Practice Management

Adviser triples assets by making her firm female-friendly

Apr 8, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Five years ago, Cathy Curtis' financial advisory practice had pretty much stalled out when she met a woman at a networking event who was a “branding” expert.

After a 12-week clinic with the woman, Ms. Curtis realized her greatest strengths were her ability to listen and to educate without coming off as condescending — two skills that she knew her female clients especially appreciated.

“Five years ago, I set a path of marketing to women and it's been unbelievably successful,” Ms. Curtis said. “It's been a great journey.”

Now that she markets to female professionals and other wealthy women, Ms. Curtis has tripled the assets under management of her Oakland, Calif.-based practice, Curtis Financial Planning, to $30 million. Not bad, considering that 10 years ago, she switched careers out of the packaged-food industry into the financial advice business without any experience, clients or assets.

The Curtis Financial Planning website is her primary marketing tool, and while it's not full of girly graphics, its target audience is unquestionably female. Her tag line sums up her focus: “For savvy women, their families and their businesses.”

“I market to professional women who are savvy about their finances but don't want to do it themselves,” said Ms. Curtis, a certified financial planner and registered investment adviser.

LOW-KEY, HIGH-FOCUS

Her website is low-key in terms of sales pitch and high-focus on help and personal service.

“Want to pursue a relationship with Curtis Financial Planning?” it asks. If so, the first step for the client is to call Ms. Curtis to see if she and the adviser are a “good fit.”

Ms. Curtis also spends a lot of time networking with groups focused on women and said she's noticed more competition in the recent year or two with other financial advisers targeting women.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors started a women's initiative last year aimed at teaching advisers how to approach female clients and fill in financial knowledge gaps.

The key to working with women about finances is to listen to everything they say during meetings, even if the topic strays from monetary goals and retirement plans, Ms. Curtis said.

“They want to have a conversation and feel comfortable,” she said. “They open up quickly if you just listen, and they will share information that's important.”

For example, one client who is single, 47 and came into a windfall when a large firm bought her business, told Ms. Curtis about a new boyfriend who she believes is “the one.” That's important because planning will take a different path if she's likely to be married in the near future, she said.

“Women will divulge that sort of thing early in the process with another woman,” Ms. Curtis said.

EYE ON PHILANTHROPY

She finds that many of her clients are afraid of running out of money, even when they seemingly are well off. In addition, many corporate women are looking to do something they really care about and want to figure out whether they can afford to take a sabbatical from their jobs or switch careers altogether. Many want to start their own businesses, she said.

Clients also tend to want to increase the amount they give to charities and see how their giving is having an impact, Ms. Curtis said. She has added philanthropic planning to her practice, so these giving decisions are talked about all year, not just Dec. 31.

Other topics of interest to women that she regularly handles include adopting a child, dealing with the care of their parents and sustainable investing.

lskinner@investmentnews.com

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