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Women and Wealth: Meeting the Needs of a Dynamic Demographic

November 10, 2021

With women making up more than half the U.S. population, a wealth advisor’s understanding of how to best serve female clients isn’t an option; it’s a necessity.

Adding to a population that favors females, women are not only earning more, they are inheriting more and outliving their male counterparts by an average of five years. In traditional married couples, widowed women tend to outlive their spouses an average of 12 and a half years.

The “Landscape of Women and Wealth,” as described by Senior Associate McKenna Phillips, CFA, from Dimensional’s Global Client Group, during Dynamic’s September resource call, painted a vibrant picture of opportunity for advisors and the role they play in uncovering what’s important—the goals and values—to women investors, as well as the importance of understanding the life transitions women clients undergo to build deeper connections with them.

Michelle Kaufman

For Michelle Kaufman, CFA®, CPWA® of Prioritas Financial Advisors, building meaningful connections with women clients is a cornerstone of her Saddle Brook, N.J. practice, which is made up primarily of women investors that “run the gamut.”

“Some are divorced while others are married but are the primary breadwinners in their families,” explains Kaufman. “The women I work with are very busy, constantly juggling career and family. I don’t spend time on simply facts and figures, but instead try to understand my client’s full situation and collaborate on a vision and path forward they feel excited about…The relationships I develop with these clients are wonderful and fulfilling.”

On Dynamic’s September resource call, Phillips emphasized the opportunity for wealth advisors looking to grow their business with female investors:

“Women make great clients. They’re more likely to go to their advisor, tuning out media or their own research, than men…and women are more likely to be advocates of your business.”

Phillips cited the following responses from Dimensional’s 2018-2019 Investor Survey. Data from nearly 9,000 clients of advisors reported revealed when women were asked, “Where else do you go for advice or ideas about your savings and investments?”

  • Only go to my advisor: 34% women; 28% men
  • Advice from media: 18% women; 20% men
  • Do my own online research: 18% women; 26% men
Financial hurdles for women clients

Is serving women different? This is the question Dimensional set out to answer in 2015 when the global asset manager started its Women and Wealth community to help advisors improve the investment experience for women, whether as part of a couple or as single clients.

Feedback from Dimensional advisors working with women found that while women clients aren’t considered a “niche” (a small, specialized subset), there are common financial hurdles that they share.

Ryan Olds

Ryan Olds, CFP® of Ridgevale Financial Planning believes women investors are “a much-underserved demographic and thus a great opportunity for advisors.” He noted, “Women tend to be paid less than men, get promoted less than men and are more likely than men to have gaps in their working years.

“These are certainly hurdles that make it more difficult for women to achieve their financial goals,” added Olds.

According to Phillips, common financial hurdles women clients share can be broken down into three primary areas: Spending Phase, Ability to Save Wealth and Ability to Grow Wealth.

As advisors consider these areas, different demographics of women and subsequent life transitions should also be taken into account: widows, women going through divorce, professional women and disengaged spouses.

Here, we explore the demographics that apply to each area and the meaningful ways a few advisors across the Dynamic network are growing their practices with female clients:

1) Spending Phase: Given women’s longer lifespan than men’s on average, they typically require more money in retirement, which includes greater healthcare costs. In Dimensional’s Working with Widows Pre-Event Survey (Sept. 29 and Oct. 9, 2020; May 13 and 18, 2021), advisors were asked, “What are your widowed clients’ biggest hurdles towards success with their financial plan?” Responses spanned four key themes:

Spending
o Overall guidance
o Lump sum vs. cash flows

Financial Education
o Finding comfort level
o Financial planning

Family
o Family mediator
o Supporting adult children

Sense of Security
o Feeling overwhelmed
o Confidence
o Risk awareness
o Grief

Given these themes, the advisor’s role centers on guidance and giving the client her space, involving family members, and easing widowed clients’ comfort levels during a time of grief and uncertainty.

‘Listening intently’

“You can help by taking the planning process one step at a time,” said Phillips, “giving her space to share…providing manageable checklists to help her feel empowered, not overwhelmed…making yourself available to call you if she needs anything.”

It’s about making sure that you’re there and present for these female clients in these times of transition, noted Dustin Vile, CIMA®, regional director of Dimensional’s Global Client Group.

Olds agrees that while all clients value trust and honesty, women clients value “explaining things in plain English, following through and most importantly, listening intently.” At his Concord, Ohio-based practice, he serves divorced and widowed clients, and has “noticed a significant increase in the number of married women that are taking an active role in the financial decision-making. This is especially true for clients that are under 50.”

Melissa Jean Stewart

He uses the FinancialDNA system to understand clients’ natural behaviors around money and tailor how to effectively communicate with them. “It’s especially helpful when working with women clients because it helps me deliver advice and recommendations in a way that’s best suited for how they receive information and make decisions,” said Olds.

Melissa Jean Stewart, CFP®, AIF®, CDFA® of Clear Vista Advisors, Grand Rapids, Mich., serves women experiencing life transitions such as divorce, loss of a spouse or career change.

