To its credit, the financial advice industry is coming to understand the urgent need to bring more women into our profession, and is taking commendable steps to make it happen. Firms across the country are working to attract female professionals through tailored recruiting activities, mentoring programs, early outreach programs to bring college students to industry events and more.
As the rubber meets the road in this crucial endeavor, though, it’s becoming clear that a number of common and widespread misconceptions are preventing women professionals and students from exploring financial advisory careers.
As I and the other accomplished female leaders and advisors who attended the recent Ladenburg Institute of Women & Finance’s Annual Symposium discussed at the conference, we need to do more to speak to these women’s concerns to more effectively invite them into our vital and fulfilling profession
In practical terms, that means being prepared to address the following common misconceptions:
1. Financial advice is a sales job.
As the industry continues to move away from its prior focus on product sales and quotas, this notion has drifted further from reality, yet it continues to influence many women’s impressions.
We can overcome this hurdle by helping women understand that an advisor’s role is about compassion, consultation, credibility and establishing personal relationships, not some of the boiler room sales tactics that have often been associated with our space. We should be ready to dispel this misconception by providing personal experiences to show how advisors add value by learning what clients need and then work with them to help achieve their goals.
2. The industry revolves around math and analytics.
The image of the advisor as asset manager or ‘quant jockey’ is another long-outdated misconception, but it remains fixed in many women’s minds.
While analytically-inclined women can certainly pursue service models built around hands-on portfolio management, members of our industry should also emphasize the relationship-building aspects of the business: Convey the fact that advisors who are financial planners spend more time meeting with clients, analyzing and addressing their goals and meeting with centers of influence in their communities than they do crunching numbers.
Further, we can let female (as well as all) recruits know that there are great planning tools and portfolio managers they can partner with if they prefer to focus on establishing and strengthening client relationships rather than managing assets.
3. It’s a commission job and I need a salary.
“Eat what you kill” may sound straightforward as a source of motivation, but women should know that there are other ways to get started and make a living in our industry.
As more advisors retire, many opportunities are opening to join an existing practice as a paraplanner, sales assistant or junior advisor. These roles can help women get started in the profession, learn from experienced advisors and receive a salary (plus bonuses) or start earning fees on new clients they bring in to the practice.
4. Advisors work long hours.
Women are certainly no strangers to long hours, but they need the flexibility to address multiple other priorities, including family obligations.
Female professionals considering careers in financial advice need to know that their priorities matter to us, as well.
We should emphasize that the industry is developing great technology to enable anywhere, anytime access to client accounts and information, so if a client wants to meet at their home instead of the office — or at a soccer field during a child’s practice — they can make it work. Also, advisors can organize meetings with clients according to their own schedules and needs.
5. Financial advice is all about the dollars, not making a positive contribution to society.
While this misconception is the easiest to dispel, it’s still a prevalent notion and one that industry members should be aware of in speaking with prospective female recruits.
To show women this job is about more than money, we need to speak from the heart. Share examples that demonstrate the key role advisors play in their clients’ lives, whether it be planning for their retirement or their kids’ education; helping them transition to a new job or recover from a divorce; or helping them care for a loved one.
Just as teachers lay the foundation for their students’ lives and nurses guide patients back to health, advisors have a fulfilling and important role in helping clients achieve their goals and overcome life challenges.
Women are a natural fit for the emerging relationship-oriented future of our profession, and the industry’s efforts to bring more women into financial advice are a positive step forward. As we seek to inspire more female professionals to join our ranks, we should be prepared from the start to encounter — and decisively dispel — the lingering misconceptions that hold many of them back.
Jaime Desmond is Chief Operating Officer of Ladenburg Thalmann Asset Management, a division of Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services.