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Women in transition a key clientele

May 12, 2014 @ 12:04 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

Women, advice, retirement, single, divorce
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​The fact that 70% of women will likely switch financial advisers after their husbands die should stand out as big wake-up call for advisers, but the advice industry is still often taking female clients for granted.

​A husband's passing and divorce represent the two main drivers of what the advice industry describes as women in transition. And, it turns out, there is little that is straightforward about the approach to working with newly-single female clients.

​One way to help ensure more female clients stick with their adviser is to make every effort to bring them into the conversation while they are still part of a couple, according to Candace Bahr, managing partner at Bahr Investment Group.

​“I had the experience once where I was only speaking with the person listening to me, and that person was the husband,” she said. “Simply having two people in your office does not mean you have a relationship with both people. You have to make the effort, and it has to be a conscious effort that starts with making eye contact.”

(See also: Why female investors are naturally more risk averse)

​On Monday in Chicago at the InvestmentNews Retirement Income Summit, Ms. Bahr spoke about women in transition along with fellow panelists Dolf Dunn of the advisory firm Dolf Dunn Wealth Management, and Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert and founder of KBK Wealth Connection.

​Mr. Dunn, who works with a lot of female clients, said before he will start working with a couple he will make sure that both husband and wife are interested in participating.

​“I'll have a relationship with the couple or none at all,” he said. “I'm not going to deal with a couple where the husband says 'I handle all the investing issues.'”

​As part of the session, moderator and InvestmentNews reporter Darla Mercado pointed out that 95% of women are their family's primary financial decision-maker, and 87% of women are agnostic about the gender of their financial adviser.

​A few other key points for advisers to ponder: 80% of women die single, and 59 is the median age when women are widowed.

​It many respects, one could argue that women should be the primary focus of financial advisers, instead of just a niche market.

​“Gentlemen, you've been put on notice,” said Mr. Dunn in a reference to the need to focus on female clients and potential clients.

​On the misconception that you have to be a female adviser to help a female investor, Mr. Dunn said, “I've had some great women role models in my life. If helping people is at the core, I don't think there's a better client in the world than a woman in transition.”

​In terms of that transition, Ms. Kingsbury said it never hurts to think about all the ways to help clients get through a rough period, including bringing in professionals from other fields.

​​“What's really important is to think of women in transition because it's different to go through a divorce than losing your husband,” she said. “Common things that happen to widows is they feel overwhelmed during that first year. I would suggest advisers focus not on the numbers, but give them a chance to talk about what is going on. Be very direct by helping them take small steps, and try not to overwhelm the person going through the transition.”

​She cited one example of an adviser who just wanted to help a female client to stop feeling so sad. To that, Ms. Kingsbury said it might be useful to have a list of qualified therapists to which the adviser could refer a client.

​“The emotions are there whether we recognize them or not, and if that's an area where you feel a little uncomfortable, it may just be a matter of getting some additional skills training,” she said. “As an adviser, you will probably have an emotional reaction ranging from 'I can handle this' to 'this is very bad and I need to get out of this room.' When you're noticing that tendency it is great if you've already vetted some therapists and you are comfortable making that referral.”

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