, has set up its own Women's Service Team. Since it was formed, the team has hosted small dinners for professional women and handed out books about women and finances.

“The women in the group are all very different,” said Heather Locus, a partner with Balasa Dinverno Foltz, which manages about $1.5 billion in assets. “Some are the breadwinners, and some aren't. Some are the breadwinners and the decision makers. We have widows and people in their 30s. It's all across the board.”

Shop Talk is a regular column detailing how financial advisers run their businesses. The column focuses on unusual or innovative ways to attract more clients. Suggestions or tips for Shop Talk? E-mail Lisa Shidler at lshidler@investmentnews.com or visit the Shop Talk page at InvestmentNews/shoptalk.

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