Firms rally for female adviser advancement

Sponsoring coaching and mentoring programs specifically for women; plenty more to do

Jun 16, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Anne Bedinger (l) and Nicole Spinelli of Raymond James
+ Zoom
Anne Bedinger (l) and Nicole Spinelli of Raymond James

If the financial advice industry's goal of increasing the ranks of female advisers to better reflect its growing female customer base ever is to materialize, firms will have to do their part.

Most brokerage firms and some other firms in the industry have been sponsoring annual conferences or other specialty programs for female advisers for a decade or more.

But a few firms have gone above and beyond. They offer results showing that their programs are boosting the number of female advisers on their rolls and in some cases helping their careers.

Raymond James & Associates Inc., for one, funds a Network for Women Advisors that provides professional and peer coaching for female advisers who are committed to building their practices. About 10 to 15 women a year go through the coaching program, which was launched in 2004.

The women's financial results are measured against their colleagues' the year after the coaching program is completed. Nearly all of them outperformed their peers from 2007 through 2011.

Raymond James' coaching changed slightly in 2012, and the company won't begin measurements again until the end of this year.

“This special coaching and peer coaching is helping them increase their production and assets under management in more than 90% of the cases,” said Nicole Spinelli, the Network for Women Advisors' full-time director.

The network itself was spearheaded 19 years ago by several Raymond James female advisers who concluded that they needed to communicate their experiences to other advisers and decided that it was easier to do so with women. The network sponsors an annual Women's Symposium, and 170 female advisers attended last year's event.

About 14% of Raymond James' 5,400 advisers are women — not bad, considering that Cerulli Associates Inc. estimates that just 7.9% of advisers who work directly with clients are women.

The government reports that about 36% of advisers are women, but that figure includes all professional women who are licensed, and some may be in supporting roles.

Anne Bedinger, a Raymond James adviser in Boca Raton, Fla., said that the coaching program helped her with time management, delegating tasks and keeping her focused on her work.

She has built up her business significantly since she completed the coaching program almost a decade ago.

“It's harder for women to compartmentalize. Men do better at this,” Ms. Bedinger said.

“We may be acting as mother and wife in the morning, and then it can be hard to get back on track and refocus on your business,” she said.

At United Capital Financial Advisers LLC, chief executive Joseph Duran is actively trying to recruit more female advisers, and he is having some early success.

In the past year, United Capital's portion of client-facing female advisers has increased to 30%, from 23%, of the firm's total 92 advisers. Five of the teams that it brought into the partnership of advisers in the past year have been led by women, including Emily Sanders, founder of Sanders Financial Management Inc.

“The firm is very tuned in to the female psyche,” said Ms. Sanders, who is now managing director of United Capital and a co-chairwoman of its Women's Initiative, which is aimed at boosting the number of female advisers and clients.

Everything — from its investment-planning process that encourages advisers to openly consider the emotions of financial decisions, to an aesthetic website that's full of flower pictures and other nature photos — are attractive to women, she said.

And it doesn't stop there.

The firm began a formal mentoring program in February that pairs senior female executives with younger women, and a working group within the firm is considering ways to help women advisers grow. Another group is focused on recruiting even more women-led firms, such as by having these potential recruits meet women in a leadership role in the company and hear about their experiences.

“If she has gone through the sacrifice of building her own firm, her destination of choice will be a place where she doesn't have to compromise,” Ms. Sanders said.

Another firm, TD Ameritrade Institutional, has seen about a 2% increase in the number of women-owned firms that use its custody services, compared with a year ago. TD only recently began tracking its female-owned firms, and two years ago, the firm began reaching out more to female advisers and potential planners.

The firm hosts separate female networking events during its largest conferences throughout the year and addresses women at universities to describe how the field's relationship-driven focus and flexibility make it a great career choice, said Kate Healy, managing director of institutional marketing for TD Ameritrade Institutional.

Competition for female advisers, however, is stiff.

“Every firm, large and small, is always looking to recruit more women and has major initiatives to do so because they know women increasingly make up more than half the wealth,” said Mindy Diamond, chief executive of recruiting firm Diamond Consultants.

At a minimum, firms must show that they offer an opportunity for female advisers to talk with other successful female advisers within the organization and that the firms are good places for women to work, she said.

The guidance and support that female advisers can find at some firms can be crucial to those who aren't trained as entrepreneurs, said Geri Pell, an Ameriprise Financial Inc. adviser, who moved up the ranks of the recent Barron's list of Top 100 Women Financial Advisors to No. 53, from No. 67 last year.

In fact, most of the women who land on the Barron's list come from the nation's biggest brokerage firms, with Merrill Lynch alone claiming 33 spots and Morgan Stanley taking 17.

Both these wirehouse giants have programs to foster female adviser relationships, but neither would say what percentage of their advisers are women.

“This is a really hard business to be successful in,” Ms. Pell said. “Not the investment advice part but the building-a-business part.”

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