If you’re not selling life insurance to women, you’re missing out a sizeable market. The Pew Research Center recently surveyed 1,260 men and women about their family’s financial management practices. Two-thirds of the couples responded that the man had the higher income, but that status didn’t eliminate the woman from the couple’s decision-making process.

In fact, 45 percent of the women said they alone managed the family’s finances while only 37 percent of the men gave the same answer. Twenty-nine percent of the respondents said they make decisions jointly, which means that women make or share responsibility for about 60 percent of the family’s financial decisions. Advisors who overlook the woman’s input when selling to couples risk alienating the primary decision-maker.

Of course, women in families comprise just one segment of this market. It’s estimated that roughly one-quarter of adult women in the U.S. are unmarried, but that status doesn’t mean they don’t need life insurance. For example, professional women and entrepreneurs face the same business-related insurance needs as their male counterparts. Similarly, women who wish to create bequests for heirs and their favored charitable causes are also candidates for life insurance.

There is another reason to consider women as a potential market: Many of them are under-insured. It’s estimated that two-thirds of families today depend on two incomes, which means the death of a working wife can cause serious financial disruption for a family. However, wives who don’t work also contribute considerably to a family’s finances. According to a May 2008 “Mom Salary” survey by Salary.com, it would cost almost $117,000 per year to replace the services of a stay-at-home mother. LIMRA reports that only 36 percent of women have group life insurance at work and only 40 percent have individual policies, so the market has strong potential.

Successful prospecting methods
Of course, recognizing a market is only the first step: Getting yourself in front of prospects from that market is the challenge. Barbara Pietrangelo, CFP, CLU, ChFC, is a financial planner with Prudential in Grand Rapids, Mich., and a member of the Million Dollar Round Table, who has developed an enjoyable method for reaching prospects and strengthening ties with clients. For the past eight years she has hosted a dinner and a fashion show, and this year’s event drew over 300 attendees. “We keep it really light,” says Pietrangelo. “We do the fashion show, we do a dinner, and then we also do a short presentation on financial planning and the importance of it, including things like life insurance and why that’s so important.”

The event’s popularity has grown. On average, each invited woman brings 2.5 guests and in recent years, an increasing number of men have attended. “What’s really interesting is that the first year, I only had one man attend,” says Pietrangelo. “He claimed his wife couldn’t drive at night, but he really wanted to know what we were saying to his wife. This year, I’ll bet 25 or 30 of my audience was male. The guys are having so much fun, there are now rumors getting out that it’s fun for them, too, and they’re coming. So although I only invite women to it and market it towards women, we do have a lot of guys sitting in with us now. It’s funny, but I still have a lot of people call the next day and they say, ‘Gosh, in your presentation you mentioned this and that. Are we covered that way? Or have we taken care of this?’”

Vicki Brackens, ChFC, is a senior financial planner with Brackens Financial Solutions Network, an office of MetLife, in Syracuse, N.Y. She’s been licensed for life sales for over 20 years and has qualified for MDRT. Brackens estimates that women comprise roughly 60 percent of her financial planning and life insurance clientele. Her female clients are diverse but Brackens says “they tend to fall somewhere between 40 and 50 years old, professionals, with dependents –we define dependents as being not only children, but also possibly family dependents.”

One of Brackens’ more successful marketing efforts aimed at women has been a series of women’s workshops that she co-sponsors with attorney Marion Fish, a partner at Hancock & Estabook, LLP, a Syracuse law firm. Participants pay to attend the workshops, which allow time for networking, and the fees are donated to a local women’s organization. “What that’s done for me and also for Marion, who also concentrates in the women’s market, is to provide a base of conversation across our community about the fact that this event is coming up almost quarterly,” says Brackens. “It provides a base of information for everyone, and over the last year we have seen a tremendous uptake in our presence in the women’s market.”

Brackens is a firm believer in networking to help her meet prospective clients. “Market networking is the key,” she says. “There’s no stronger process or reception that you can get than to have one woman recommend you to another one, because once that happens, and you start building that chain, then your presence in the community, and the comfort of women for you in the community, increases dramatically.”

Regina Bedoya, CLU, ChFC and president of RB Financial Advisors, Inc., in Juno Beach, Fla., estimates that 75 percent of her life insurance clients are women. She also advocates networking as a reliable method to meet prospects among affluent women. Bedoya serves on several non-profit organizations’ boards, including Executive Women of the Palm Beaches, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and other community service groups. Her advice on deciding where to concentrate your networking efforts: You “always look to be involved with a group of women that is similar to you. Where you share a lot with them, you have a lot of things in common, whether it’s age group, whether it’s interests, whether it’s gardening or leadership or whatever it is. Because the more you have in common, the easier it will be for that woman to trust you. You don’t want to be all things to all people. So you want to find a subset of the population that you can very quickly relate to, understand their needs, understand their challenges, and become more of, more, I would say, of a colleague or a peer in some common cause.

Life sales on Mars and Venus
Remember John Gray’s 2004 best-seller, “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex?” According to the sources cited in this article, the notion that the sexes think and respond differently applies to the life insurance buying process as well. Ann Hauser Laufman, LUTCF, CFS, CLTC, of ALA Financial Group, LLC, of Houston, Texas, a MassMutual agency, has been licensed for life sales for 11 years and roughly half her life clients are women. She says that women tend to express different concerns when they consider buying life insurance. “Men are generally concerned with making sure that they are taking care of their family and usually that means their spouse,” she says. “Women are concerned that they take care of their children and grandchildren, leaving something behind in some sort of legacy. Women are also concerned about running out of assets, spending them all down to zero. They are very cognizant of the fact that they live longer than the men,and they want to make sure that if they spend everything down to zero, or end up in a long term care facility and all their assets are depleted, that they have something left behind.”

Hauser says those concerns lead women to prefer permanent policies over term contracts, an assessment shared by the article’s other sources. “Women want to make sure that the policy they purchase will actually be there and be available when they do pass on–they are not buyers of term insurance at all,” she says. “I don’t think I have met a single female who wanted term insurance.”

Another point to keep in mind when you’re selling to women: Their buying-decision process often takes longer than men’s. Hauser suggests that advisors be very patient with women prospects; in her experience, however, the payoff is worth the extra time. “Where you may be able to have one or two meetings with a man, you are going to need two to four meetings with a woman,” she says. “She wants to understand what she’s doing and she wants you to validate that that’s a good decision. You need to give her the time to talk about it and make sure she’s comfortable with it, but then she will be the best referral source that you will ever have. Once she knows that you are doing the right thing and is comfortable with you, she will tell all her friends.”