May 3, 2010

Standing Out: Women Are Leading Wealth Management

While various studies performed throughout the years have shown that a large portion of the female population is the breadwinner in their families, that women are generally the bill payers, and that women's investing savvy gets better by the day, those studies have also borne out the facts that women still earn less than men when performing comparable jobs, and that women are still having a hard time breaking the glass ceiling in many professions.

But in wealth management and securities regulation, women are standing out, even though as a percentage of professionals in the financial services industry, their ranks are still smaller than men's.

Maria Elena Lagomasino, one of the Top 50 for the second year, is CEO of GenSpring Family Offices, with $18.8 billion in assets under management (AUM), for 700 families.

Deborah McWhinney is president, Personal Banking and Wealth Management, at Citi, and has an initiative to match the bank's clients with in-house and select outside registered investment advisors.

Sally Krawcheck, is president of Global Wealth and Investment Management at Bank of America, runs the bank's Merrill Lynch wealth management business, with some 16,000 brokers.

Mary Erdoes is CEO of Asset Management at JPMorgan.

The fifty women who've been chosen as stand outs in WealthManagerWeb.com's second annual 50 Top Women in Wealth know all too well the triumphs women have achieved, and the travails they've endured, while climbing the workforce ranks.

WealthManagerWeb.com is part of the Advisor Media Group at Summit Business Media, as is Investment Advisor. As a member of the advisory board whose mission was to select the 50 top women from a pretty extensive list of candidates, I was able to see first hand the tremendous achievements that women have made in the investment advisory and wealth management professions. In selecting the 50 Top Women in Wealth, the advisory board's mandate was to choose a diverse mix of women from across the financial services spectrum--women from RIA, broker/dealer, family office, private banking, regulatory, academic and legal worlds--who are leaders and forward thinkers.

Leading the way

One of those women is Mary L. Schapiro, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In an interview with Investment Advisor, Schapiro said that "women are absolutely populating the financial services industry much more extensively today than they used to--not at the highest levels [or] at the numbers I think they should be, and will hopefully ultimately get to, but I think there are definitely more and more opportunities." Schapiro says that she sees an increasing opportunity for women in financial services firms because "diversity is going to be very important strategy for [these firms] in the future." At the SEC, for instance, she points to the fact that three of the five commissioners are women, including Elisse B. Walter, Kathleen L. Casey, and Schapiro herself, and that women hold senior positions throughout the agency.

Diahann Lassus, co-founder and president of the fee-only New Jersey and Florida advisory firm Lassus Wherley, and past chair of NAPFA (from 2008-2009), another member of the 50 Top Women in Wealth list, believes that women have really "made the most progress" in the broader financial planning profession as opposed to the investment advisory space. "There are many reasons for that," she says. "I think the investment world, the world of Wall Street, is still a difficult area for women to get into," because the high percentage of men who populate the profession generally stick to hiring men. Lassus has noticed women tend to have "more success in smaller firms that are focused on financial planning and wealth management," and adds, "we're seeing more and more women starting their own firms." But Lassus says she's like to see more women securing Wall Street jobs, and cites an article she read that argued the financial meltdown wouldn't have been so severe if "more women were making the decisions." Men and women "do see the world differently and we tend to deal with investments differently and with clients differently." There's a definite need for more balance on Wall Street, she says, "and I think women can help bring the balance to the equation."

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