Well-meaning advisers can make mistakes when it comes to working with female investors. Women represent 51% of the population and individuals that make up this group vary in terms of personal interests, professional pursuits, preferred lifestyle and sexual orientation. The list of "do's" and "don'ts" to be a female-friendly adviser can be very long and at times confusing. Below are five common mistakes advisers make when it comes to attracting and retaining female clients:
1. Referring to the women on your team as "girls" or "ladies."
It may be harmless on your part, but for many women these terms are condescending. Often I hear male advisers who are really great men refer to their female assistants as the "girls in the office." Personally, it does not offend me, but for many women it is a subtle way of minimizing women's equality in the workplace. Make it a practice to refer to your female counterparts as "women" and avoid upsetting clients, co-workers and employees.
2. Buying into stereotypes about women.
Women come in all different shapes and sizes and vary in terms of financial knowledge, skills and interests. Don't fall into the trap of learning about gender differences and then blindly applying this research to all the female clients you work with. Instead, take the time to ask them about their lives and what they need from you as a financial professional. They will appreciate the extra effort to get to know them as a person, not just as a woman.
3. Forgetting to ask about her family.
When I interviewed affluent female clients for my book, "How to Give Financial Advice to Women" (McGraw-Hill, 2012), many interviewees complained about advisers' not asking about their children and loved ones. Remember that women are generally hardwired and socialized to connect, and relationships are very important in their lives. Make a point each time you talk with a female client to ask about her family. This will give you some insight into the client's world experience and show her that you care about more than just her assets.
4. Assuming women without children don't care about the next generation.
In our society, women who decide to not have children are often harshly judged. There are a number of reasons why women (and their partners) decide to not start a family, but it usually is not because they don't care about the next generation. In fact, many of these individuals care greatly about children, give generous gifts to their nieces and nephews and volunteer to mentor young people. Make a point of asking women without children about their extended family and the young people in their lives. It takes a village to raise the next generation, and often these childless women play an important role in doing so.
5. Not inviting women to participate in the advisory process.
As I travel around the country, I often hear advisers say that women are just not interested in investments and financial matters. The truth is many women are interested but don't understand their importance to the financial team — especially if their male partner is more financially savvy. Instead of focusing on that more financially sophisticated partner, educate these female clients about the process and how their perspective and participation is vital. One partner, in this case the male, may be more knowledgeable about investments, but is not an expert on the other partner's experience in the world. Invite female clients to participate in advisory meetings and remind them that only they are experts on their goals, dreams and concerns.
If you have made any of these mistakes, don't worry. It just means you are human. Client service and financial advising is a challenging profession. It requires you to be an expert in numbers and psychology. The first part you learned in school; the rest you learn in the field. Just do me a favor and learn from your mistakes.
Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert, founder of KBK Wealth Connection, and author of several books including How to Give Financial Advice to Women and How to Give Financial Advice to Couples.