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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

Why Women Must Be Part of Planning Meetings

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What You Need to Know

  • Today, women control more than 60% of personal wealth in the United States, amounting to more than $10.9 trillion in assets.
  • There are 87 women billionaires in the United States and women serve as CEOs of more than three dozen Fortune 500 companies.
  • Women want to work with advisors who respect them and the important roles they play as well as take the time to understand all aspects of the family enterprise.

Women’s lives and the opportunities available to them have progressed significantly over the past hundred years, which has meaningfully changed the calculus of how women consider their own roles vis-à-vis money, their families and their careers.

Today, women control a significant percentage of the world’s wealth (more than 60% of personal wealth in the United States, amounting to more than $10.9 trillion in assets).

There are 87 women billionaires in the United States (12% of the total) and women serve as CEOs of more than three dozen Fortune 500 companies, oversee many philanthropic programs and initiatives and play an increasing role in shaping the philosophies and priorities of future generations.

The Capgemini 2021 UNHW World Wealth Report noted that there are 114% more U.S.-based women entrepreneurs than 20 years earlier and that 40% of U.S. businesses are women-owned.

Women also contribute $7.6 trillion annually to U.S. GDP, but their contributions often are overlooked. Yet in many ultra-high-net-worth families, the roles of women still are hindered by long-standing conventions and complex intergenerational dynamics.

That’s something advisors would do well to keep in mind as women come to command more positions of power in government, corporations and family enterprises. Not surprisingly, women of wealth want to be treated fairly in relation to access and control of family wealth and want artificial barriers within the family removed.

These were just a few discoveries of my colleague Dennis Jaffe and I in researching the role women play in very wealthy families. Our goal was to help determine how they can be better served by financial advisors and family offices.

We weren’t interested in collecting impersonal data points, rather we conducted in-depth conversations with several dozen women of wealth who are leaders in their families, to understand their experiences and attitudes towards money. Some of our findings are summarized below.

What Do Women Want?

Above all, women want to work with advisors who respect them and the important roles they play. They demand that their advisors take the time to understand all aspects of the family enterprise, including its wealth structures and their financial implications along with the family and its dynamics that the wealth supports.

And they want to work with advisors who will empower them to make their own decisions. They don’t want to live in resentment of an advisors’ judgment of them, nor do they want to work with advisors who are interested in only discussing “the numbers” but won’t take the time to understand the bigger issues that impact wealthy families.

Today, the roles and opportunities of men and women are becoming more equal, but the reality is that men and women are different and tend to have distinct mindsets, concerns and operate differently from each other.

When this fundamental distinction is recognized and the client experience is uniquely designed to address their needs, women’s power and influence within families will increase, although their approach to acquiring these benefits will differ from that of their male counterparts.

Additionally, ultra-wealthy women are looking to work with advisors who take their unique perspectives seriously. The ideal advisor is someone who sees and shares their future and is able to offer financial education and coaching around family dynamics.

A recent global survey by Barclays of 400 wealthy families found that while women today are likely to inherit substantial wealth, fewer than half of them are as involved in family investment, business and other financial decisions as their male counterparts.

The same survey also found that while older generations hold a patriarchal view of wealth — a belief that men should lead and make major decisions about business and family wealth — only a third of their children held such views.

That indicates there is a tremendous opportunity for advisors who can discard anachronistic and counter-productive attitudes to see today’s wealthy women as they really are.

My own research also found that women want stability and continuity in their advisors. They want to know that the advisor and the firm they have chosen to deal with is going to be there when they need them, not sold off to private equity or swallowed up by a big bank.

They are savvy enough to recognize that the all-important qualitative aspects of the family can get lost in big, more impersonal advisor experiences.

Our research reveals that these women often define success by a different set of metrics than their husbands and use a different set of skills to realize it. They are concerned with family harmony and preparing subsequent generations for the burdens (and benefits) that wealth conveys.

New Matriarchs

We use the term “new matriarchs” to describe the role these women play in wealthy families. While they may be matriarchs in a traditional sense, these women, especially those in later generations, prefer to describe themselves simply as family leaders or “stewards.”

They do whatever needs to be done to pass the family’s accumulated wealth and achievements to the next generation. Their roles are often informal, sometimes not visible or public, and at times not noticed or heralded.

They identify with the concept of stewardship, or servant leadership, referring to a type of leadership that listens closely to the needs of others and finds ways to move forward quietly, but inclusively. This is often in contrast to a view of leadership that’s patriarchal and authoritative.

Today, there’s a clear trend of more fluidity and even equality in spousal roles, especially when it comes to women having access to education and careers. The old subordinate roles have been largely rejected as women discover they can assume ones that require skill and offer power and responsibility under their unique brand of leadership.

Women are bridge builders who work to connect business and family and form deep bonds between individuals across generations. Advisors who can embrace this reality and adopt the same skills and attitudes as women do in leading their families will be well-positioned to serve the needs of wealthy families as a whole and to better grow their own businesses.

Amy Hart Clyne, CFP, is Chief Knowledge and Learning Officer at Pitcairn, where she empowers wealthy families through family education while pioneering research and best practices that elevate the role of advisors to one of true partnership. She is also the Founder of The Gen 7 Project, Pitcairn’s thought leadership and learning community for families of wealth.


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