The majority of financial advisors are men, but women seek out financial advice more than men do. So how can advisors connect with the women they are serving?
The best way is to not speak down to them and to eliminate the jargon, said Kimberly Foss, president and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Sacramento, Calif.
A recent Fidelity study showed that 49 percent of women prefer to get professional advice and have sought it and a high percentage are focused on holistic financial planning.
Advisors who want to connect to any client, be it a man or a woman, need to find a way to explain difficult financial terms and concepts in ways that resonate best with the person sitting across the desk.
Foss works with married couples and many women in transition, including those who are divorced, widowed or own their own business. Most are in their 50s and 60s.
Women have a lot on their plate, juggling work and home life. Foss believes she connects better with them because she is a businesswoman, wife and mother and she can speak to a woman’s hopes, desires and fears.
She takes into consideration “how I would want to be talked to. Most men out there and advisors don’t speak like that,” she said. “I want her to feel safe and comfortable. …I’m not trying to make it more complicated. Women don’t like graphs and details and lots of analytical data.”
When she has her first meeting with any client, she likes to take what she calls the “10,000-foot” view of retirement first, speaking in broad terms about what a retirement portfolio should look like based upon the age and stage a client is in at that point in their life. There’s plenty of time to delve deeper and produce the graphs and data once a client is comfortable with the basic concepts of what it will take to retire comfortably.
When working with couples, many advisors speak directly to the man, instead of the woman, believing (many times incorrectly) that he is the one making all of the financial decisions in the household.
“You need to understand the economic decision-making in the partnership. [Women] may not make investment decisions, but they make 80 percent of the buying decisions. That should include who they hire as a financial advisor,” Foss said.
Foss said she doesn’t mean to diminish men or male advisors, but men and women do think differently. “Men have an ego. When they are in front of another man in the advisor chair, they have to defend their position,” she said. They bring out the graphs to try and impress them.
Men won’t choose an advisor if they feel the advisor is speaking down to them either, she said.
Foss recommends that anyone seeking a new financial advisor answer the following questions after the initial meeting: Do I get it? Do I understand it at the basic level? Does this person have my best interest at heart and will they act in my best interest?
If any of the answers are no, a client should find someone else. A good client/advisor relationship is based on trust, and to build trust an advisor must find a way to connect and build a relationship with them, she said.
Many women leave investment decisions to their husbands. When asked why, they say, “I’ve got a career, I take care of the household and the kids, I don’t have the capacity to understand that at that level,” Foss said. “You have to go the extra mile to engage the female so she feels comfortable.”
She added that men who come in to meet with her want to make their investments and leave, but women ask a lot of questions.
Foss likens diversification in a 401(k) plan to shelves in a closet that hold shoes. At the base will be the shoes you wear every day. The next shelf up will be the two-inch heels and at the top will be the really special occasion shoes, like stilettos.
In a portfolio, the base would be fixed income, cash, CDs and short-term corporate bonds. “This is the stable part of your portfolio. Make sure most of those are at the bottom of the investment pyramid,” she said.
The next shelf up will be mutual funds, blue chip or international mutual funds and at the top there might be one or two stocks you like, like Google or Apple. “Put a little bit there. Don’t put everything there. Use it for an occasion,” Foss said.
Taking that extra step to engage a woman is well worth it, she said. “Once she is engaged, trust me, she wants to know. Don’t misinterpret her silence. Her silence means she doesn’t understand; it is not because she’s agreeing.”
When speaking to a couple, Foss tries to engage both parties to find out what their retirement goals are. Many times, she finds that the individuals have very different views on the topic but have never spoken about it before.
Women do need to be involved. Women live longer than men so they need to know what their investments are and where their money is located, she said.
Women usually are more risk averse than men, leaning toward mutual funds instead of stocks. Studies have shown that women’s portfolios actually perform better than men’s by 1 percent net per year, Foss said.
“That’s because we do take our time. It may take us longer to get the information, but we construct something stable that will last long-term,” she said. “Women are not as apt to make emotional changes based on speculation. We’re going to go over the fiscal cliff or the tax change or the flash crash.”
She added that women are loyal investors. They will stick to the plan and that is why women are more successful investors in the long run.
“We’re the turtle; they are the jackrabbit,” Foss said. “We plod along getting our 3 to 5 percent return per year, which is fine with us. I’ve never had a woman client say, ‘I missed Apple or Google.’”
Men have a tendency to have heightened testosterone in times of fear and greed and they act on their emotions, she said.
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