As our members know, the Financial Services Institute has been highly engaged for many years in the crucial mission of helping women begin and develop successful careers in the financial advice industry, both as advisers and home office executives. According to our ongoing dialog with members, it's clear that awareness of this critical challenge is growing, with more firms establishing mentoring networks and dedicated educational resources to help female professionals advance in their careers.
What is also clear, however, is that much work remains to be done — especially as women come to make up a greater proportion of the American investor population.
(For more of FSI's views on this subject in InvestmentNews, see Helping women get ahead in financial services.)
As more organizations become engaged in addressing this issue, new insights are emerging about various elements of the problem, and about best practices that can help female advisers successfully adapt.
One hurdle that is coming into clearer focus is that it's not only the adviser population that still skews predominantly male. Broader "center of influence" networks — those strong but informal interlocking connections that develop among business leaders in communities across the country, which often center around key tax and accounting professionals, attorneys and risk management specialists — remain primarily the domain of men as well.
As experienced members of our industry know, advisers' long-term success often depends on their ability to integrate themselves into these networks, which frequently serve as a source of strong referral business — the lifeblood of any thriving adviser's practice.
Networking organization The W Source, which helps female professionals establish and strengthen powerful connections with other women business leaders in their communities, is helping female advisers tackle this challenge by empowering them to proactively build their own COI networks.
The W Source will be one of the featured presenters at our Advancing Women in Leadership Workshop just prior to the commencement of our FSI Forum event for advisers and firm executives in September.
According to W Source co-founder Hannah Buschbom, women in our industry often do not realize the power of the connections they already have — or how to parlay those connections into a more robust network.
"Within every female adviser's existing book of business — even if the adviser is relatively new to the industry — there are opportunities to find that one person who can connect you to a hundred more," she said. "It's simply a matter of helping women understand this dynamic and how to take actionable steps to make it work for them."
Ms. Buschbom suggests female advisers keep a close eye on resources that can help them "mine" their existing business to identify and establish relationships with these key connectors, including trust documents, wills and insurance policies, among others. Each of these documents contain the names of attorneys, risk management professionals and others who share a focus on extending their networks — and who play influential roles in their clients' lives.
Ms. Buschbom also emphasizes that it's critical for men in our industry to realize that they have an important role to play as allies of female professionals. (This is actually one of The W Source's fundamental tenets, as Ms. Buschbom's co-founder in starting the organization is independent adviser Tom Goodson.)
Among other key contributions, Ms. Buschbom notes that established male advisers can utilize their own networks to help rising female advisers connect with up-and-coming women attorneys, CPAs and other professionals in their local communities.
For veteran advisers, facilitating such connections can be a vital way to extend and deepen relationships with important law firms, accounting firms and others by encouraging younger professionals at these companies to continue to work with the practice's rising generation of female advisers.
Of course, none of these networking best practices will help if our industry takes its eye off the ball when it comes to recruiting female professionals in the first place.
As another presenter at our Advancing Women in Leadership Workshop, Amy Philbrook, head of diversity and inclusion at Fidelity Investments, puts it, "Firms should strive to think beyond traditional strategies to connect earlier and in new places with prospective female recruits, which in turn will help drive awareness of career paths in financial services. With women making up more than half the total workforce, but less than 20% of financial advisers, there is clearly significant work to be done and tremendous opportunity."
We are certainly seeing signs of progress on the crucial issue of bringing more women into our industry and helping them succeed, as mentoring programs, dedicated training curricula for female advisers and innovative recruiting practices take root in firms across the country.
As we have also seen, though, these excellent programs are only part of the solution. In the coming years, we must not only continue to drive progress in recruiting, but in providing female advisers with the tools to succeed over the long term by building effective center of influence networks in their own communities.
Dale Brown is president and CEO of the Financial Services Institute.