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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

What Advisors Don’t Get About Female Clients: Barbara Huson

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Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, was baffled when he asked, “What does a woman want?” So how on earth should financial advisors know the answer when trying to help female clients?

Prominent wealth coach and mentor Barbara Huson — aka Barbara Stanny — who has built a career of more than 20 years teaching women to take charge of their money, knows exactly what women want, as she tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

The bestselling author — now using her current married name — argues that advisors need to acknowledge women’s fear-based emotional relationship with money in order to attract more female clients and serve them more productively.

In both coaching and writing, Huson, daughter of Richard Block, co-founder with brother Henry of H&R Block tax preparers, focuses on wealthy women or those on the verge of affluence. Her book, “Sacred Success: A Course in Financial Miracles” (BenBella 2014) is due in paperback on March 6.

Rich women often have nary a clue about empowering themselves to build more wealth, Huson says. Why? Because they’re hampered by psychological blocks, particularly those stemming from lack of financial knowledge and little confidence about how to control their money.

In the interview, Huson, who has a master’s degree in counseling psychology, stresses the need for advisors to bond with female clients by understanding their money fears. Though emotions may be difficult for many male FAs to discuss, they need to, well, get over it, she says.

Huson also discusses three levels of financial development and points out where most people stand (it’s not good).

Author of six books, including “Secrets of Six-Figure Women: Surprising Strategies to Up Your Earnings and Change Your Life” (HarperBusiness 2004), the women-and-money authority offers private coaching and mentoring for high-net-worth women (also couples, provided the woman is already a client). Her top-of-the-line program is a day of one-on-one coaching at her home for a pricey $10,000.

Huson transformed her own relationship with money when the divorced mother of three, a career counselor, sallied forth as a newly morphed financial journalist in 1987. That was triggered by a nasty split from her first husband, a compulsive gambler and major stock-market risk-taker who exited the country, saddling her with more than $2 million in debt to the IRS for his illegal business deals.

She knew naught about finance because her ex had handled everything. On top of that, Huson’s father refused to lend her money to pay the tax bills. But industrious and soon self-educated about finance, Huson would embark on a new, high-profile career teaching women, from a psychological perspective, how to manage their money. Her first book was “Prince Charming Isn’t Coming: How Women Get Smart about Money” (Penguin 1997).

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Huson, on the phone from her office in Port Townsend, Washington. To be sure, the money expert has created a unique brand for women by interweaving the practical, the emotional and the spiritual elements of finance. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

What’s the challenge that financial advisors have with female clients?

The financial industry doesn’t “get” women. They don’t know how women work. They don’t know how to talk to women. They try to motivate women through fear: “Seven out of 10 women can’t retire because they can’t afford it” and other grim statistics.

What doesn’t the male-dominated industry understand about women?

That women are emotional about money.

So why don’t male advisors just deal with that?

Men aren’t comfortable with emotion, especially women’s emotion.

Why are women emotional about money? Men don’t seem to be.

Women’s difficulty with money has little to do with money per se. It has everything to do with fear and their ambivalence about power. [Historically] women have been punished for being powerful. The good news is that today, women are speaking out and taking back our power.

What specific emotion is crossing women up, preventing them from managing money and investing more effectively?

Fear. Men have been groomed to take risks much more than women, which, ironically, is why women are better investors and outperform men in the market. Men take too many bad risks.

What makes women fearful?

I think they’ve been brainwashed. They lack confidence about investing. Women are so afraid to rock the boat that they water themselves down so they don’t make waves. But you can’t achieve and sustain financial success that way.

How do women view investment risk?

As scary as hell because they’re scared of making mistakes. That fear comes from ignorance of not understanding simple basics about the market. Women really want to be educated, but the industry wants to complicate [investing].

How can women clients and financial advisors work together more productively?

Financial planners make lousy Prince Charmings: You don’t just give your money over and say, “Here, take care of me.” Women need to participate in financial decisions. They need to understand what they’re doing, and a good financial advisor will take the time to explain things.

What else should FAs do when working with female clients?

Women are all about relationships. Men are all about performance. Yes, we women want our money to do well; but more importantly, we want to build a relationship with our financial advisor. We want to know they’re interested in us. We want to know they’re listening to us.

Any specifics you can share?

Let go of your agenda. Financial advisors should ask a lot of questions to find out what a woman’s goals are. Oftentimes, when a woman comes into your office, she’s under emotional stress because of a divorce, the death of her husband or another crisis. So it’s important to acknowledge her emotions.

Why would a woman seek an advisor for the first time just when a horrible event occurs?

Women don’t get serious about managing money until they hit a crisis, like losing a spouse, a job or if they’re on the brink of retirement, which is the worst time to start [getting serious].

Can your seminars for women help male advisors attract more female prospects even though many men are uncomfortable talking about personal matters?

In addition to the practical stuff, the seminars deal with women’s issues. They create discussion about women’s fears and emotions. This is what bonds them to the person giving the seminar. An Emory University study found that women learn best about finances in collaboration with other women, which is why so many financial advisors hold seminars.

What do you see as the three levels of financial development?

Survival, stability and affluence.

Where do most people stand?

At survival or wobbly survival. That means they aren’t in control of their money. Wealth comes not from what you earn but from what you do with what you earn. The three keys are: Spending less, saving more and investing wisely — putting at least some money in assets that will grow faster than inflation and taxes take it away.

You argue that there are three prongs to women’s financial success: Outer work, inner work and higher work. Please explain.

For those of us who didn’t come out of the womb understanding money, there’s the outer work of wealth — the practical stuff: how to tell the difference between a stock and a bond [etc.]. Then there’s the inner work — the psychological part: looking at the attitudes, beliefs and blocks that hold women back, including the unconscious beliefs that keep women from taking risks. The third prong, the higher work, is the opportunity to help others with your wealth.

What approach do you take with women in your coaching and mentoring programs?

My goal is to get them past their resistance — whatever’s blocking them — into clarity and then determining what their next steps are. The money part is the easy part.

What’s the hard part?

Helping them claim their power. A powerful woman is one who knows what she wants and expresses it in the world unapologetically.

What goes on at your top-of-the-line “VIP Intensive” program, which costs $10,000?

The client comes to my home and stays in my guest house. We spend a full day dealing with their s—. And you can quote me on that!

Your father, Richard Block, with his brother Henry, cofounded H&R Block. What did you learn from your dad about finance?

He didn’t believe that women should make or manage money. So he discouraged me from working and never taught me about money management or investing. However, he did teach me the importance of not having debt and of spending less and saving. He taught me the joy of philanthropy. So I really learned a lot of good values from him.

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