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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

This is Not Your Father's Business

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Despite the stereotypes that still cling to the financial-services industry, the fact is that the personalities and skill-sets that once defined stockbrokers as aggressive salesmen working the phones and pushing product through the old boys’ network are becoming obsolete.

The emphasis now is on peddling advice, and that requires a much kinder, gentler–dare we say female–approach. “Today’s advisors need to listen, be patient, and show empathy for their clients, all characteristics typically associated with women,” says Steve Cundell, owner of the Cornerstone Group, a management-consulting firm that specializes in helping companies recruit and retain key staff. That means dumping the frat-house persona and making significant efforts toward attracting–and keeping–women.

During the late-1990s’ labor crunch, financial-services firms went on a spending spree to recruit top advisors, plying them with huge signing bonuses, fancy cars, and in-office massages.

“Money, customers, and prospects were just pouring in, and as a result, the sales force developed a lot of bad habits.”

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All that changed when the market crashed. Companies “right-sized,” and marginal advisors were ushered into other professions. Firms sharply curtailed their recruiting efforts and went into defensive mode. Now, with the economy heating back up, employers face a shortage of qualified workers. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, in 15 years there will be 15% fewer Americans between the ages of 35 and 45. At the same time, demand for employees is going to rise 25%.

Cundell predicts that the coming labor shortage will be even more severe than the one that gripped the industry 10 years ago, which means employers will have to work even harder to attract top talent, appealing to women in ways far more substantial than in-office back massages.

Some firms are already making strides in that direction, as they incorporate flexible work schedules and try to shed the industry’s macho image. Over the next few years, though, the rest of the industry will have to follow suit. “If they don’t, they’ll be stuck with a bunch of 55-year-old guys,” Cundell says.

And that old boys’ network isn’t going to get anybody anything other than a partner at tee-time.