September 25, 2013

The Key to Attracting More Female Clients

Drop the lame stereotypes and really understand what’s needed, says RegentAtlantic’s Newton

One common stereopype: that women only want female advisors. One common stereopype: that women only want female advisors.

“Women are not a niche.”

More and more industry insiders are repeating that simple, yet critical, phrase. Pershing Advisor Solutions president (and ThinkAdvisor contributor) Mark Tibergien wrote a white paper and accompanying column in Investment Advisor on the subject last year. Sallie Krawcheck made it the subject of her presentation at the Envestnet conference in May. Despite the high-profile pleas, too many advisors still treat women as just another target market, akin to physicians or airline pilots.

Yet how can a demographic that accounts for more than 50% of the planet’s population be a niche?

“You would never think of marketing to men as a niche,” Jane Newton says. The JPMorgan alum, currently a partner and wealth advisor at RegentAtlantic Capital, doesn’t claim to be an expert on women, “but I am an expert with the issues of women on Wall Street,” and she’s knocking down some of the more common, and obtuse, stereotypes that advisors hold when looking to attract more female clients.

“I cannot find consensus that all women want female advisors,” she begins. “It instead comes down to trust. If you’re asking someone to bare their soul, you have to make it comfortable for them. You can’t have it like a doctor’s office where they get into the white gown and wait in a cold and sterile environment.”

Some women, she adds, specifically request to not work with female advisors, “so in order to instill that sense of trust, comfort and credibility in clients you should have a mix of male and female advisors on staff.”

Conversely, she finds that some men want to work with female advisors; others don’t. They might not want to work with a female advisor on their own situation, but they might have an elderly mother that’s recently widowed, or a daughter that is an executive and needs financial advice.

“You can’t lump together a woman who works on Wall Street with a woman who is recently widowed or divorced. The latter might be totally disengaged from their finances. My niche is high-level women on Wall Street, and even then they can’t be lumped together. Some are financially savvy and some are not. Some may be in human resources, for instance, or might be mortgage specialists; others may be in the capital markets.”

A niche is about setting a course of action for clients that betters their lives, she argues, so her male and female Wall Street clients actually have more in common with one another than many female clients have with other women.

“For instance, their whole well-being is dependent on the well-being of Wall Street. They live primarily in the tri-state area and real estate rises and falls with the market. It’s perfectly correlated; when it’s good it’s good, but when it’s bad, it’s really bad.”

From a business standpoint, Wall Street women still struggle “to get a seat at the table” and raise their visibility among their male colleagues, she adds. They might know how to negotiate with their employees and negotiate with their children, but are really uncomfortable negotiating for themselves.

“For this reason, I put together the Wall Street Women Forum, which is now in its fifth year,” Newton says. “It’s an invitation only event for 125 women, and happens each spring. We talk about these issues. A woman might be considering a new job and wants to know if the numbers work. The headhunter can’t tell her that, but we can sit down and go through it with her.”

As to the issue of attracting more women to the RIA industry, one that is still overwhelmingly “male, pale and stale,” she doesn’t claim to have the answers, but she isn’t discouraged.

“I think the wealth management field is terrific for women, and I struggle with the reason why we don’t attract more,” Newton concludes. “Part of the problem is that a young woman might approach their college professor about a job in financial services. Typically, the professor has contacts in the capital markets and investment banking sectors, so that’s where the student will be steered. Whatever the reason, we need to do a better job of raising awareness among women about the RIA space, and I want to be a part of it!”

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