Meeting the Needs of Women Clients
By Cindy Scott, manager, 1st Global Wealth Management Academy
Think of the best relationship you have with a male client. He’s been with you for many years and you consider yourself “old friends.” How is your relationship with his wife? If your answer is anything other than “spectacular,” you should read the following carefully: There’s a 70 percent chance your client’s wife will fire you within a year after the death of her spouse.¹
The professional financial advisory industry has catered to only one gender for too long. Soon, financial advisors who aren’t prepared to build relationships with women clients will find themselves missing out on a $22 trillion opportunity.
Surging Women’s Wealth
While a gender gap in pay remains in certain industries, women have been consistently accruing more and more share of total wealth in America. Women currently control $8 trillion in assets in the U.S., a figure that is expected to jump to $22 trillion by 2020, according to a TD Ameritrade Institutional study. According to Fidelity’s most recent Millionaire Outlook, roughly 40 percent of women out-earn their spouses.
A 2011 study from Prudential, “Financial Experience and Behaviors Among Women,” revealed that some 95 percent of women are directly involved in their households’ financial decisions and 25 percent stated that they were the primary decision-maker.
While an increasing number of women are making the financial decisions, many are doing so uneasily. Roughly 82 percent of those surveyed by Prudential said they needed “some” or “a lot of” help in making those decisions, and nine out of 10 weren’t confident they knew how to choose the appropriate financial products needed to meet their needs. When making an investment decision, women are most likely to gather information from their spouse (64 percent), printed materials (62 percent) and the Internet (42 percent).
Only one-third of women stated that they had a detailed financial plan in place. Why so few? The most common barriers cited include: lack of time, the pull to meet shorter-term financial obligations, lack of knowledge and an unmet desire for assistance.
As a woman who works directly with financial advisors, that last barrier caught my attention. The void between what women are looking for from the financial advisory profession and what they’re receiving could easily be labeled the “Grand Canyon” of financial services. Fidelity says some 73 percent of women are dissatisfied with the service they receive from the financial industry.
What Do Women Want in a Financial Advisor?
If you Google the above question, you’ll see more than 33 million “hits” for books, articles and presentations. Don’t let the sheer volume of information dissuade you from taking action. Fidelity says the answer is much simpler. Women want A) a plan, B) to be listened to, C) to be heard, D) time to digest and think.
When researching gender-based financial characteristics, Fidelity uncovered many overlapping concerns. Women are more likely to¹:
- Take no or below-average investment risk
- Find investment decision-making stressful, difficult, time-consuming
- Wait if an investment did not produce the expected return
- Want to know details when learning something new
- Describe advisors as sources of information
What’s their top priority? Some 74 percent of women rank “concern about their children, grandchildren” as their top financial planning priority.² Reuters reports  this frames their financial discussions in terms of the end goal.
“They don’t want to hear about the growth or comparative performance of different funds; they want information about reaching their long-term goals, like putting a kid through college,” a recent article from The Wall Street Journal said. 
A study from Hearts and Wallets  found that women demand more than men from their financial services firms. Some important qualities women look for are that the advisor “explains things in understandable terms” and “clearly and understandably presented fees.” They also prefer to have a collaborative relationship with their financial advisor.
Before you decide that you’re going to target women, some words of caution. Financial advisors should refrain from making stereotypical assumptions about their client based on gender. Women participating in a July 2010 Boston Consulting Group study  said they were frustrated by their advisor assuming they have a low risk tolerance and providing them with only a narrow range of investment solutions simply because of their gender. Others said they were shown “dumbed-down strategies” or offered strategies focusing on “social issues”—which might bear personal relevance, but should not be construed as a reasonable limitation due to gender.
While studies may indicate the inclination for women to take no or below-average investment risk, this does not mean they are accepting of this assumption. It would be a critical mistake for an advisor to assume women, due to their gender, have a low risk tolerance and would benefit from the offer of only a narrow range of investment solutions.
The Family Wealth Advisors Council says the financial services industry needs to listen carefully to what each woman is saying and learn to meet her unique needs, instead of generalizing about “women’s issues.”
Upgrading the Client Experience for Women
The Boston Consulting Group study  offered one strategy to close the service gap between men and women. They call this strategy the four R’s – recognize, research, respond and refine.
- Recognize – Leadership must recognize that women are an important and largely underserved client segment.
- Research – Leverage internal and external market-research functions to pinpoint the specific issues that are most important to your women clients.
- Respond – This doesn’t mean overhauling your entire service model. However, subtle changes in the way the relationship is managed can make a world of difference.
- Refine – Ongoing evaluation of processes to ensure women clients are satisfied.
Boston Consulting Group also cautions advisors to not forget the important role that communication plays. They suggest: catering to the client, not the gender; showing empathy and building trust; and recognizing and addressing cultural differences.
The next time that top male client schedules a meeting with you, insist that he bring his spouse along. Remember, she is your client too.
Cindy Scott is manager of the 1st Global Wealth Management Academy. Cindy develops and provides advisors with progressive, ongoing education to become better leaders and comprehensive wealth management practitioners.
1st Global Capital Corp. is a member of FINRA and SIPC and is headquartered at 12750 Merit Dr., Suite 1200 in Dallas, Texas, 75251; 214-294-5000. Investment advisory services offered through 1st Global Advisors, Inc., an SEC-Registered Investment Adviser. Additional information about 1st Global is available at www.1stGlobal.com .
¹ “Women Want More,” Boston Consulting Group, 2009; 2011 Fidelity® Couples Retirement Study
² Wealthy Women Investors, Spectrem Group 2011
³ “Leveling the Playing Field,” Boston Consulting Group, July 2010