“Consider Firing Your Male Broker.” That was the bold headline The New York Times gave a candid opinion piece penned by Blair DuQuesnay, investment advisor with Ritholtz Wealth Management, in January of this year.
She argued that since an abundance of research found that women’s investment accounts outperform those of men, “the future of finance should be female.” The CFP and CFA discusses that angle of vision in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.
While the percentage of women in other fields, like medicine and law, has substantially increased, when it comes to financial advisors, the needle has barely moved in the last two decades, says DuQuesnay, who writes the popular investing blog The Belle Curve.
The financial planner, 37, who joined Ritholtz in 2018 and is a member of its five-person investment management team, serves a high-net-worth clientele from her one-person office in New Orleans.
The scarcity of female advisors is an issue she clearly takes seriously, particularly when it comes to her own firm, which is actively seeking them — but with scant success. Indeed, industrywide, “it’s an uphill battle,” she says.
DuQuesnay started out as a sales assistant supporting a broker partnership at UBS PaineWebber in New York City, one of whose clients happened to be Barry Ritholtz.
Laid off as a result of the financial crisis, she nonetheless quickly moved up, when she was hired by WealthStream Advisors, where she became a certified financial planner. In 2011, she relocated to New Orleans and soon opened her own RIA, then joined ThirtyNorth Investments as chief investment officer. Five years later she became a member of the team at Ritholtz, which at present manages $1 billion in client assets.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed the Montgomery, Alabama-born-and-bred DuQuesnay, on the phone from her office in “the Big Easy” (“I still have a lot of New York in my personality, but it’s an easier pace of life here.”). She has a knack for developing client relationships and fits right in with the Ritholtz business-building strategy of gaining publicity and prominence through social media, blogging, podcasting and writing articles for high-profile publications. Her Times op-ed triggered 340 reader comments.
The advisor is also part of the new Ritholtz charge into producing voice content for smart speakers — aka voice assistants — and every Thursday can be heard with a voice-activated Flash Briefing on Alexa as part of her firm’s daily “Market Moment” series spotlighting impactful historic events.
Here are excerpts from our interview:
THINKADVISOR: Did The New York Times approach you to write the op-ed piece, “Consider Firing Your Male Broker,” or did you propose it to them?
BLAIR DuQUESNAY: They came to me. I had written something similar on my blog, and they reached out and asked if I’d like to take another stab at it in the form of an op-ed. I said, absolutely.
I assume they wrote the headline, not you?
Right, but I did know all along that was the working headline. I knew the purpose of the opinion piece was to get eyeballs. So that title wasn’t a shocker to me.
What reaction did you get when it ran?
The overwhelming majority was positive, both from people within the industry and investors. I [accepted] offers to appear on CNBC, Yahoo Finance, the “Jill on Money” podcast and [public radio] WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show” to discuss it. Of course, there were anonymous naysayers commenting on the internet, but they were a fraction of the responses I received or read.
In the piece, you wrote: “… whatever the paths taken, the future of finance should be female.” Please elaborate.
Characteristics of women as investors [indicate] a need for more women, if not a majority of women, in financial services. For example, women tend to exhibit less overconfidence [than men] — and overconfidence is what leads to more risk-taking, more pursuit of profits without considering the potential downside.
We know from academic research that groups tasked with difficult decision-making tend to perform better when they have diverse types of thinkers around the table. The easiest way to get cognitive diversity is to have both genders represented.
Some firms have been trying for decades to attract more women to be brokers or advisors. So this idea is nothing brand-new, right?
There have always been a small minority of amazing women serving as advisors. We’re just not moving the needle. We’re not seeing an increase in the percentage of women as advisors. That’s disheartening because we’re seen it in other fields — medicine, law and other STEM fields. But [the solution] isn’t as easy as simply stating that you want to hire more female advisors. It’s an uphill battle.
Why don’t more women want to be FAs?
The data shows girls not liking math as early as middle school. Even girls at 9 years old who are proficient in math will say they hate math. This is a [socialization issue] that we see only in the U.S. and Western Europe.
Firms should “take a look at their investment committee members and client-facing advisors. If they are mainly men, there’s a problem,” you wrote in the op-ed. What action do you recommend that firms take?
It’s very important to ensure that women are not just going into roles they’ve tended to gravitate toward [traditionally], like compliance, operations, HR. It’s important to make sure that women are represented as portfolio managers and advisors — as decision-makers in the investment process.
Tell me about your own career path.
I was a finance major and wanted to be in the financial services industry. I thought I wanted to be an investment banker, which is hilarious to me now. The first job I could get was sales assistant to a team at UBS PaineWebber. This was in 2004. I doubt that would have happened to me if I were a man who had graduated at the top of [his] class with honors [as I did]. I think they would have been offered a different job.
Barry Ritholtz was a client of the brokers you supported. What do you recall about interacting with him back then?
I remember being told that there was this client who was famous, who was on television and a really well-known strategist on Wall Street and that if he ever calls, to treat him like gold — not that I treated any other clients differently. I remember him calling and his jovial personality and talking to him every now and then, and placing trades in his account.
Where did you move after that first job?
I joined Wealthstream Advisors as an analyst, where I earned my CFP and learned how to do financial planning. Then, in 2011, after six years in New York, I moved to New Orleans. I started there as an independent planner partnering with a small existing RIA. Eventually, I registered my own RIA and did financial planning and investments.
How did that go?
I was building a business from scratch, but I had never been a salesperson or business development person before. So I spent several years as a starving entrepreneur. And then ThirtyNorth Investments called. They had lost their chief investment officer and offered me the role, which was wonderful. I was there for five years, and then I joined Ritholtz.
When they hired you in 2018, they were seeking female advisors in particular, right?
Yes. I had read a post by Josh Brown, our CEO, the title of which was something like, “I Have Failed.” He was extremely open about the fact that their personal network and connections weren’t bringing the candidates they desired — more women. That really resonated with me.
How many female advisors does Ritholtz have now?
Two. One joined before I did. We have some other women who are partners in the firm. One woman is the director of operations. We’re [still] actively seeking to add female advisors.
Your clientele is high net worth. What’s your niche?
The only way I can classify my clients, who are young families and recent retirees — men and women, single, married, divorced, widowed — is that they’re people who value having a high-touch service financial advisor, someone who is quarterbacking their entire financial life.
What’s your favorite part of being an advisor?
Building relationships. I talk with my clients on a monthly basis. They tell me what’s going on with their health and their family’s health. It’s about helping them navigate anxiety-producing decisions, especially when they’re looking at retirement. They spend their entire life accumulating a nest egg, and now they’re going to start spending it. It’s a very anxiety- [ridden] transition. To give them the peace of mind through that process is so rewarding. That’s a message we need to get out to women: This job is about helping people.
What’s the biggest challenge for advisors today?
Providing the level of service, at a little premium, [to induce clients] to leave the really good low-cost technology-based options. But there’s got to be a lot of substance there for people to talk to a qualified, certified financial planner to get good investment advice. The advisors who want to remain independent and providing full service will have to do a lot more than just give the client a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds.
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