ORLANDO, FLA. — How can a National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors member build a successful practice catering to women?

Susan Waring recommends that advisors that start by understanding that there are many different types of women.

“If you don’t take the time to know me–if you don’t take the time to realize that you cannot label me, the same way you label other women with similar characteristics–then you’re missing the mark with the women’s markets,” Waring said here at NAIFA’s annual convention.

Waring, chief administrative officer at State Farm Life, Bloomington, Ill., said the women’s markets make up a big group of markets.

Women generated $3.7 trillion in buying power last year, and 90% are either the primary financial decision-maker or they share equally in decisions. Women carry 76 million credit cards–8 million more than men carry. And by 2010, said Waring, female-owned households will make up almost 28% of U.S. households, or 31 million homes.

To tap this large and growing market, Waring said, life insurance professionals must be cognizant and respectful of the cultural and generational differences among women. And they must appropriately tailor their communications style.

Yet too many advisors ignore the need to customize presentations for individual niches of the women’s market–and at their own peril. Many high net worth women have jettisoned a financial advisor because the advisor failed to establish a trusting relationship or show the necessary attention to the client’s goals and objectives, Waring reported.

“You’re missing opportunities to grow your business if you lump all women together,” Waring said. “You must get to know them, the roles they play and their needs and preferences.”

To illustrate, Waring described several hypothetical female clients, including: (1) a middle-aged business owner who manages a small accounting firm and is caring for both children and her mother; (2) a mature professional, age 60-plus, who has an income of $150,000, is financially savvy and is looking to establish a legacy for grandchildren; and (3) a young professional who is not yet married and whose knowledge about financial matters and purchasing power is limited.

For the small business owner, said Waring, providing for her children in the event of her death is a high priority, as is the continuation of her business should become disabled or require long-term care. She requires both comprehensive financial planning and budgeting the advice.

The mature professional woman, in contrast, is chiefly focused on preparing for retirement and, requiring more time and attention, seeks to build a long-term relationship with an advisor she can trust. The insurance and financial planning needs of the young professional, though less than that of her counterparts, could increase substantially should she become married and have children.

When adding multi-cultural or other generational differences to the mix, then advisors have to further fine-tune their approach to be effective. If the business owner is also Latino, Waring said, then she likely attaches greater importance to maintaining strong relationships with her parents and caring for aging relatives than do her non-Latino counterparts.

The mature professional, if an Asian-American and Pacific-Islander, most likely has a family of 5 or more members, holds a bachelor’s or advanced college degree, and enjoys the highest life expectancy of any ethnic group in the U.S. As a boomer, said Waring, she’s also more brand-loyal, has more time to spend with family, and is more concerned about her personal health than Gen-X or Gen-Y women.

The young professional, if African-American, desires to work with companies that give back to the community and that have a community presence. She is also spiritual and family-oriented, and is determined to avoid the financial insecurity experienced by earlier generations of African-American, Waring said. She additionally requires flexibility in financial planning, doesn’t expect to stay at one job for long, and is a multi-tasker, being a heavy user of the cell phone and other digital devices.

“It’s up to you to decide whom you want to market and how you want to market,” Waring said. “But to market effectively, you need to listen. Find out who she is and what she needs. Hear her story. You can’t know her without listening.

“Selling to women is a little like breathing the air,” she added. “You have to do it to survive. And until you know me, you really don’t. I’m challenging you to get to know us–to think about the types of women you might work with.”