Over the past few years, many financial service companies have come to the realization that women are an integral part of the marketplace. Women represent 51% of the population, head 45% of households with over $600,000 in assets, influence 85% of consumer purchases and, by 2010, are expected to control 60% of the nation’s wealth. Given these statistics, it’s in your best interest to ensure your financial practice is inviting to women.

Women versus men

The first step is to realize that women communicate differently than men. Women process information by asking questions and researching. The financial advisor is part of this research process. A female client may ask you for a recommendation and then continue to ask questions once you have made a recommendation.

While this may be frustrating to some advisors, the best solution is to help her along her research process by providing additional information, references and resources. Women don’t like being “sold.” Instead, they prefer that you work directly with them to ensure they understand your recommendations, why you are making them and what they mean for them in the short- and long-term.

In general, women also have a different relationship with money than men. When it comes to investment strategies, women want what the money can do for them and their families: provide security, safety and independence. Men, who are often more competitive by nature, typically want the prestige of having the best investment or a product with lots of bells and whistles.

Make sure you have a user-friendly website. Women like to research before they meet with a new advisor. You can help build a female client’s trust in you by providing thorough biographical information on your website, including profiles on all the employees at your firm. This sends an important message that you value all your employees and that everyone works as a team.

You can also make your office more welcoming to women by making a few small changes. Don’t put all your sales awards in prominent places. Although you may be proud of your achievements, this may tell the female client you are just out to make a sale rather than build a relationship. Instead, display your awards for service or for the charities you are involved in. Photographs of your children and grandchildren in visible places remind her that you are a caring person–not just a salesperson.

Finally, keep in mind a few little tips for handling your meeting with female clients. If you are meeting with a couple, give each spouse a business card. Do not assume the husband makes all the decisions for the household.

A good way to think about this is that marriages are like icebergs. You only get to see the top third of it. Below the surface are the other two-thirds of the marriage. Be careful about making assumptions of how decisions are made.

A fellow advisor learned this lesson the hard way. After meeting with a husband and wife couple, the advisor invited the husband to play golf. As the advisor walked the couple to the door, the wife pulled him aside and said, “I like to play golf too and this money we are investing is mine. I inherited it. If I didn’t like you as much as I do I would fire you right now.” The advisor found that to be a defining moment in his practice, and it can teach us all to never make assumptions.

Men and women also tend to run meetings differently. Women like to chit-chat before the meeting, and men like to get down to business first, then have time for small talk afterwards. Men have meetings to report information and to confirm what they already have decided; women have meetings to get the work done and make decisions at the meeting.

Working through the details

Details matter in building a practice catering to women. You should try to sit across from women so they can see your face and look into your eyes. Women are very good at reading faces and body language and will know when you are angry, sad or even lying. Sitting face to face across from a man can seem confrontational to them; it is better to have the man sit to your side if possible. Keep in mind women also tend to be more visual, so presenting information with graphs and illustrations rather than spreadsheets will be more effective.

With a little work, your practice can attract and retain more affluent female clients!