About five years ago, Steven Tennant, CFP, made a decision that would alter the course of his career and his firm.
Fresh off work on a series of cases involving widowed female clients that left him feeling invigorated and fulfilled, the veteran advisor Tennant concluded it was time for a bold strategic pivot, one that would transform Tennant Financial, his Ballston Lake, NY, firm, from a general financial planning and investment advisory practice into one heavily focused on serving women.
“We found the whole process of working with those female clients to be very rewarding,” Tennant says of he and his colleague, Jeremy A. Berry, CPA, who serves as the firm’s director of advanced financial planning. “They were very easy to work with, very dedicated to the process and very appreciative of what we did for them. So when we finished those cases, we asked ourselves, ‘How can we make women a target market for us?”
As emotionally satisfying as working with female clients can be for advisors like Tennant and Berry, from a strategic perspective, making a concerted effort to market to and better serve women is a no-brainer when it comes to growing and sustaining a practice. Not only are women gaining prominence as wealth-generators and financial decision-makers, a 2014 report by the Center for Talent Innovation found that more than half — 53 percent — of the women they surveyed do not have financial advisors. What’s more, 47 percent of wealth-creating women in the U.S. and 75 percent of American women under 40 report not having an advisor. This unmanaged purse represents “a massive missed opportunity, one that in the U.S. alone may amount to more than $5 trillion in assets ‘left on the table,’” the report asserts.
For advisors seeking to grow their practice, adjusting their gender focus to more effectively engage and serve women is as much a business imperative as it is an opportunity. “I think you’re foolish not to take the steps necessary to be in tune with that market,” says Tennant.
“Women represent 51 percent of the population, and they control an increasing amount of wealth,” adds Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, LMHC, CPCC, principal at KBK Wealth Connection, a firm that provides consulting and executive coaching services to advisors, and author of the book, How to Give Financial Advice To Women: Attracting and Retaining High Net Worth Clients. “Even if you’re not specializing in women and wealth, it’s still incredibly important to make sure you and your practice are female-friendly.”
Making inroads in the women’s segment begins with marketing — how you position yourself, your firm and your brand. The dozen marketing practices described below are already working for plenty of advisors, male and female, and they can work for you, too.
1. Start by segmenting. The headline on the front of the glossy, four-page marketing piece from Tennant Financial makes it eminently clear whom Tennant and his team are targeting: “Women in Transition.”
Profiling the type of female client to target — segmenting — is a critical first step in positioning a practice in the women’s market. In Tennant’s case, women in transition, including divorcees, widows and the like, represented the types of clients he sought to attract. “We wanted people to know that was an area of expertise for us, so we focused on that piece of the women’s market.”
“It’s really important to segment,” says Heather Ettinger, managing partner at Fairport Asset Management in Cleveland, Ohio, and co-author of Women of Wealth: Why Does the Financial Services Industry Still Not Hear Them, a 2012 report from the Family Wealth Advisors Council. “This isn’t about changing the font to pink on a brochure, then calling yourself a women-focused advisor. It’s really important to segment. Consider your areas of expertise and the kinds of clients you most want to work with, and look at your existing client base — are there any common themes there to tell you where you should be focusing?”
Five years ago, Ettinger, who oversees her firm’s marketing initiatives, launched a niche marketing effort aimed at executive women, widows and divorced women along with multigenerational families. “Since then we’ve doubled our growth rate,” she says, with executive women now the firm’s fastest-growing segment.
An advisor’s professional preferences and passions should factor heavily into the segmenting equation, posits Brittney Castro, CFP, CRPC, AAMS, founder of Financially Wise Women, a female-focused financial planning practice in Los Angeles. “It’s important to be clear about what your natural interests are and stay true to them instead of randomly targeting some niche that has no correlation to who you are as an advisor.”
2. Tap into the referral power of women. Women refer at a rate two-and-a-half times that of men, according to Kingsbury. What’s more, women tend to offer high-quality referrals, says George P. McCuen, CFP, President of Napa Wealth Management in Napa, Calif. “Women talk about things that are important to other women. They share how they feel about us and the quality of the work we do for them.”
“My experience with women clients in general,” Tennant says, “is that once they trust you and trust you’re looking out for their best interests, they actually want to help connect you with other women they know.”
In seeking referrals from women clients, the more unobtrusive, the better, adds his colleague Berry. “It’s about planting a seed by saying something like, ‘If you ever have a friend in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to have them call us.’”
3. Seek to forge relationships inside their centers of influence. Align yourself with the professionals whom the women you’re targeting tend to trust and the organizations in which they tend to be active. These may include professional centers of influence such as accountants, bankers, estate and divorce attorneys, insurance agents and the like, as well as business, civic, philanthropic, cultural and religious organizations.
