One place where the women wealth equation doesn't add up

More progress and effort needed to boost number of female advisers

Nov 20, 2017 @ 12:01 am

By Mary Beth Franklin

The power of the purse is enormous and growing. Women control nearly 60% of the wealth in the United States, represent nearly half of American millionaires and are expected to control two-thirds of the nation's wealth by 2030.

The only part of the women-and-wealth equation that doesn't seem to be growing is the number of female advisers available to serve the growing market of women clients. Less than a third of financial advisers are women, and the share of female certified financial planners has remained static at about 23% for years — a severe underrepresentation, as women constitute 51% of the U.S. population.

As more consumers recognize the need for financial planning, many of those needs may go unmet unless the population of financial advisers more closely reflects the demographics they serve. To address the challenge, the CFP Board launched its Women's Initiative in 2013, which later morphed into the board's Center for Financial Planning, to promote a more diverse and sustainable workforce in a profession sometimes described as "old, pale and male." I am proud to say I have served on the Women's Initiative Council since its beginning.

(More: CFP Board launches program to attract more women planners)

"We're still stuck at 23% because you can't wave a magic wand and see the results of your efforts in one or two years, because of the length of the CFP certification process," said Eleanor Blayney, one-time CFP consumer advocate and author of the 2014 CFP Board white paper that identified the "feminine famine" in financial planning.

"But we have seen a tremendous increase in interest, both in terms of financial services firms creating initiatives to increase recruitment of female candidates and current CFP professionals serving as ambassadors and mentors to spread the word about why women should consider financial planning as a career," said Ms. Blayney, who now serves as the special adviser on gender diversity to the Center for Financial Planning.

Perhaps the most important mission of the center's outreach initiative is to plant a seed in the minds of young girls through financial literacy and leadership programs that financial planning is a career option. In addition, the center funds scholarships for promising college students to start or complete their CFP certification training.

"Awareness is up, but changing the culture of our profession to be more welcoming to women is our big challenge," Ms. Blayney said.

In the meantime, some female advisers are taking steps to create new platforms to serve women clients in a way that focuses on education and addresses their financial fears and dreams rather than investment-centric discussions more typical in an industry designed by men for men.

"Women talk to women differently," said Nina Mitchell, senior wealth adviser at Bridgewater Wealth and co-founder of Her Wealth, launched in 2015 along with Dawn Doebler.

(More: Meet the 2017 Women to Watch)

"We were seeing more and more women come to us in crisis situations," Ms. Mitchell said. "Whether newly widowed or going through a divorce, these are women who need to be more engaged in their finances, and we wanted to have more meaningful conversations with them and to help instill confidence in them."

Ms. Doebler, who is both an accountant and certified financial planner specializing in divorce issues, serves as director of education for Her Wealth. She orchestrates the special events and educational seminars and provides weekly personal finance spots, along with Ms. Mitchell, on a local radio station. The unique angle is that the financial commentary is delivered by women for women.

The response to the public outreach has been positive. "Women have come out of the woodwork and are clamoring for information about the next event," Ms. Doebler said.

While neither Ms. Mitchell nor Ms. Doebler had female role models when they began their financial planning careers more than two decades ago, they make a point of hiring young female advisers and have awarded the first Her Wealth scholarship to a local college student studying accounting.

"Women are uniquely positioned to use their empathy, listening skills and compassion in the financial planning process," said Cary Carbonaro, managing partner of United Capital of New York and New Jersey.

"It is not just about 'winning' or beating the S&P 500 Index," said Ms. Carbonaro, who is also the author of "The Money Queen's Guide: For Women Who Want to Build Wealth and Banish Fear."

"Women planners and investors want to know how this money impacts their life and life goals," she said.

The key rule when dealing with female clients, Ms. Carbonaro said, is: "Let her talk."

Brittney Castro is not only one of the faces in the new "I am a CFP Pro" outreach campaign created by the Center for Financial Planning, she is a role model for a new generation of financial advisers. Working primarily with professional women in their 30s and 40s, she said her clients want a service that educates and empowers them, not a sales pitch.

Her clients, who are accustomed to subscription models for everything from gym memberships to Netflix, are comfortable with her flat fee or monthly retainer model.

"I don't compete with robo-advisers," she said. "I leverage them to offer the best technology and investment platforms that make it easier for my clients to invest while saving time and money."

Mary Beth Franklin, a certified financial planner, is a contributing editor for InvestmentNews.

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