Wall Street Journal: Clients From Venus

This article originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal (April 30, 2012)

Some advisers think they have found the next big niche: women.

Women control $8 trillion in assets in the U.S., and by 2020 are expected to control $22 trillion, according to TD Ameritrade Institutional, a division of TD Ameritrade Inc. Individual women are increasingly wealthy, too. Some 27% of millionaires world-wide were women in 2010, up from 24% in 2008, according to a report by Capgemini SA and Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management.

Little wonder, then, that women have the attention of the financial industry.

“We have seen a market change after the downturn where women recognize they really need to understand more financial concepts and be active participants in how they think about and plan for retirement,” says Joan Khoury, former head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, a unit of Bank of America Corp. Ms. Khoury is now chief marketing officer for LPL Financial, an independent brokerage company based in Boston.

But that leaves a big question for financial advisers: How do they get a piece of that market? A 2010 Boston Consulting Group study found that women globally identified financial services as the industry they are most dissatisfied with on a service and product level. Those surveyed said the industry doesn’t understand that women view money and wealth differently from men. For example, women don’t seek to accumulate money, the study reported, but see it as a way to care for their families, improve their lives and find security.

“Women are an underserved and ignored market,” says Candace Bahr, managing partner of the Bahr Investment Group in Carlsbad, Calif., an affiliate of LPL Financial. “If you have a couple, it tends to be the husband who the financial adviser pays attention to, which leaves the woman on the outside.”

In her own experience, Ms. Bahr has concluded that women clients require a different strategy. “Men are extremely competitive about money management,” she says. “They think, ‘how much money can I make and how much more is it than the benchmark or the guy sitting next to me?’ For women, it is about having enough money for our family and the opportunity to build a better life.”

‘All About Connection’

Her company, with about $96 million in assets under management, gives clients of both sexes the same surveys to gauge their attitudes about money, success and life. But it’s the women who take their time and learn from the process, Ms. Bahr says. Women, she says, “are all about connection and being together, and that’s a basic building block in trust which is what all advisers try to do to get new clients.”

Believing that women like to learn in communities, Ms. Bahr’s company has set up discussion clubs and the nonprofit Women’s Institute for Financial Education, where women can learn about financial issues together. The groups focus not on investments but on issues such as having enough money to retire and choosing a financial adviser.

Heather Ettinger, managing partner of Fairport Asset Management in Cleveland, Ohio, with about $750 million in assets, says her firm also uses social strategies to attract women.

Women like to connect, she says, and prefer the casual atmosphere of a party to an office. Their time is limited, too, as they often juggle work, family, parents and community service.

So, as both a recruiting tool and a way to stay in touch with clients, Ms. Ettinger throws parties where she invites successful women in a variety of industries for cocktails, conversation and no sales pitches. Networking parties and events are a good way for prospective clients to connect with other women who can tell them why they chose their financial adviser, she says.

“Women want to get to know their advisers through the eyes of other women,” Ms. Ettinger says. “Men are not as relational and are more focused on investments rather than the whole-life picture that women seek,” she says.

A Community for Widows

Dorie Rosenband, managing partner at &Wealth Partners, based in New York City and Baltimore, Md., has focused her business on trying to create a community for widows. One way she has done this is through the Love Story Project, which creates a space for women to share their stories about their husbands and the impact of losing them. At a time when most women feel isolated, Ms. Rosenband is helping bring women together to seek comfort in each other. Men, she says, are far less likely to grieve together.

Traditionally, men have also approached their finances in a more transactional way, says Ms. Rosenband, whereas women are looking to talk through their financial decisions. While men may leave a checklist for their wives to follow after their death, the women don’t have anyone to help them through the emotional impact of their financial decision-making, she says.

Ms. Rosenband sees her role as helping women navigate this difficult terrain both emotionally and financially. She has aligned herself with trust and estate lawyers who are usually the first people called when a spouse dies and are often not equipped to support women throughout the process. Ms. Rosenband says she often gets referrals from these other professionals who are glad to have someone who is focusing on the big-picture needs of the women who come to them.

The motivation to reach women clients needs to start with trying to solve whatever issues they are facing, says Ms. Bahr. It shouldn’t be primarily focused on profits or sales.

“You can’t do these things with the idea you will get a client next week,” she says. “Do things you love to do, and the clients will come.”

Ms. Ackerman is a writer in New York. She can be reached at reports@wsj.com.

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