Women Who’ve Spurned Financial Advice as a Career Should Think Again, Say Female Wealth Professionals

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Women would be better off viewing the financial advice space as a coaching and helping field, instead of a sales-driven, “eat what you kill” kind of business, say female advisors. That might draw more women into a field that could really use a woman’s patience, nurturing and listening skills.

There’s been loads of talk in the wealth management business of late about capturing female investors’ assets and turning more women into clients—but no real buzz about bringing more women into the financial planning field as professionals who can speak directly to women’s needs and goals, particularly when they are in a period of transition (during a divorce, for instance). This is when women are most likely to look for a female planning professional for support and advice.

Data from the CFP Board finds that between 2000 and 2012, the percentage of females with the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation actually fell slightly from 24.7 percent of all CFP certificants to 23.3 percent.

Women advice professionals say they’re not terribly surprised. “We’re not mentoring the way we should,” says Deena Katz, chairman of Evensky & Katz Wealth Management in Coral Gables, Fla.

“We don’t spend enough time talking to women about this career being something that would be that appealing to them,” says Katz, who is also an associate professor in the Personal Financial Planning Division at Texas Tech University and one of the best-known women in financial planning.

Katz tells eFinancialCareers that women who might want to get into the planning field most likely need to make a distinction between transaction-based investment management—where it's largely about pushing product and having the right contacts, thus “it's not what you know but who you know.”

Full-scale financial planning, meanwhile, is “this wonderful mix of finance and counseling and helping people to look holistically at their lives and help them be drawn to meet their goals,” Katz says.

That message could be a magnet to women, who are naturally collaborative but less apt to seek out a career that’s focused mostly on “how many people can we get to buy this stuff,” says Katz.

There are a number of benefits to becoming involved in the financial advice field. For one, it is less cyclical and less subject to the ups and downs of investment banking and other Wall Street careers, and is therefore continuing to hire at a time when banks are thinning their ranks. Moreover, women tend to look for other women to help them with their financial lives at times of strife and change, particularly when they have divorced or widowed or are faced with illness.

That message came through loud and clear at the Investment Management Consultants Association’s New York Consultants conference in New York last month. At the forum, financial planners including Susan L. Hirshman, author of the new book Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Financial Empowerment And Success, and Alyssa Moeder, senior vice president and private wealth advisor with Merrill Lynch, discussed the factors that have begun driving women to seek out planning professionals:

First, they are the jugglers of the family, handling many household and professional tasks at one time while their male counterparts tend to be more focused on work. Those who are entrepreneurs and heads of the household are particularly apt to need a hand in handling their finances.

But by far the greatest opportunity for female planners comes when women are dealing with a difficult transition—such as a divorce or loss of a spouse, Merrill’s Moeder told the audience.

Statistics bear this out: Whereas single women tend not to count gender as a major reason for choosing an advisor, a 2011 study by the Family Wealth Advisors Council finds that one in four divorcees and widows said they feel very strongly about the gender of their advisor. Most of these respondents preferred another woman, the study found, seeking better listening skills and someone able to relate better to their situation. Of the 551 women surveyed for the study, a majority (62 percent) had a net worth greater than $1 million, and 11 percent had a net worth greater than $5 million.

The thing that men don’t get sometimes when it comes to handling a female client during tough times is they want to feel comfortable being vulnerable and might even want to be able to cry in some situations, says Moeder. A key question for advisors of all stripes, says Hirshman, is “Do you have the patience to sit there and listen” when someone is sharing their personal story?

More tips for women interested in becoming a financial advice professional space can be found here.

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