January 25, 2012

Advisors Fall Short of Aiding Affluent Women: New Study

An opportunity and a challenge for the financial services industry

The financial services industry has a long way to go in providing the kinds of services wealthy women say they want, according to new research by Family Wealth Advisors Council, a national network of independent, fee-only wealth management firms.

The results come from a study of high-net-worth American women titled “Women of Wealth: Why Does the Financial Services Industry Still Not Hear Them?” The first round of findings, released Tuesday, looks at what worries wealthy women.

Among the findings:

  • 86% of working women surveyed consider obsolete careers and eroding earning power as risks to their financial success. The majority of female successful executives anticipate a major career change within the next year;
  • Married women believe health challenges present a greater risk to their financial security than the death of a spouse;
  • 96% of women want their unique circumstances and their entire life picture understood by their financial advisor;
  • 80% of women (either married or divorced) believe that they will be called on at some point to help one or more of their children in a crisis;
  • 81% of retirees see a potential decline in the economy as a major risk, versus 45% of full-time working women;
  • 57% of married women feel that divorce poses a significant risk to their financial well-being.

A second round of results, expected to be released late in the first quarter, will consider the needs of married and unmarried executive-level working women, said Eileen O’Connor, the study’s co-author along with Heather Ettinger, in a telephone interview with AdvisorOne.

The overall study, conducted last year between March and August, involved 551 women across the U.S. with a net worth of $1 million or more, and tracked the statistical differences across marital status, employment status, age and net worth.

Today, women are building and inheriting more wealth than men. As their economic clout in the workplace and purchasing power in all consumer and commercial markets increases, their dissatisfaction with the financial services industry is also growing. The results released Tuesday showed that women do not like to be considered a monolithic group, but want services tailored to their specific circumstances.

O’Connor said the women’s market for financial services has become so big that the industry cannot ignore the opportunity, but to avail itself, the sector must respond to what women want.

Women in the study said they wanted to be understood as unique individuals. They wanted an advisor who is trustworthy, and advisors can build trust by listening to them. As well, the respondents said it was very important that the advisor be a fiduciary and that the advisor

create a strategic investment allocation based on their particular situation, goals and risk appetite.

Working women more than others in the survey tended to work with a nonfiduciary advisor, one who acts in the best interest of his or her firm rather than gives undivided loyalty to the client. As a result, a big majority of these women felt their advisor did not understand them very well. The reason this happens, O’Connor speculated, is that working women are so strapped for time that they do not do sufficient homework in selecting their advisors.

Women, she said, are looking for a wealth manager that can provide advance planning, relationship management and investment advice—a one-stop shop. According to the study, nearly all the participants who had a wealth manager and fiduciary felt their advisor understood them “very well” or “well enough.”

One of the study’s findings leapt out, O’Connor said. Contrary to the industry’s notion that an advisor’s gender is not important to women, a quarter of divorcees and widows surveyed felt strongly about the gender of their advisor, with most preferring a woman in that role. Their reasons included that women listened better and could better relate to their situation.

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