Working with women calls for a different approach

Everything advisers have learned about communicating with clients needs to change

By Jeff Benjamin

Oct 1, 2012 @ 3:04 pm (Updated 1:40 pm) EST

advisers, women

One of the first things advisers need to understand about working with female clients is that women should be talked to and not at, adviser coach and consultant Elizabeth Jetton said today at the Financial Planning Association's annual conference in San Antonio.

"We need to change the conversation and make it a participatory process," she said. "And I also need to say that working with women is not a niche; I get peeved whenever I hear advisers say that."

Ms. Jetton, a past president of the FPA, is co-founder of Directions for Women.

Advisers need to learn new ways to communicate to women on virtually every topic involved in financial planning, she said.

"We're talking about trying to appeal to what matters to your women clients," Ms. Jetton said. "We have to capture the collective wisdom of women and we need to make sure we are appreciating their worth."

Key to the process is creating an environment that encourages open dialogue, she said.

"It used to be when a woman walked into a financial planner's office, all she saw were pictures of duck hunting on the wall. And there was no chocolate," Ms. Jetton said.

She explained that women are perceived to know less about money-related issues than men. That isn't true, but it is fair to assume that they are less comfortable talking about money. This is partly due to the way women process and communicate information and partly due to the role of women in many families, Ms. Jetton said.

"At the heart of a lot of issues our clients have is the tension between what we need today, and what we will need and want in the future," Ms. Jetton said. "Part of the reason women don't get as engaged about the future goals is we tend to be the ones who run the family life today. We're so consumed with making it work right now that it's difficult to focus on the future."

The best way to open the dialogue is with a simple, open and non-threatening conversation in a comfortable environment away from the office.

Ms. Jetton holds what she described as "circle gatherings" with between five and 20 women in the living room of her home.

The adviser's role is to act as a facilitator to keep the conversation moving and on track, but not as an adviser or presenter.

"I want you to feel safe, and to give you a feeling of trust, and I want you to feel comfortable in this world of money," Ms. Jetton said.

One of the goals is to help women develop a sense of community by talking with other women about financial issues.

While Ms. Jetton establishes some basic ground rules about showing up on time and not using the phone during the gatherings, beyond that, the idea is to let the conversation happen.

"As an adviser, you have to resist the urge to advise during the gathering," she said. "It's not your job to answer the questions, because it's called shared leadership, and we are all leaders in the circle."

While Ms. Jetton doesn't believe a male adviser could effectively host a circle gathering of women, she does believe the process could be applied to a gathering of men and women.

One of the biggest challenges for advisers, she acknowledged, might be getting the ball rolling. However, she added, once you get the group together in a comfortable setting with refreshments, it is likely to take off.

"It can be hard logistically to arrange, but it's not hard to actually do it because we, as women, love to tell stories," she said.