When Elaine B. Eisner, JD, left her investment management gig in Colorado to open an insurance-focused advisory practice in Cleveland, her top target for cultivating a client base wasn’t seniors, boomers or the affluent.

“I chose to start in the women’s market,” Eisner says, hearkening back to the 2007 launch of Eisner Gohn Group, a firm she founded with her husband, Scott A. Gohn.

The decision to target females, according to Eisner, came down to a sound practice-building strategy, informed by what she saw emerging as a clear trend: women of all generations taking on more responsibility as financial and insurance decision-makers.

See: 3 famously flubbed attempts to market to women

Six years later, that strategy has proven sound, as women now represent a sizable portion of Eisner Gohn Group’s book of about 500 clients. Eisner’s observations about the growing role of women in household financial and insurance planning are borne out by recent research, including the 2013 Women, Money & Power Study from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, which found that more than half of married women see themselves as the chief financial officer of their households. Indeed, 57 percent of female respondents said they primarily handle major investment decisions and retirement planning themselves.

As an advisor, to treat women as an afterthought — whether in marketing, prospecting or working within your existing client base — is to ignore exactly the people whom you should be increasingly targeting, says Barb A. Pietrangelo, CFP, CLU, ChFC, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based advisor for Prudential. “You always want to find out who the main decision-maker really is, and very often the woman is the one calling the shots.”

“I usually start our engagement with the woman, because women tend to be more the planners, and with insurance, it’s really important to have the planner involved,” adds Eisner. “Women often are the ones driving the [purchase] decision because they tend to think more long-term and holistically.”

When working with couples, it makes practical sense for advisors to engage both spouses, asserts Pietrangelo. “If one spouse dies and you don’t have a strong relationship with the other spouse, you are at risk of losing that business. And at the end of the day, women live longer” than men, on average.

As important as it is to give equal weight to men and women in prospecting and in the client-advisor relationship (unless, of course, one spouse defers to the other), it’s also vital to understand that each gender has its own distinct tendencies. As an advisor, knowing those distinctions, and understanding what makes women and men tick, can open doors to a demographic segment that’s increasingly calling the shots—and one that’s hungry for sound insurance and professional advice to help make those decisions.

Let’s break down some of the keys to opening those doors, using insight offered by Pietrangelo and Eisner, two insurance-focused female advisors who are flourishing in the female market.

The mindset and priorities women bring to the table: Women tend to be caretakers. “They’re concerned about the people around them,” says Pietrangelo.

Women also tend “to think more long-term and holistically” than men do, particularly about the financial future, observes Eisner. “Women are more concerned about outliving their resources,” which makes sense, given their longer life expectancy.

What’s more, women tend to be eager to learn. In general, they “know what they don’t know,” they’re more inquisitive and “they want to be educated” by their advisor, she says.

As clients, women are inclined to want to develop a relationship of trust with their advisors. They’re generally less interested than men in transactional relationships, according to Eisner.

Women as decision-makers and clients: Patience is a virtue when working with women, according to Pietrangelo and Eisner. “It can take a lot longer to develop a good [advisory] relationship [with a female] but you’ll end up with a client who’s going to trust and be with you for life,” says Eisner.

Don’t ignore the emotional side of an advisor-client relationship involving a woman, advises Pietrangelo. “They want to feel taken care of by their advisor.”

Adds Eisner: “I tend to take a softer approach [with women], because that’s how I would want somebody to work with me.”

As emotion-driven as the advisor-client relationship may be, women also tend to be more methodical and thorough in their due diligence and decision-making, which is why, according to Eisner, working with women often involves a longer sales cycle.

Be sure to cater to both the methodical and emotional sides of the client, says Pietrangelo. Women “want to feel good about the decisions they make.” If they want to seek a second opinion about a recommendation, encourage them to do so.

Take care not to be too pushy, she cautions. “One thing that I think is really important is to always let women make decisions on their own timeframe. Be patient and make sure they’re totally confident in their decision. The worst thing you can do is push them.”

That patience is often rewarded. Once you have developed a trusting relationship with a woman, she’s more inclined to share her positive experience with others. “Women are very good with referrals,” says Pietrangelo.

Messages that resonate most with women: It’s especially important in working with women to put pitches and recommendations in a big-picture context — what you and the products or strategies you’re recommending can do to address major concerns like outliving their nest egg, passing wealth to the younger generations, etc. “It’s not about insurance, it’s about you adding value,” says Eisner.

Don’t get bogged down in details. “The analytical discussions completely bore most women,” she explains. “They want bigger picture.”

Products that resonate most with women: Think certainty, safety and protection first. Guarantees such as lifetime income riders on annuities appeal to women’s sensibilities, according to Eisner. “Their biggest concern is often, ‘I don’t want to outlive my money.’ ”

Survivorship life insurance also appeals, for its ability to address women’s desire to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren, she says. Caregivers that they tend to be, women also lately have been driving more long-term care insurance purchases of late, she notes.

Prospecting in the women’s market: “For me it’s developing relationships first—meeting women in smaller settings,” says Eisner. “We do smaller [women-oriented] events where we partner with other professionals, like CPAs, and we do ‘plus-one’ networking events where we ask clients to bring a friend. Our business just naturally grows from that.”

Instead of seminars, Pietrangelo favors “softer” events such as dinners, small social gatherings, speaking engagements, etc., along with educational classes and workshops, to generate new business in the women’s market.

Approaches like that are straightforward enough that even a man can use them to make inroads in the women’s market. According to Eisner, developing a practice, and practices, that recognize women’s growing decision-making role is “absolutely doable” for a man.

Shifting roles

What’s fueling the rise of women as household financial decision-makers? And how well prepared are they for that role? Consider the following:

  • Women 65 and over have less retirement income on average and higher rates of poverty than men, according to Retirement Security: Women Still Face Challenges, a 2012 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The poverty rate for women in this age group was nearly twice that of men’s in 2010.
  • Women 70 and above are more likely than men (76 percent compared to 67 percent) to experience an unforeseen “shock”—severe disability, cognitive impairment, death of a spouse or entering a nursing home, according to The Impact of Running Out of Money in Retirement, an analysis released in 2012 by the Society of Actuaries Committee on Post-Retirement Needs and Risks and other groups.
  • By 2014, women are expected to control $29 trillion in assets, nearly 60 percent of the United States’ wealth, according to Brittain Prigge, CFA, at the Atlanta investment management firm Balentine.
  • Fifty-three percent of women consider themselves primary breadwinners, yet only 20 percent feel well-prepared to make financial decisions, compared to 45 percent of men, according to Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women, a 2012 study by Prudential.

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