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Accidental Sabotage

May 7, 2019 

How advisors unknowingly damage relationships with women investors

Jill T. Slomski
Founder of Niche Team, LLC

By Jill T. Slomski


Several years ago, I needed to buy a new car. I invited a friend—I’ll call him “Bill”—to go along with me. We stepped onto the car lot and were greeted by a salesman, “Jim.” Jim was extremely eager and told Bill about the latest models and features. The thing is, he was only focusing on Bill. I felt invisible. Finally Bill looked at Jim and said, “You better talk to her. She’s the one buying the car!” Jim didn’t realize until it was too late that his approach caused me to walk away.


Likewise, many advisors don’t realize that the seemingly reasonable approaches they’re using with women can actually be counterproductive or off-putting. Eighty-seven percent of advisors grade themselves “A” or "B" in understanding women,yet 66% of women who have an advisor are dissatisfied with their experience—compared to only 10% of men.2 Here’s how advisors can stop accidentally sabotaging their relationships with women investors.

Most Advisors Overestimate Their Ability to Serve Women Clients


87% of advisors grade themselves “above average” in understanding women1


66% of women who have an advisor are dissatisfied with their experience2


What we’ll cover:

  • It’s About Her, Not You
  • Women Are Individuals, Not A Category
  • Communicate Wisely


First, It’s About Her, Not You

It’s natural to want to promote your expertise and credentials to give prospective clients confidence in your abilities and make a good first impression. For example, you might introduce yourself like this: “I’m a CFP® and a ChFC,® and I’ve been in the business for 25 years. The majority of my clients are high-net-worth, and I’m in the top 10% of my firm.”

While this seems like logical, women could perceive this sort of introduction as sounding a bit cold and impersonal. It can sound like you’re saying, “I’m smarter than you are.” So what can you do differently?


Ask Open-Ended Questions

Focus on learning about your client. Do this by asking open-ended questions such as:

1. What are your financial concerns? What keeps you up at night?

2. (If she has a spouse or significant other) Do you share the same philosophy when it comes to money?

3. What is your definition of “wealth” or financial success? What does it actually mean to you? 

Open-ended or “discovery” questions encourage complete, meaningful answers and prompt clients to consider their values, priorities, and goals. Plus, they help you get to know your clients on a more personal level.

Women want a conversation, not a commercial. Regardless of what their concerns and goals are—and they do vary—women look for advisors who will listen to them. When an advisor conveys a sincere interest in their client or prospect by listening to her values, priorities, and goals, it fosters a sense of trust. For more open-ended questions to have a productive conversation, get the workbook below.


Second, Women Are Individuals, Not A Category

There was an epiphany several years ago: Investment firms realized that women could benefit from advisors as their financial power was increasing. As a result, advisors became inundated with well-meaning, but misguided advice about what women want and how to market to them. But it made assumptions that female investors are all the same, painting them as being low on savings, risk averse, and lacking confidence. Hence, advisors started focusing on “women” as a target market. For example, an advisor might say, “You’ve come to the right place. I specialize in helping women!”

While you might think this is what a woman wants to hear, she’s more likely to think you only view her as a business opportunity. If you’re catering to all women, she’ll wonder what problem you’re actually going to solve for her. You can’t “specialize” in women as a whole. There’s no one-size-fits all financial strategy that works for everyone. Just like men, each woman has her own particular needs and preferences—just like men, cookie-cutter financial advice will leave women feeling alienated and misunderstood.

A better approach is to focus on a specific niche that you have passion for, or an area in which you can add value: divorced women, widows, women executives, or women business owners. One way to find your niche is to identify shared characteristics among your top-25 women clients. If you see a pattern, consider concentrating on clients with those particular needs and goals. 


Third, Communicate Wisely

When a woman sits quietly in a meeting with you, it’s easy to assume that she’s happy just to listen. If her husband or partner is the more vocal one, why pressure her to talk about something if she’s comfortable letting her husband do all the talking?

While it may seem rational to focus on the client who’s more engaged, feeling ignored is one of women’s chief complaints about advisors. She may think, “I’m not being valued as a client. You aren’t even interested in my point of view.” She can feel belittled.

When meeting with couples, be sure to give equal attention to both individuals. Begin the conversation by asking, “What’s on your minds?” Or “What would you like to discuss today?” But you should wait to reply until each of them has had a chance to respond. If one person isn’t participating in the conversation, ask questions to proactively involve them.


You may be thinking, “No woman has ever given me feedback or told me that I’m not doing a good job”

If a woman is not happy with the service she’s receiving, she may not voice her dissatisfaction—but that doesn’t mean your relationship is secure. She might be willing to maintain the relationship if her husband or partner is satisfied with your services, but she will feel no loyalty to you if she becomes widowed. Seventy percent of women leave their advisers within a year of their husband's death.4

It’s not enough to “think” your client wouldn’t leave you—you need to ensure it.  

Check in with her on a regular basis and ask how you're doing as her advisor. Encourage feedback by asking, “What do you think is working well?” or “What has been most helpful to you?” Jot down positive feedback. These are behaviors you should keep repeating. Also listen for things you could improve. If clients don’t mention any of these, ask, “Is there anything I can do to serve you better?”


When Attempting to Connect With Women, Remember These Things

First, make sure she is the focus of the conversation, not you. Open-ended questions encourage meaningful, big-picture responses, showing that you’re truly interested in your client’s needs and goals—not just acquiring her assets. Second, use what you’ve learned through your client’s responses to those questions to develop a financial plan tailored specifically for her—not a generic plan for “for women.” Third, make sure both partners feel included in conversations and decisions. Two people do not equal one account; establish relationships with both spouses or partners.


Many Advisors Overestimate the Strength of Their Relationships

Eighty-seven percent of advisors graded themselves an A or B in their understanding of women clients. Like Jim, the car salesman, they think they’re doing a doing a fine job—but they’re not. The good news is that it’s not hard to recognize the approaches that seem to be right, but are actually backfiring, and fix them. Then the grades that count, the ones given by women clients, will start to improve.

Next Steps:

  1. Download the workbook below
  2. Use some of the open-ended questions on page 11 of the workbook with three women clients or prospects this week
  3. Make a list of your top-25 clients. Look for commonalities among the women on your list as potential niches to develop.



Jill Slomski and Niche Team, LLC, are not affiliates or subsidiaries of Hartford Funds.

1 Reaching and Retaining the Female Investor: Closing the Gender Gap of Advice, us.spdrs.com, 1/31/19
2 Executive women aren’t getting advice they need, investmentnews.com, 7/23/17
3 Forward-thinking advisors focus on women, thinkadvisor.com, 1/26/17
4 How Advisors Can Tailor Their Services For Widows, fa-mag.com, 9/20/18