The 2010 census determined that 51% of the population are women. Of recent graduates 57% are women. The role of women in home finances is changing; 63% of women under the age of 45 are the financial decision-makers in their families, compared to 37% of older married women.
However only 15% to 20% of financial advisors are women.
About ten years ago my wife and I went looking for a financial advisor. We were late to the game. Both of us work in financial services and I thought we knew enough to dispense with advice. My wife had other thoughts and felt that the only way for us to be on the same page was to have a trusted, impartial advisor who could coordinate our different views about investing. Yes, once again she was the smart one! So what did we both want from an advisor? We were lucky in that being in the industry we had many recommendations and many options. After a couple of false starts, we honed our screening. We both wanted someone who:
- We could both trust
- We both respected and liked
- Knew their craft and could compel us to make decisions and take action
- Would navigate our different financial approaches and devise a plan we both could embrace
- That was a generation younger than we were, as we were in for the long haul
That screen whittled down the pool quickly and we ended up with a choice of three advisors: two women and one man. The final decision — we now have an excellent female advisor. We did not have gender as a criteria going into the process, but if you look at our screening process, you can see why a woman might emerge from the pack. I don’t think we are alone in our screening approach. Which begs the question — why aren’t there more female advisors?
Rather than mansplain, I asked three female advisors to tell me their experiences and hear their views on the topic.
Lisa Kirchenbauer, CFP®, RLP®, CeFT®
Lisa is the founder and president of Omega Wealth Management. She has been in financial services for 30+ years and founded her firm in 1999. The firm currently manages approximately $148 M in AUM.
There are some pros of being a female advisor. Some women clients, especially women business owners seek out a female advisor. Some older couples anticipate, and the actuarial tables show, that the man will probably die first and the couple actively look for a female advisor to help the surviving widow. We also see clients choosing to work with us when they are in a significant financial or life transition. I think it’s because we are perceived as women as being able to be sensitive to both the financial and money issues of transition. On the other hand, you do get into situations where a client is choosing an advisor and seems that a male advisor is chosen for no clear reason. You can often feel this coming in the interview process. I would say this is happening less than it used to.
My approach is that I’m looking for quality and not quantity. My firm has focused on clients that are in transition — that is the reason for the Certified Financial Transitionist (CeFT®) designation. For female clients this is typically involves working with women inheritors, or women post-divorce, and widows. One common model is that with older couples the woman does the cashflow and the bills and the man does the investing. In some cases, the woman has never been involved in the finances so an empathetic advisor can help these transitions. What I tend to see is that women realize that they are in transition and want to do something about it, whereas men sometimes are not as aware that action is needed.
For my generation, the financial world we came from tended to be a boys’ club. Therefore the motivation to strike out on my own was clear! However those early days were tough as a woman starting a firm. Now I’m in the process of expanding my firm and because of the history, I’m very aware of the power of diversity — not just women, but all types of diversity. We are proud to employ a mix of age differences (Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y), as well as racial diversity.
So my advice for women who are thinking of becoming an advisor? Find a mentor in the firm who can guide you. Or if you have your own firm, look for women running their own firms that you might want to be mentored by. Reach out, ask if they will talk with you periodically. It’s up to you as the mentee to reach out and create the relationship rather than expect it to occur. The ensemble model of today is easier than the old days where building your book was like something out of the Hunger Games. Ideally, it’s more collaborative and team-oriented, which allows someone to come in and focus on relationship building and technical knowledge rather than just sales. And for me it is clear – being a financial advisor is a great career!
Robyn Jameson, CFP®, CLTC®
Robyn is the managing partner of Trinity Financial Partners. The firm was founded in 1972 and she is the third non-related owner. The firm currently manages approximately $350M in AUM. She has been in financial services for 18 years and took over the Managing Partner role in 2010. She then bought out her retiring partner’s remaining interest over several years.
Female advisors have definite advantages. It may be stereotypical but women are often more empathetic and better listeners in client meetings — two key strengths of a successful advisor. With couples, it is also natural for a female advisor to engage both spouses; while for some male advisors this must be developed as a learned skill.
In my firm, we have not focused on women as a niche or a specialized service. However, it is interesting to look across our client base and realize there is a decent showing of single/divorced/widowed women as well as strong female head of households as clients.
There are also some disadvantages for female advisors, which make it hard to get over the early career hump while building up a client base. Thankfully, I was able to do that largely prior to beginning a family (I now have four children). I was also fortunate, to find Trinity and an amazing partner who was looking to slowly retire. He has three strong willed daughters and was a champion for young women so understood how to make the most of my ambition and drive.
However, once established as an advisor with a client base, I can’t think of a better career for a woman, and it actually now affords me a lot of flexibility and financial remuneration — perfect for balancing career and family — as I can now outsource many things in terms of household management (childcare, cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc). Plus, I love the relationships I have with my clients. It is such a privilege to walk through the peaks and valleys of life with each of them.
My advice for women who are thinking of becoming an advisor? If you understand the different phases of this career and are willing to drive hard early, it can result in a very fulfilling and flexible lifestyle career that is rewarding both intrinsically and financially.
Missy Pohlig, CFP®
Missy is an advisor at Thrive Wealth Management. The firm was founded in 2013 by two young managing partners. The firm currently manages approximately $550M in AUM. Missy has been in financial services for 8 years and joined Thrive in 2018.
I’m still a little ambivalent about the advantages and disadvantages of being a female advisor. Maybe it is just my generation but I think if you get into this industry for the right reasons and always put the client’s interests first then you will succeed in this profession! One possible area and it is, of course, a generalization is that women seem to have an advantage as a financial planner. The consultative approach rather than leading with investments or a product, seems to come naturally.
I’m very aware that the financial planning firms of today are an easier way to start a career than in the ‘boiler room’ brokerage firms of twenty years ago. I was lucky in that in my early career, I was in jobs that educated me about the role of a financial advisor. For most young women the financial planning profession is rarely promoted unless you have family in the business. Once I saw the opportunity it was not a hard decision and because I knew the industry I was able to snag a position in a young, progressive firm.
So my advice for women who are thinking of becoming an advisor? I’m early in my career, but I think this profession is one of the best kept secrets in terms of leading a fulling career that enables you to help others. My advice would be to choose the firm you join very carefully. It is good to look for a firm that is aligned to your own values, is team oriented and has clear paths of career advancement.
So, why aren’t there more female advisors?
I’d like to thank the three advisors for revealing their career journeys. As this post is intentionally anecdotal it is hard to come up with a definitive answer to the question. There are some broad themes though. Firstly, today’s career counseling seems to miss out the financial advisor profession both generally and especially for women. Secondly, for new female financial advisors, there is the head wind of the sheer number of men in the industry compared with women.
But for any young women looking at the career of financial advisor — all three of our female advisors are unequivocally advocates for the profession.
The opinions and views expressed herein are those of Lisa Kirchenbauer, Missy Pohlig, and Robyn Jameson. SEI bears no responsibility for their accuracy. Lisa Kirchenbauer, Missy Pohlig, Robyn Jameson, Omega Wealth Management, Trinity Financial Partners and Thrive Wealth Management are not affiliated with SEI or its subsidiaries.
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