Tennant says he also networks with fellow financial advisors locally, some of whom may be inclined to send business his way in specialized circumstances involving a female client. What’s more, as a member of the Northwestern Mutual advisor network, Tennant says he also uses regional, quarterly and annual meetings and other events sponsored by the broker-dealer to market his firm’s women-centric capabilities to other, more transactionally focused advisors in the NM network.
Because she caters to younger, social media-savvy female clients, Castro says she also has gained traction within online centers of influence — “someone like a health coach who I connect with on Instagram and maybe discuss how we can partner.”
4. Be authentic, educational, holistic, consultative — anything but salesy.
Women generally want to be educated and coached, not marketed to, says Kingsbury. They tend to prefer advisors with a consultative rather than a transactional approach, who rely on a comprehensive, multidimensional planning process, according to Ettinger. “It’s education over sales, and it’s planning over products.”
“The big-picture financial planning component is critical in working with women,” adds Tennant. “They’re more interested in the financial planning process and your approach to fulfilling their priorities in life than they are with investment returns.”
Check the “Let’s find ways to beat the market” approach at the door when working with women, McCuen advises. “Our investment philosophy fits with many women. It’s about ‘Don’t lose the money’ — growing their money prudently and judiciously.”
5. Help them see you as an expert resource. Advisors who position themselves as educational and informational resources — with no sales strings attached — are bound to make inroads in the women’s market, says Ettinger. She regularly hosts women-focused events and education programs with small groups, in comfortable, non-threatening settings, on subjects that appeal to the kind of women she wants as clients. Sometimes those events are strictly social and have nothing at all to do with finance or money. “The beauty is, you never have to sell. You’re building credibility and relationships.”
Ettinger offers one other piece of advice for these events: “Let her bring a friend. Women love to bring friends to things like this.”
6. Adjust your marketing materials to match the message. Take the same comprehensive, consultative, non-salesy approach in the content of your website, social media pages and traditional marketing materials. Kingsbury suggests advisors conduct a website audit to see if its content is tailored to women, with plenty of resources for them to conduct research and educate themselves. Online and in print, be sure content is heavy on images of women and couples, and light on overly technical info. “If she doesn’t see someone like her [in these materials], she’s unlikely to call your office,” Ettinger says.
7. Assemble a staff that reflects a commitment to serving women. “Whether it’s support staff or, preferably, women in more senior positions, she needs to know she’ll be working with people she can identify with,” says Ettinger.
Tennant Financial’s staff of seven includes four women, among them the firm’s client services manager, while McCuen’s wife, Maria McCuen, is director of operations at Napa Wealth Management.
8. Create a comfortable office environment. Women tend to prefer doing business in welcoming, homier surroundings, says Kingsbury. “I do think that really makes a difference, because it shows them who you are as an advisor.”
“Our offices are in a 1929 Craftsman home,” McCuen says. “It has a very homespun feel — not stuffy or corporate. We want to create an environment that’s more about conversation and building relationships, that shows we’re not always about business and numbers.
9. Tailor your person-to-person communications style to female sensibilities and preferences. That means:
• Asking a lot of questions.
• Instead of talking about yourself, listening to understand her priorities, pain points, etc.
• Not bombarding her with numbers and jargon. “Be qualitative, not quantitative,” suggests McCuen. “Guys will say, ‘I want X return on my investment.’ For most women, that’s just noise. They don’t care about that stuff!”
• Explaining the benefits of your services, not just the services themselves.
• Relying on stories and anecdotes to get points across.
• With couples, making an effort to engage both the woman and the man, because as Tennant notes, “If the wife’s not comfortable with us, we’re not getting that account.”
• Being patient and not pushing for decisions. The conversations you have with a women might not immediately lead to decisions. Instead of pushing, let those decisions emerge organically. If that means allotting more meeting time for female clients, as Tennant does, so be it.
10. Take a team approach. Women value teamwork in their advisors, according to Ettinger. Not only does an ability to tap an internal team of experts within a practice appeal to women, so does a willingness by the advisor to assemble and quarterback a team of experts from outside the practice when the situation warrants.
11. Use your female clients and other women you trust as sounding boards. Tennant says he regularly seeks informal input from female clients and female professionals on marketing concepts and other ideas for conveying his firm’s message to women. Some advisors go so far as to assemble a female client advisory board or female focus group for guidance and feedback, Kingsbury notes.
12. Get coaching. Tennant knew he wanted to focus on the female market, but he wasn’t sure how to go about it. So he enlisted the help of Kingsbury, whose firm specializes in helping advisors position themselves in the women’s market. “It helped us tremendously,” he says. “It was one of the first — and best — investments we made.”
As strongly as the numbers suggest that making women a greater focus of your practice is not just an opportunity but an imperative, it’s also important for advisors to recognize that this is not an either-or proposition — that they can strengthen their engagement with women without necessarily making women the primary focus of their practice, and without compromising their work with male clients, concludes Ettinger. “This isn’t just about women serving women. Some women prefer to work with women advisors, but plenty of other women actually prefer to work with a male advisor.”