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The rise of the female financial adviser

Boomers' wealth transfer and the industry's shift from investment management to financial planning are among the factors that may lead to more women in adviser roles

Aug 8, 2018 @ 4:53 pm

By Joni Youngwirth

Our industry has long lamented the small percentage of female advisers. Indeed, the data show that only around 17% of all advisers are women. But has the time (finally!) come for the rise of the female financial adviser?

The Tipping Point

We do seem close to a tipping point. Here are some factors that may lead to more women taking on the adviser role.

Clients of the future. Boomers remain the dominant group among advisers' clients, but they are trending toward the decumulation stage. This eventual transfer of wealth will be gradual. More dramatic changes, however, will occur as male boomers pass away and leave their spouses with the responsibility for financial affairs.

We often hear that female clients leave the advisers of their late spouses to seek someone with whom they are more comfortable. We must also consider younger women who are waiting longer to marry or not marrying at all; their financial lives are their own responsibility. Still, do female clients prefer female advisers? The data on this point are inconclusive.

Shift from investment management to financial planning. The industry is trending from an emphasis on investment management to financial planning. But do female advisers embrace planning over investment management more than their male counterparts? According to the CFP Board, 76.83% of certified financial planner professionals are male and 23.16% are female. So if woman make up 17% of total advisers but 23% of CFPs, perhaps they are better aligned to embrace this planning-heavy designation.

Female support staff. The support staff in adviser offices tend to be dominated by women. As they see advisers embrace a planning approach instead of, or in addition to, an investment approach, some might say, "I can do that!" The result? A built-in pool of potential female candidates ready to seize the role of adviser.

Gender neutrality. All-female firms are becoming slightly more common. Moreover, the Me Too movement has led to growing awareness of gender issues and the need for equity of pay for women.

An economic decision. We know from Labor Department data that women are still paid less than men. As such, a shift to more recruiting and training of female advisers may be an economic decision — especially as the industry trends toward tighter margins and new business models. But for talented women hoping to change careers from comparatively lower-paying professions, such as teaching and social work, this could be the perfect opportunity.

(More: With female managing partner in the wings, Edward Jones emphasizes diversity)

Industry Organizations Embrace Gender Diversity

Recently I had the opportunity to work with two leading industry organizations that are embracing gender diversity. At this year's Women Adviser Summit sponsored by InvestmentNews, I was utterly struck by the quality of participants. InvestmentNews also sponsors the Women to Watch initiative, focused on recognizing and uplifting female advisers.

Another recent aha moment came when I asked Bloomberg Radio to facilitate a panel discussion at an upcoming Commonwealth Financial Network conference. I was told that Bloomberg will participate only on those panels where there is gender diversity. What a delight to hear of this leading organization's clear policy supporting female advisers!

To be sure, efforts are being made by an increasing number of industry organizations to focus on supporting female advisers. Woman like these events — it would be hard to stop this trend.

There's Always a Catch

Even with gender parity, will woman play a powerful role in the future of the industry? Mergers within the industry mean fewer firms that are bigger in size.

When these larger firms offer salaried staff adviser positions, female advisers may be at a disadvantage. In a firm led by a man, owned by a group of male partners or with a male-dominated board of directors, a growing number of female advisers may not equate to growth in stature and influence. Not to mention the fact that the number of women on boards of directors remains a dismal statistic.

Nonetheless, given the changes happening in the industry today, it makes sense that the rate of female recruitment and growth will increase. That's great! But at the same time, female advisers need to remember it's not just a numbers game. It is also about the level of influence, power and persuasion they wield in their organizations.

(More: Why advisers need to be both effective and efficient)

Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network.

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