Do women make better financial advisors? I’ve long suspected that they do. An affinity for listening and teaching, usually light on ego and strong on compassion, a preference for advising rather than selling, and a deep sense that money is merely a means to a higher end, all add up to a pretty good description of a great advisor.
My sense is that best advisors are firmly in touch with their feminine side no matter how many X chromosomes they have.
But there’s one area where female advisors have what’s likely an overwhelming advantage over their male counterparts: advising female clients. At least, to hear Eleanor Blayney tell it, they do. As many of you know, Eleanor had her name on the door of Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros, and Blayney in McLean, Virginia, one of the most successful and high-profile advisory firms in the country. She also one of the smartest advisors I know, with one of those piercing intellects that make you feel three or four steps behind in every conversation (OK, in my case, that’s not very unusual, but the feeling’s even more acute in Eleanor’s presence).
After retiring in 2007, on her partnership proceeds from the sale of SBS&B to Harris Bank, Blayney founded Direction$ LLC (cleverly tag-lined “Because Women Ask for Directions” and found at directionsforwomen.com), a company with the two-pronged goal of empowering women to manage their own finances better, and helping female advisors to help them do it. Partly based on the principle that women tend to learn better in groups, Eleanor has started to give workshops herself to successful women between the ages of 40 and 65, and intends to greatly broaden that scope by enlisting other female advisors to facilitate these financial “circles” around the country.
Most recently, she’s compiled her experience and wisdom on approaching personal finance from a woman’s perspective into a book titled Women’s Worth: Finding Your Financial Confidence due out in May, published by Direction$. Her book is intended to both help women to better understand the basics of personal finance, and to guide financial advisors toward the vast–and growing–underserved market of affluent female professionals. It’s not the only book out on personal finance for women, yet a quick search of Amazon.com reveals surprisingly few on the subject, and as far as I can tell, none by a leading financial advisor (don’t get me started on Suze Orman or David Bach, and I’m sure there’s a “Rich Mom, Poor Mom” in the works somewhere). It’s also the only book intended to help advisors better serve this market, as well. Blayney accomplishes both goals admirably–I suspect her book will become THE textbook for advisors who want to better serve women clients.
To my mind, the best part of Blayney’s book is in the Intro and the first chapter, where she makes the case both for professional women as an untapped market for financial advisors, and for why a woman’s financial perspective is markedly different than a man’s. Despite having friends, family, and many clients who are women, her Road to Damascus came in a speech she gave at her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College. (Yes, that’s one of the Seven Sisters: If you really want to be impressed, she also has a Masters degree from the University of Cambridge, in England, and an MBA from the University of Chicago. Did I also mention she’s one of the best-educated advisors I know?)
Anyway, as Blayney tells it, she gave her talk to what has to been one of the most erudite and affluent groups of women in the world, covering how to accumulate wealth through effective financial planning, and being smart about philanthropy, including due diligence on charities. With heads nodding throughout her speech, she figured it had been well received. At least until the hands went up for questions. “I had been expecting this well-educated group to raise some difficult issues–about the new legislation on making gifts…or the use of reminder trusts,” she wrote. “Instead, their questions were fundamental: ‘Whom can I talk to about my 401(k)…?’, ‘How do I get my mother to tell me about her finances?’ My ‘Aha moment’ was more of an ‘Oh, dear!’”
Blayney concluded that even Mount Holyoke grads–”they were scientists, business owners, managers, and elected officials; they were wealthy”–lacked the confidence to be financial decision makers. Sure, she’d worked with many women clients, but she realized that was a skewed sampling: those women had overcome their fear of financial matters to seek her advice. “Until that day,” she says, “I had discounted the depth and breadth of that feminine fear.”
So, Eleanor deliberately redirected her professional life to focus on helping women overcome their fear. The problem, she believes is two fold: The financial services industry was created by men for men; and it’s largely ignored women as a market for advice, even though their professional ranks and wealth have been growing dramatically since World War II.
Her solution is two-fold, as well: tailor advice to the way women relate to finances; and encourage more advisors to deliver that advice. In both cases, the key is to identify–and change–the way financial matters are discussed with clients, today. Here’s a sampling of those matters, and how advisors can better address them with their female clients: