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.”