Women In Financial Services It Should Be An Ideal Match

Wanted: Entrepreneurs and self-starters who desire to run their own businesses and to make a difference in the lives of their clients. Be your own boss. Long hours (though flexible) to start. Possibility of working from home. Small financial rewards initially as you grow your business. Large future income potential.

The above advertisement is one that should attract many women. Who wouldnt want the opportunity to reap large financial rewards for doing something good for people? And who wouldnt want flexible hours and the ability to work at least some of the time from home?

The answer, at least according to industry statistics, is women. What is it about a career in financial services that fails to attract women? We know that, on average, fewer than 20% of career agents in the top life insurance companies are women.

We also know that an even smaller percentage of women reach the top sales tiers of these organizations. And yet, women are searching for meaningful, rewarding careers. They want flexible hours to achieve balance of family life and career life. They want financial security for themselves and their families.

A career in financial services should be a natural fit for women. Women are relationship builders and problem solvers. We know that today successful careers in financial services are built on a solid foundation of relationships.

We are no longer motivated by the single transaction. We want to help our clients holisticallyaddress their changing needs over the course of their lifetimes. But, in order to best meet those changing needs, you need to have a solid grasp of increasingly complex concepts, and you need to be able to motivate the client to act on the recommendations you have madein short, you have to be able to sell.

And, in selling, you have to risk rejection. For women, who have worked so hard for acceptance as equals and who have worked so hard to prove their ability, rejection is very hard to take.

Companies, however, are catching on that women agents are vital to their future success. One, women know how to talk to other womenweve been doing it our entire lives. And, opportunities for future growth are heavily dependent upon being able to tap into the various and diverse segments of womens markets successfully.

Women as a group are terribly underinsured and in search of sound financial advice. Of course, women–as clients–tell us that gender is not an issue for them in choosing a financial advisor (OppenheimerFunds Women and Investing survey, 5/9/02).

But, they also want an advisor who will pay them the attention they deserve, who they can trust, who will respect them, who has greater experience than their own, and who understands the clients desire to maintain control. In other words, women want advice and options from their advisor, but they want to make the final decisions.

These are qualities that women agents possess and, accordingly, provide them a unique advantage in the womens marketplace.

Women agents are acutely aware of the many pressures on their female clients time because they are experiencing many of the same challenges. This is not to say that male agents do not have the same challenges–many do. But women truly understand what other women are dealing with.

Having made the case that women are great relationship builders and have a natural affinity in womens markets, what are the barriers to their success as financial professionals?

The fact that they remain a distinct minority among the ranks of advisors at a time when women are entering other professional careers in greater numbers tells us that we have not done a great job of advocating this career to women.

The first barrier is the lack of women role models. When women look at this career, they want to see other women who have succeeded.

Women who love this career are able to balance it with family and other personal obligations, are able to truly make a difference in their clients lives, and are earning enough to support themselves and their families in the lifestyle they want.

The lack of role models sends the subliminal message that this may not be a career women want. Think of it this way: How would you feel if you walked into a room and everyone there was vastly different from you? Perhaps they all spoke another language that you did not speak or understand. Thats how many women feel walking into an agency where there are few, if any, role models.

Many agencies have no women agents at all. In some agencies, the only employed women are the support staff. One truly is a lonely number.

Lets assume you currently have no women agents but want to recruit. What do you do? If you provide your female recruits with support and education and you help them develop a market, you will be able to increase your numbers of successful women agents. But, you have to make a commitment to truly support them, coach them, offer positive re-enforcement, role-play client planning meetings with them and help them to get comfortable with closing a sale.

The one message I consistently have heard from newer women agents is that they want more guidance on closing and they want a mentor who will listen, coach, guide and challenge them to overcome obstacles.

In addition, they want to have contact with other women agents. If there are none in your agency, then find others within your company who would be willing to provide an internal network.

And, encourage them to associate with organizations designed to provide them with ideas, encouragement and support, such as Women in Insurance and Financial Services (www.w-wifs.org). Encourage them to obtain their professional credentials, such as the CFP, CLU, ChFC and CLTC. Successfully obtaining these credentials will not only increase their base of knowledge, but also their confidence in their own abilities.

Developing their target market early on and critically assessing whether that market is viable to them is also key. If they have no natural market–and you have no target market to offer them or help develop–then you will continue to experience low retention rates for your women recruits.

It sounds like a lot of work. Actually, its more of a commitment to making it work, than work itself. And, it is a commitment worth makingwomen agents will be key revenue drivers for you. They have a passionate commitment to their clients, and that passion begets client loyalty.

Loyal clients who have been motivated to implement successful plans will be your best advocates. And, you will have succeeded in doing well by doing good. It doesnt get any better than that!

Susan Sweetser is second vice president, womens markets, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass. She can be reached at ssweetser@massmutual.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, January 16, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.