Where are the women? Bridging the gender gap in the advice business

Tips for what advisers can do to build awareness of who they are, what they do and what they represent

May 6, 2015 @ 1:11 pm

By Lorie Konish

When Ashely Herb, a personal financial planning student at Kansas State University, decided to change her major from accounting, she had a lot of convincing to do.

The biggest hurdle, Ms. Herb told the audience at the Women Adviser Summit in Chicago Wednesday, was persuading her father that it was going to be OK.

“He looked at me and said, 'I don't want you to sell insurance for the rest of your life,'” she recalled.

Ms. Herb made a case for her decision by doing research on the profession and finding out what a job as a financial planner would entail, what kinds of opportunities there are in the profession and what kind of salary she could expect to make. “There's so much more I can do with this” than just selling insurance, she said.

(More: What draws women advisers to certain IBDs)

As the proportion of women who have a certified financial planner designation has stalled at 23% for the past 10 years, the financial advice industry has struggled to change the perception of the profession to attract more new female professionals like Ms. Herb.

“A lot of women think it's so math-related that you have to practically be a scientist to get into it,” Marilyn Dimitroff, director of wealth management and principal at Planning Alternatives. “The focus of it is actually much more behavior than math.”

At the summit, Ms. Herb and Ms. Dimitroff and professionals from the CFP Board and the University of Illinois offered their tips for what financial advisers can do to help bridge the gender gap in the industry.

GET THE WORD OUT

Now that Ms. Herb has switched her focus to studying personal financial planning, she said she finds she also has to explain what the profession is to her peers.

Ms. Herb's experience is in keeping with the CFP Board's research, according to Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate for the CFP Board. “There is not good awareness of who we are, what we represent and what we do,” she said.

In a survey completed by the CFP Board, almost half of men in financial services said they are aware about the financial planning profession and know about the CFP designation versus just 25% of women. That 25% of women, however, is far more likely to pursue the designation, Ms. Blayney said, which makes it crucial to get the world out about the profession to more women.

(More: Lynn Faust: Blazing a trail for women in advice)

“If you are a CFP, explain to another woman, a student, your daughter, why you became a CFP, why you became a financial planner and what you found,” Ms. Blayney said. “I think that goes a long way.”

LEND A HAND

Ms. Dimitroff said her firm is actively helping to encourage high school and college students to consider careers as financial advisers by inviting them to come and spend a day at the office. The firm recently hosted a high school student who was able to sit in on a meeting about pricing financial planning.

“That kind of 101 experience has been really valuable in terms of helping students understand what we do,” Ms. Dimitroff said.

Paul Ellinger, head of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois, said that professionals who are willing to spend time with students the way Ms. Dimitroff's colleagues does offer aspiring professionals a priceless experience. The University of Illinois currently has 100 students in its personal financial planning program, which was established five years ago.

“Be a mentor. Reach out to someone like [Ms. Herb] or to a university to be a mentor,” Mr. Ellinger said.

This story has been updated to indicate that Ms. Herb attends Kansas State University.

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