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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

Bucking the Female Stereotype

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The perception that women take a generally take a less proactive role than men do in managing personal finances and planning needs, a view widely held among financial professionals, is not universally shared.

At least that’s not the case among those who cater to women holding power and wealth: female business owners, corporate executives and the affluent. One such advisor is Julie Murphy Casserly, president of Chicago-based JMC Wealth Management, Inc.

“In terms of retirement preparedness, the women I serve are much more prepared than the men are,” says Casserly. “They’re bigger savers and planners. If a couple comes to me, usually the wife is dragging along her husband.”

The gender gap often predates marriage. Whereas, observes Casserly, men generally don’t think about saving until after they tie the knot, women have “been doing it all along,” giving them a 10- to 15-year head start on their husbands-to-be.

Advisors who find the reverse to be true—that women are behind their male counterparts in financial preparedness—are largely serving stay-at-home moms who generate little or no income and don’t handle the bills, Casserly says.

Casserly is not alone in observing a growing equality between men and women in the financial sphere. BMO Nesbitt Burns, a Toronto, Ont.-based unit of BMO Financial Group, reported last month that 82% of 1,500 Canadian women the company surveyed are either the primary decision-maker or have equal responsibility for household financial decisions.

The trend towards financial parity, sources told me, is most notable among young women who don’t feel bound by the gender-specific roles to which their parents or grandparents adhered. Cornerstone Financial Group’s Marti Johnson says she observes a “gradual trend towards financial competency” among younger women.

That progress is not uniform. Casserly notes a lag in financial acuity among affluent African-American clients. Those who hail from the formerly Communist East European nations, by contrast, tend to be more financially oriented.

The growing financial clout of American women, and techniques that advisors can use to tap into the increasingly lucrative women’s market, were explored in depth during a workshop presented in late January. Titled “Working with Women,” the session took place at the Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA) 2012 New York Consultants conference, held at the Marriott Marquis.

Among the noteworthy statistics conveyed the session: More 43% of Americans who have more than $500,000 in assets are women. And, if one includes couples, women commonly account for between half and two-thirds of an advisors’ book of business.

Yet, as the speakers pointed out, many of these insurance and financial professionals fail to use rapport-building techniques that are likely to win the trust of confidence of women. Or, when meeting with couples, they fail to sufficiently account for the wife’s issues and concerns.

Example: the need to provide long-term care. Many women leave the workforce during their prime working years to raise children. If they have to do so again to attend to aging parents with health problems, then they have potentially lost significant income and retirement assets. Those who ultimately have only their own resources to depend on because of the death or divorce of a spouse could risk running of money out of money in retirement.

For the advisor, overlooking such issues could result in the loss of the dissatisfied female client—a risk that is particularly great after the death of a spouse. Susan Hirschman, president of the consulting firm, SHE Ltd., which focuses on financial literacy for women, said that widows on average stay with an advisor for less than a year after the death of a spouse. A commonly cited reason for bolting, she adds, is the fact that the advisor didn’t establish a trusting relationship with the wife.

Alyssa Moeder, the session’s co-presenter and a senior vice president of investments for Merrill Lynch’s private bank and investment group, agreed, adding this failure to build a rapport stems from the advisor’s unwillingness or inability to speak in terms that resonate with the female client.

Even among financially sophisticated women, she noted, quantitative metrics surrounding money, such as the yield or fee on an investment, are of less interest than what the money is intended to accomplish: helping them to realize their goals, objectives and life dreams.

The sooner that male-oriented advisors take this message to heart, the sooner they’ll realize their own dreams of a building a successful practice that caters in equal measure to men and women.


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