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Women advisors are a precious commodity in the financial world.
At a time when more than half of the U.S. workforce is female, the percentage of CFP-certified professionals who are women has stayed flat at 23%1 for at least a decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently found that 35.5%2 of personal financial advisors are female. Analytics firm Cerulli Associates says women represent just 14% of the total advisor and broker head count although about 28% of rookie advisors are female (all according to Financial Advisor magazine).
"I believe that women can have a real competitive edge in personal financial planning. We build such good relationships with people, and of course, that is really the key."
Yet women financial advisors likely have a potent mix of traits and qualities one would expect in the best of the best: keen financial acuity, empathy, and the ability to listen, inspire, energize, understand, and to be there for their clients — both men and women. They can be unstoppable.
But ironically, women in business sometimes have the habit of downplaying and even negating some of the qualities that would set them apart, give them an edge, and make them thoroughly outstanding, sought-after leaders and business partners. I've seen it happen more often than I can tell you.
Let me share the story of my friend, whom we'll call Janie.
Janie recently celebrated four decades of working as a financial advisor, half of which were spent at a world-famous Wall Street firm.
She certainly experienced discrimination, sexism and cutthroat competition in the Wall Street environment. But Janie has her own unique perspective and style that have helped her transcend these challenges.
"I believe that women can have a real competitive edge in personal financial planning," she says. "We build such good relationships with people, and of course, that is really the key. And that's the facet of advising that I enjoy most."
The joy Janie takes in those "good relationships" is palpable. Just listening to her tell stories about her clients, their families, their challenges and their triumphs is inspiring. In fact, Janie is there for her clients in such meaningful ways that it's not unusual for her to be considered part of the family. Recently, one of her clients' children graduated from college. Not surprisingly, Janie had been close not only to her client but to his wife and son for years, so it seemed natural that she'd be invited to the graduation. She was the only non-family member present. But of course, in truth, she was in a very real sense part of the family.
"It meant a great deal to me," she said. "In fact, I was very moved not only by the ceremony but by the warmth and affection I was greeted with by other family members. Personal involvement keeps me passionate about my work. That's how I keep learning."
"I think," Janie continues, "that the main advantage women have in working with clients (particularly other women) is getting to know what actually motivates them and why they are committed to accumulating assets. If you know what inspires them as well as what worries them, you can help them not only accumulate wealth but gain peace of mind."
Janie has countless stories of how understanding her clients' hopes and fears enables her to go beyond simply providing financial advice to them and to actually care for them. Here's another example:
She has a client whose wife died three years ago. "I went to her funeral and now, three years later, have been invited to my client's small upcoming wedding in October. He and his fiancée are in their early 70's and he's concerned about maximizing income since his wife-to-be will be retiring soon. He commented recently that he feels safe in my hands."
Here's one more story about how a small gesture that Janie made went a long way in further solidifying an already strong relationship: "Our office is moving and cleaning out files. In the process, I found a baby photo of the daughter of one of my clients. I sent it to her with a note that said, 'What a beautiful baby! And she still is!' (Her daughter has just turned 14.) My client was absolutely delighted with my thoughtfulness."
"Random acts of kindness are easy to do and go a long way in strengthening your relationships," Janie counsels.
"These examples aren't just about money but about total well-being. I feel very fortunate that I am an important part of my clients' lives by providing both financial advice and life advice. And I'm so lucky to have found a career that I truly love. My acts of kindness are how I build trust, but they're also how I keep my own energy up and positive."
But of course, in the heat of day-to-day pressures, it could be easy to abandon those unique qualities of caring, of being there, that can make you stand out from the crowd and fall into the pit of simply trying to get it done like everybody else.
That's not good enough. And the good news is that what is good enough doesn't have to take more time or even more energy, just more thought — and a reminder that what makes you as a woman so necessary, so desirable as a financial advisor is really quite simple. And in other aspects of our lives (family, friends, other people we care about) comes as second nature to us.
So here is that reminder to female advisors to use your unique gifts and follow your natural instincts — and in the process, win and keep all the clients you can wrap your arms around.
Start with the Vision: Don't begin with the operational aspects of wealth management, or ask how much money he or she wants to accumulate. Start by asking this question: If absolutely anything were possible, what would you love to make happen in your life? For yourself? For your children? For your parents? What would it look like, feel like if it were really, really good? How good would you feel if you were able to help bring that vision to life?
Listen: Your role is to listen actively. Listen for what you don't know, rather than for a fit with what you already know works. Listen to learn, to be surprised — even delighted — by your client's answers.
Design: Outline the specific elements of the vision in a step-by-step (but flexible) plan to bring it to life. Include not just the financial aspects, but the life elements as well. For example, you might say "If we accomplish this goal, what would that allow for in your life and in your family's life? What difference will it make?"
Decide: Determine with your client exactly when and how you will meet your specific goals by specific dates. Keep close track; review your progress at the beginning of each month.
Revisit, Re-energize and Reframe the Vision: Do this every quarter. Ask and discuss these questions: "What's working? What's not working? What's missing?" Adjust accordingly.
Celebrate! Recount your stories of visions turned into reality, of dreams brought to life, of your client's growing courage and of the impact (and joy) of your working together.
Lastly, this final comment from Janie probably won't surprise you: "Most clients have my mobile number," she says. "They rarely use it but they know I'm there."
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. The information contained herein should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation of any product or service nor should it be relied upon to, replace the advice of an investor's own professional legal, tax and financial advisors. Hartford Funds Distributors, LLC.