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Attracting Female Advisors to Your Firm

According to Cerulli Associates, just 16 percent of today’s advisors are women – less than 50,000 out of more than 300,000 nationwide.

At the same time, women control an increasing majority of U.S. personal wealth -- $14 trillion, or 51 percent, as of 2015, and a projected $20 trillion by 2020, according to the Bank of Montreal’s Wealth Institute.

All the while, the pool of advisors is shrinking. The consulting firm Moss Adams predicts that a shortfall of over 200,000 financial planners by 2022. What’s more, Cerulli data shows the average advisor is age 59, 43 percent are over 55, and nearly one-third are age 55 to 64.

All in all, firms both large and small would do well to bring more women aboard -- particularly those just entering the profession. As the national client pool grows younger and more diverse, so, too, should the body of advisors who serve them.

An evolving industry

“Historically, this has been a very male-dominated industry, and it hasn’t always felt as welcoming,” says Heather Hunt-Ruddy, head of client experience and growth at Wells Fargo Advisors. “I started in the late ’80s, and my experiences then were very different from my experiences today. There are different opportunities now, and the industry is evolving.”

Those opportunities include a host of new educational programs for both new grads and undergrads.

“I joined UBS right out of college and joined their graduate training program,” says Elizabeth Sheehan, financial advisor with UBS Wealth Management. “At 22, I saw what a career in financial management would look like, and every three months I got to do something different.”

Due to these and other opportunities, the industry is shifting – albeit slowly. For instance, women comprise 32 percent of the Financial Planning Association’s NexGen, a community for members age 36 and younger, while they make up just 28 percent of the FPA as a whole. Twenty-eight percent of all new advisors are also female, according to Cerulli, a figure that certainly eclipses its older professional counterparts.

The advantages of diversity

There are a variety of benefits to bringing women into an otherwise male-dominated firm, not least of which is the ability to attract female clients.

“I began my practice in 1990, and I truly believe that having women on our staff has helped us track not only female clients, but men, as well,” says Mischelle Copeland, Wells Fargo Advisors’ first vice president of investments.

“I think there’s always a certain percentage of women who want to do business with other women,” agrees Hunt-Ruddy. “Women clients are attracted to people who listen well, communicate well and follow up well. That’s not to say that men can’t do those things, but I think some of those softer skills tend to be naturally inherent to women.”

Gender isn’t the only avenue for diversity, of course, and most firms can benefit just as much from a broader spectrum of ages, ethnicities and ways of thinking.

“I’m a firm believer that diversity and inclusion aren’t just about doing the right thing,” says Sheehan. “They’re about hiring and promoting the best talent because it’s in the best interest of our clients.”

Younger advisors in particular can help firms appeal to multiple generations and secure the business of their current clients’ heirs.

“My business partner has lots of clients in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and we have relationships with their grandkids,” says Sheehan. “The 20-something doesn’t want to talk to the older male, but I can explain things in way they can understand.”

Overall, a gender- and age-diverse team will help your clients and business in the long term.

“Any time you’ve got lots of people in a room, you’ll have a better outcome than when you have one type of person,” says Hunt-Ruddy. “That goes for gender, as well as age, experience, ethnicity and more.”

Advisor recruitment

When recruiting women to their ranks, firms should first look inward.

“There’s a limited pool of qualified, experienced women to hire, and you have to be able to grow advisors,” says Hunt-Ruddy.

Sheehan likewise notes that she was first hired as a staff member, not an advisor. With the help of her mentor, she earned the experience and certifications necessary to build her own book of business.

“By the time my mentor brought me on to the team, all the other advisors said that was a good idea, and they wished they’d thought of it,” she says.

Barring that path, firms will need to scout local talent – ideally those about to graduate or recent graduates.

“If they’re serious, they need to start actively looking, not just waiting for them to come,” says Sheehan. Paid internships, in particular, work well for qualifying and capturing top-notch staff, many of whom may not have explored into finance in their undergraduate studies.

Finally, when scouting more experienced female advisors, it pays to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

“Experienced female advisors tend to be very detail-oriented in understanding how the relationship will impact their book,” says Hunt-Ruddy. “You’d better have your facts straight and be able to articulate why their clients are better served at your firm.”

Mentorship, education and retention

Given the lack of older female advisors, however, it may be a better path to develop talent. To that end, the more mentorship and educational opportunities you can provide, the more likely young women will be to rise through your ranks and stay with your firm.

“We have a wealth planning analyst program that helps us develop young talent to get them ready to become advisors,” says Sheehan. “Advanced education is always going to be to their benefit, and if people are going to trust you with their money, you need to give them a reason.”

Aside from helping young advisors get their CFPs, firms can help them find and develop more specific talents that will earn them spots on productive teams.

“I always get people to start thinking about what roles they may play,” says Sheehan. “We all know our area of expertise and the value we provide, and we stick to it.”

Planning, investments, marketing: If a mentee shows talent for a specific role, leveraging it will only improve their career and your firm.

Likewise, it may be to everyone’s benefit to not commission your younger women and men – at least not right off the bat.

“The reason our programs are so successful is they’re different from traditional training programs, and being different, they attract a lot of women,” says Hunt-Ruddy. “People aren’t commissioned the day after they get licensed. There are on-ramps and time to build, and that appeals to new grads who might be intimidated building a book of business purely on commission.”

Of course, it requires an upfront investment and long-term vision to offer that kind of on-ramping

Finally, it’s a good idea to create opportunities for female advisors to interact.

“I’m a big believer that you have to create networks for women,” says Hunt-Ruddy. “Our population isn’t that big, and in a firm where people are spread out all over the country, creating an avenue for us to get together and network is a big deal.” Ultimately, these networks create community, which leads to greater retention, more professional development and better client outcomes.

Painting the picture

Given the aging advisor pool and women’s increasing share of national wealth, it’s a great time to start hiring and developing more female advisors. To that end, it’s critical to communicate the benefits of both your firm and the profession as a whole. Specifically, the entrepreneurial, self-directed nature of the profession may appeal to women with other aspirations, and they want to know you’ll support them.

“My management team does everything they can to support me and keep me at the firm,” says Sheehan. “Before I even became an advisor, I told them I’d be having a family at some point, and I wanted to make sure this career will allow me to do that.”

“Start early in looking for talent, and really help create a picture in the person’s mind of what a career in wealth management could look like – the more details, the better,” says Sheehan.

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