Everywhere you look, the signs are clear that the financial power women wield has changed dramatically from where it was just a generation ago. According to a recent study by Women and Co., two thirds of all women in the U.S. are the CFO of their household. A similar study on women’s financial independence from 2008–this time from Synovate–noted that an equal portion of women in the United States feel financially independent. Even a 2009 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that women are the sole or main breadwinners in a third of U.S. households.

Clearly, women are holding the financial reigns in larger numbers than ever before, yet in most cases, the financial services industry still regards female clients as a niche market.

Perhaps that is because the majority of advisors, agents, brokers and other financial professionals are men. Female producers are still in the minority and as a result, much of the continuing education, networking opportunities and industry conferences are developed with the male producer in mind. Often, sharing best practices among producers is solely about how “he” can best connect with “his” male clients.

Female producers have had to adapt this thinking to work with their female clients in the past, but things may start to change as more women walk through our doors, asking for guidance on how to plan for retirement. And, according to the data, this will be a more frequent occurrence in 2010 and beyond. When it comes to managing finances and planning for retirement, the perceived minority is becoming the majority.

Women are earning more than ever before. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, earnings for women with college degrees have increased by almost one-third since 1979 compared to a mere 18% increase for male college graduates. As noted above, women are also making more of the financial decisions in joint households. But more importantly, however, recent data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics show that on average, women live longer then men, giving them more of a reason to be in control of decisions that affect retirement planning.

As a result of these trends, it would stand to reason that more women are now actively preparing for their futures and embracing the role that financial advisors can play with their retirement planning. Unfortunately, there is still a wide gap between the control women have over their finances and their feelings of preparedness about retirement.

Reclaiming the Future, a recent study from Allianz Life of more than 3,200 adults ages 44 to 75 found that the women surveyed felt less prepared for retirement than the total group. A higher percentage of women felt totally unprepared for retirement, had no idea if their income would last throughout their lifetime and were concerned about possibly outliving their income. To coincide with these sentiments, the 2008 Prudential study Financial Experience and Behaviors among Women noted that 75% of women feel they need help when making important financial decisions.

The desire for assistance is there, so the industry has a great opportunity to connect with women and help them gain confidence about retirement planning.

Unfortunately, by focusing mostly on male clients, the industry is missing out on an opportunity to educate female producers so they can make stronger connections with the growing segment of female clients. As noted above, this is especially true with industry meetings and events that female producers attend since those meetings speak to the audience with a predominately male voice. Furthermore, they are not addressing the specific needs that female producers have in relation to how they should connect with female clients.

Additional industry research shows that female clients are very different from their male counterparts. The 2008 Phoenix Wealth Survey, for example, notes that women are often more risk adverse than men and prefer more conservative solutions. Meanwhile, the Hartford’s 2008 survey, Why Women Worry notes that women also have other challenges, like earning less money than men, spending less time in the workforce to care for children or other family members, and women also tend to work in fields that don’t offer pensions or other retirement benefits.

Female producers understand these nuances, and are eager to share their best practices for addressing these issues, but are often held back due to the structure of industry events that they attend. Thankfully, female producers are taking things into their own hands and seeking out events that allow them to network and build stronger relationships – not only with each other, but also with the carriers and associations that develop event content.

After all, this is a relationship business, and the better the relationships, the more effective producers can be in providing guidance to their clients. Female clients appreciate a more personal connection when getting financial guidance and prefer a softer approach that allows for other issues to be discussed during the course of the consultation. Female producers know how to take advantage of this and use that approach to build stronger relationships.

This includes ideas such as financial planning luncheons held at art galleries, conferences at “create your own meal” venues or even multi-tasking events that allow for attendees to experience different activities at the same time. When working with women, there is a permission slip to demonstrate creativity and do things differently than one might do with men. Sometimes, this concept is not so obvious, so it’s crucial that female producers take the time to connect with each other and share the results of these experiences. With more women-focused industry events, there will be more opportunity for this type of sharing to occur.

If no women-focused events exist, female producers should take it upon themselves to connect with other producers in their area for more informal networking. Additionally, that networking doesn’t need to be with another female financial professional. Sometimes it is just as valuable to gain insight from female business owners or professionals in another area to generate fresh ideas that can apply to your practice.

Female clients enjoy working with female producers. Female producers thrive on the opportunity to network and learn from each other. It’s time that our industry creates more opportunities for us to do that, but it’s also time for us to make more of those connections ourselves. Building stronger relationships one woman at a time is the key to building a stronger practice that ultimately results in better service for our clients.

Sherri DuMond, CFP, is vice president of Internal Sales and Sales Development for Allianz Life.