Perspectives from Women Advisors at Wealthspire Advisors
As we observe International Women’s Day on March 8th, there is a lot to celebrate as gender gaps continue to be closed. 51% of women report they are the “CFO” of their household, and 62% of women report either being the main or co-breadwinner in their family. At the same time, it’s no secret that financial services industries continue to be male-dominated. Female financial advisors make up only 17% of the industry and women advisors account for only 23.3% of all Certified Financial PlannersTM (CFP®s).
What’s reassuring is that the tides are starting to change as more investment firms and RIAs step up to ensure they develop workplaces and work cultures that are supportive of women investment professionals and financial advisors. At Bronfman Rothschild, we’ve long been committed to fostering an environment supportive of women financial professionals. Women are well-represented on our leadership team, and nearly 50% of our CFP® certificants are women.
To get a sense of what women experience in wealth management, we talked with three of our directors, learning both about their personal journeys as financial advisors and what they have learned from supporting and listening to their female clients.
How would you encourage more women to enter your field?
Laura Barry: I frequently observe that the wealth management industry is one where women are well-suited to thrive, but mentorship is part of the solution for individual career growth. Female advisors should continue to mentor other women and help them find opportunities for growth. I also think women advisors entering the field should look for firms that offer those opportunities for growth and provide roles at varying levels of support. For example, a firm that offers internal client support roles may be appealing to some women who have not yet had the chance to cultivate client relationships and build their own client base.
What have you learned from working with female clients?
I find that my female clients have a strong appreciation for learning, particularly among those who are baby boomers or younger. They ask good questions. They want to understand the various implications associated with financial decisions. They’re often interested in articles and conversations that help move their knowledge base forward. I’ve found that as I work with these women, I have advanced my own style and approach, which has helped me grow and evolve as an advisor.
I also strive to be inclusive to ensure that my female clients are equally heard and brought into the conversation, particularly if I am working with a husband and wife. Even though one spouse may have primary responsibility over finances, I’ve learned to ask each individual separately about their questions and concerns. I will specifically ask my female clients, by name, what they think or what concerns they have, which are often different from those of their husband. Sometimes that means making some space for longer periods of silence while thoughts are collected, but it always pays off to listen.
I’ve found that many of my female clients have a desire to be good stewards of what they have. This might mean taking care of their immediate or extended family, or even their community. This desire to be a good steward is the foundation of truly thoughtful financial planning that considers the goals and outcomes for multiple generations.
What unique challenges do female clients face?
Advisor 2: One challenge I see women face a lot can be summed up as a transition in financial authority. The likelihood that women will outlive their husbands can pose unique challenges; divorce is another challenge that frequently means women may suddenly find themselves in a place where they’re 100% responsible for their investments and finances. Ensuring that female clients are educated and involved earlier can empower them to take control of their financial well-being on their own.
Not being taken seriously
There are also less-tangible challenges facing female clients. Historically, women haven’t been taken as seriously as the male clients. It’s assumed that men run the household and make important financial decisions. I’ve personally experienced situations where firms have called my husband directly, assuming he made the decisions, even though I was explicitly listed as the primary contact. Fortunately, people are waking up to the reality that women have equal responsibility when it comes to managing household finances. Last year, 53% reported having either “a great deal of responsibility” or they “do it all” when managing the household’s long-term savings and investments. Because of this, women are now targeted as important clients and there is greater focus on deepening relationships with female clients.
Another one of those less-tangible challenges female clients face is that they can sometimes be too trusting, usually after a relationship develops over time. Older women in particular may lean entirely on the trusting relationship with their financial advisor. I’ve actually encouraged some of my female clients to ask questions and challenge assumptions because I think it’s important that they know how to be good clients. While women tend to be better at focusing on the big picture and long-term goals, I want my female clients to hold their advisors accountable for the investments they’re choosing, any recommendations they’re making, and their fees—whether that’s me or someone else in the future.
Educating the next generation
While less of a challenge perhaps than an added responsibility, women want to prepare their heirs to be good stewards of wealth. They start thinking about how they can educate their children and incorporate family values into conversations about wealth. The process tends to start with a foundation in values and philanthropy, and then moves into topics of wealth and what it means. Women often ask their financial advisors for help in laying the groundwork for these discussions and developing a thoughtful strategy many years before they tell their children how much money they have. I personally enjoy working with my clients’ children—both young and adult children—on financial literacy, philanthropy, and other topics that surround being a good steward of wealth (which they may or may not know they have).
Despite being in different office locations—Milwaukee and Philadelphia—it was clear in speaking with Laura and another advisor that they all share a dedication to and passion for their calling as financial advisors—a role that allows them to uniquely serve clients in a personal and meaningful way. As women, they are particularly motivated to serve and learn from their female clients, who in turn have helped them grow and evolve both personally and professionally.