I have this amazing friend, Dede Bartlett, who is the former Vice President of Corporate Affairs Programs for Altria, Vice President and Corporate Secretary of Philip Morris, Corporate Secretary of Mobil and a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. Dede recently told me that her financial advisor had read a piece in the Wall Street Journal that named her the first female Corporate Secretary in Mobil's more than 100-year history. He excitedly called her and said, "Wow, Dede, congratulations! You must be tickled pink!!!"
It was at that moment that he became her ex-financial advisor.
You may think, "Come on, that's a little thing." But little things mean a lot to women. And it's the little things that can determine whether you're good at winning — and keeping — high-powered, successful women as clients.
To help you understand this, I interviewed some remarkable women to learn about their experiences with, and feelings toward, financial advisors. And they have lots of stories to share about … guess what? The little things! Here's a sampling:
Eileen is the CEO of a company specializing in energy-efficient technologies, and has no patience with advisors who think like, act like, and advise as if all investors are alike, which is not a female-only characteristic, of course. Here are some of her experiences:
- "They try to implement the same strategy they've run for others on me without listening to my particular desires or concerns."
- "They don't do their homework on risk profiles. One actually shrugged when I probed him for an answer to a question. If I'm asking a question about something, I want to know about it."
- "I have a special place for advisors who think their job is to speak to my husband, not to me."
Karen is a senior financial executive at a Fortune 100 company. Here are her experiences:
- "Too often I've had advisors who are too sales-y and in too big a rush to close the business, as if I'm not as important as their next client."
- "Often male advisors are condescending, and have their hands out, or intentionally speak to me using jargon and sharing obtuse information in an attempt to demonstrate their smarts."
- "In general, in my experience I feel there is an extremely chauvinistic approach to women; their goals are simply not taken as seriously as men's."
The chauvinism complaint came up in every interview I conducted. One woman said a pet peeve of hers is an advisor who doesn't acknowledge the experience, expertise and value she brings to the table. But that, unfortunately, isn't all that unusual.
From Bad to Good Behavior
Let's agree there are plenty of examples of financial advisors treating powerful, successful women poorly. But what does good look like? What would compel female investors to choose you — and stick with you? The women I interviewed offered suggestions:
- "I value advisors who have a broad perspective of the market and can help match investment priorities with my own personal priorities. I look for advisors who are proactive, thoughtful and collaborative. I want someone who can help me see around corners and will come to me with good ideas and help me make good choices."
- "If I were coaching a financial advisor I'd tell him or her to remember that the woman sitting across from you worked for her money — no matter where she got it."
- "Respect. Everything flows from that. You've got to appreciate the value your female client brings; all questions are good questions."
- "Use your body language, tone and manner to demonstrate to female clients that they are important. Every female client will feel it. Explain complicated concepts simply. Don't try to dazzle me with fancy footwork; you'll lose the sale so fast it'll make your head spin."
To help advisors hone sensitivity and respect skills with female clients, let me offer some practical suggestions:
- For male advisors, practice "active listening" with your significant others, daughters, mothers — all the women in your life. Active listening means approaching a conversation with an eagerness to learn and to understand rather than to respond, or worse, to prove how much you already know. Keep the "mansplaining" to a minimum.
- Respect the client's professional accomplishments or position. If your client is the CFO at a Fortune 100, treat her like you would a man in the same position.
- Female advisors, too, should be mindful of female clients. Female advisors have to respect their clients' professional accomplishments and not judge their priorities. For example, some female clients may not have children, while others may be stay-at-home moms. Both need to feel valued and respected for who they are, or they might look elsewhere for an advisor.
- If you're an advisor under the age of 40, be careful of generational sensitivities. Younger advisors can make older clients feel out of it; especially older women. Keep in mind, a female client over 60 is likely to have advanced degrees and more money in her 401(k) than her husband (or ex-husband!).
The fact is, we live in a time when there are more women in the workforce than ever before (47%)1, and those at the top of their professions climbed the ladder to success in a male-dominated business world. When they seek out professional advice on how to manage their money, they want to find someone who understands, appreciates, and respects them.
There's no reason that can't be you.
- Treat female clients with the same respect you treat your male clients or you'll run the risk of losing them.
- Remember that little things mean a lot to women. Don't assume they don't know as much or more about money and investing than you do. Keep the "mansplaining" to a minimum.
- Practice active listening with the women in your life and do it with your female clients. It's a good way to demonstrate that you're there to learn and understand, not just provide answers.
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