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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

Essential skills for advising women

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“How would you feel if I turned my back on you for this entire presentation?” Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, LMHC, CPCC, asked the audience as she opened her session “Essential Skills for Advising Women in Couples” at the recent MDRT annual meeting in Toronto. “That’s what many women feel like when they’re meeting with an advisor.” 

This lack of recognition from advisors is one of the key reasons 70 percent of women fire their advisor within one year of the death of their spouse, she added. 

That’s a lot of money walking out the door, as 70 percent of intergenerational wealth transfers pass on to female investors, who live longer and inherit wealth from both partners and parents. In addition, women-owned businesses are growing at twice the national rate, and if collected, they would be the fifth largest GDP in the world, Burns Kingsbury said. 

However, two-thirds of women say they don’t trust financial advisors, and a survey recently found that women rank advisors lowest in customer service out of 34 categories. 

What accounts for this state of affairs?

For one thing, the wealth industry was created for men, by men. “At the time, it made sense. In the 1950s, women couldn’t even get their own credit cards,” she said. 

But things have changed dramatically, and advisors must stop lumping women together, Burns Kingsbury said. 

Instead, think about your ideal female client. Is she interested in:

  • Raising financially fit grandkids?
  • Starting her own business?
  • Charitable giving?
  • Investing responsibly?

Women are a very diverse group of individuals, Burns Kingsbury emphasized. “Don’t say ‘I’m reaching out to the women’s market’ any more than you would say you were reaching out to the men’s market.” 

What does it mean to be a couple? 

The session also stressed that when it comes to couples, the days of the Dick Van Dyke show are ancient history. Traditional couples now account for just 20 percent of all couples, Burns Kingsbury said, while non-traditional couples, including same-sex, unmarried, or those without kids, now make up the new majority. 

Burns Kingsbury added that, as couples integrate later in life and other factors become more common, finances become more complex. “Couples need you more and more,” she said. 

Couples don’t agree 

Whether traditional or not, Burns Kingsbury said that one thing is common among all couples: They often disagree.

      • 53 percent don’t agree on the age at which they’d like to retire.
      • 47 percent don’t to agree on whether to continue working in retirement.
      • 38 percent don’t interact jointly with their advisors.

It’s vital that advisors remember there are three relationships in the room instead of two. “We naturally gravitate toward one member of the couple over the other, tipping the triangle,” she said. “Female clients begin to feel, ‘Why am I even here?’ It’s the equivalent of being invited to a school reunion with a significant other when you don’t know anyone.”

Balancing the triangle 

There are several simple ways to help balance the triangle, Burns Kingsbury said:

      • Simply shift body language/eye contact to the individual you’re not attending as much.
      • Ask the same questions to both partners. Even if they don’t both answer, you’ve shifted your attention and the second partner now knows they matter. 
      • Pay attention to both members of the couple when inside and outside of the office (emails to both, address mail to both, etc.) Women’s brains are wired to notice details. The small things matter.

Uncover money mindsets 

A mindset is a set of beliefs or a way of thinking that determines one’s behavior, outlook and mental attitude, Burns Kingsbury said. 

We develop our thoughts and beliefs about money between the ages of five and 15, and they’re often hard to change. In fact, we don’t even know we have them. 

Advisors must help clients identify these beliefs so that they can connect. The female brain has a neurological need to connect, she said. Brain scans show the pleasure center lights up when connecting; men don’t get the same boost. 

Women also have greater verbal access to emotions. Most female brains have a bigger hippocampus, so it’s important to talk about more than the technical aspects of money. They are also wired to see the “whole” — the right and left hemispheres have more connective tissue and talk more often. Men can fight with someone and go out for a drink after, she said. Women often can’t do the same, she said with a laugh. She then played the following video: 

Why it matters 

Beyond the obvious, why should advisors focus on balancing the triangle? For one thing, women give an average of 26 referrals over their lifetime; men give just 11, she said. 

In closing, Burns Kingsbury told the audience, “When you get back to your office and you notice your ‘back is turned’ toward a female client, turn around, look at her, smile and balance the triangle and you’ll have client for life.” 


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