“‘Women in transition,’ particularly through the loss of a spouse either through divorce or death, are experiencing a grieving process and turning the page to a new chapter,” said Stewart. “They’re in need of wise financial counsel. They value communication and someone who will actively listen to understand their needs.”

Stewart noted there’s a “huge learning curve” with regards to managing their finances and investing, which can be intimidating if they’ve never been taught the basics.

“My job as their advisor is to educate so they can make informed decisions about their financial future. Much of this process is time consuming as you dig through their finances to understand their situation. However, when done right, you will have a client for life.”
Small gestures go a long way

The Clear Vista team knows that when catering to women clients, small gestures can go a long way. On Valentine’s Day, they send flowers to widowed clients with a note that reads, “We love what we do because of clients like you.”

Also, they make it a point to let clients know they’re welcome to bring a guest to any practice events. Invitations always state, “you and a guest” because a lot of times, divorcees or widows don’t want to attend an event alone, explains Stewart.

2) Ability to Save Wealth: According to the Dimensional study, two main drivers interfering with women clients’ ability to save wealth are lower potential lifetime earnings and financial setbacks due to divorce. Women tend to face financial setbacks to a greater extent than men. This is due to various factors, according to Phillips, such as differences in earnings and expected family obligations.

In Dimensional’s Working with Women Going Through Divorce Pre-Event Survey (Oct. 13 and 20, 2020), when advisors were asked, “What are your divorced/divorcing clients’ biggest hurdles towards success with their financial plan?” the following themes rose to the surface:

Awakening
o On my own
o Overwhelmed
o Need to understand priorities

Family
o Children
o New responsibility
o Reentering the workforce
o Ripple effects

Coaching
o Education
o Objective feedback
o Realistic expectations
o Overall guidance

As advisors help women clients navigate divorce, becoming an “active coach” is essential. Phillips noted subtle differences between serving divorced versus professional women clients (who require convenience from their advisors). However, both seek the ability to achieve balance with time, family and career.

Coaching is essential

At Prioritas, Kaufman provides career coaching to her professional women clients as many of them are considering job offers and career transitions. She added, “I love helping them understand their worth, advocate for themselves and improve their negotiation skills for higher pay—helping women find their unique area of brilliance as they think holistically about their roles and learn to set boundaries.”

Rachel Sloan

Helping women achieve balance is a recurring theme for Rachel Sloan, CFP® of Sloan Advisory Group. She has built her practice in Glens Falls, N.Y. on serving couple clients and solo women who are successful professionals and entrepreneurially minded. Sloan describes, “These are women who break the mold, are not in the traditional roles. Typically, they are successful and more often, they are the primary bread winner in their family.”

“The biggest hurdle to women clients’ success is trying to do it all,” said Sloan. “It’s my experience that women clients who delegate investment management—and understand they don’t need to know every nuance with investing—are typically more successful than those that don’t delegate. My women clients love collaboration and understanding strategy—they also love not having to implement that strategy.”

3) Ability to Grow Wealth: When it comes to overcoming hurdles in women clients’ ability to grow wealth, women can be more risk adverse than men, underestimating their financial knowledge. This can be attributed to what the industry calls the “confidence gap.”

According to Dimensional’s 2018-2019 Investor Survey, 43% of women were confident in their investment knowledge, compared to 61% of men. In addition, 22% of women reported they were not confident in their investment knowledge, compared to 11% of men.

The survey asked participants, “How confident are you about your investment knowledge?” with 10 being very confident and 0 being not confident. Confident is defined by a score between 7-10 and not confident as a score between 0-4.

“In my experience, women tend to be less aggressive with their investment strategies and less willing to take risks in general, which can result in lower rates of return on portfolio assets,” said Olds.

The good news for advisors: There’s always opportunity to boost confidence. Phillips advises that it’s important for advisors to have “a clear investment philosophy they can communicate to their clients, engaging both sides of the relationship in couple clients, so when changes occur, they know they have a plan in place for that.”

Sloan has built her brand around “Financial Confidence for Life,” noting what women clients value most in the advisor-client relationship: “collaboration, support, encouragement, deep personal relationships and above all, confidence in making your next best financial decision.”

Creating community, building connections

When it comes to building confidence with women clients, Dynamic advisors agree there’s nothing like the power of creating community and building connections. Dimensional has one such program: Conversation Circles facilitate small group discussions on a particular topic to help advisors develop deeper relationships with clients and prospects.

“We’re currently working on creating conversation circles to bring women clients together in a circle learning group,” said Sloan. “There’s so much to be shared from our experiences and to learn in a way that supports and encourages new ways of interacting with your relationship to money.”

Similarly, the Prioritas Book Club is a big hit with Kaufman’s women clients. Kaufman chooses books that are “fascinating reads, but also drive home great financial behaviors and habits.” They’re currently reading “The Psychology of Money: Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness” by Morgan Housel, “which my clients are loving,” added Kaufman.

The group meets on Zoom monthly to discuss the book’s central themes and questions Kaufman sends in advance along with resourceful articles related to the book.

“It’s a great forum for client discussion. We have deep conversations and are developing community as clients get to know and share with each other, which is especially rewarding,” said Kaufman.