(Dow Jones) As women's net worth continues to grow, financial advisors are facing a challenge that plays to gender stereotypes: How do you serve female clients if there is a male always taking charge of their finances?
With women, even wealthy women, there tends to be a man in the picture somewhere, whether it be a spouse, brother, son or uncle, says Stacey Haefele, president and chief executive of HNW Inc., a New York marketing firm that focuses on the high-net worth sector. "Until women are prepared to take ownership of their wealth, they are going to be hard to get to and are going to be hard to serve."
Still, financial advisors can and should take steps to foster a relationship with a female client despite the presence of a male, what with about 33% of the wealth in North America being controlled by women, according to a study by Boston Consulting Group released in June.
Advisers should also follow up with their female clients after a meeting, giving the women a chance to ask questions that they might not otherwise ask in a meeting with a male relative, especially if it could be perceived as slowing down the conversation, says Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc., the organization which grants the certified-financial planner designation.
"I've heard horror stories of advisors who never paid attention to the woman and ended up breaking the advisor-client relationship as a result of it," says Tommy Williams, president of Williams Financial Advisors in Shreveport, La.
Williams, who says his client base is 65% to 70% female, notes that because of women's increasing wealth and the fact that statistically they are more likely to outlive their husbands, it's important to make sure that the woman is always part of the conversation.
"I'm very careful to never make the mistake of directing all of my comments and attention to the man," says Williams. "Even if the woman is not the key person in the conversation, I'm still going to focus on her and include her in the discussion. I'm never, ever, ever going to ignore her."
It's a balancing act, though, given that there are some scenarios where it's necessary to reach out to a male relative in order to sustain the relationship with the female client.
Williams has seen situations where the husband dies and the out-of-town son steps in to help out, and the woman ends up moving her account to a firm that manages her son's finances. Thus it's important in these cases to reach out to the male relative and invite him to be part of the conversation, if only to reassure both the woman and the relative of the adviser's strategy and intentions.
"We want to show that we aren't trying to take advantage of mom and that we want to help her," says Williams. "It's great to have a validation from a son or a nephew or some credible source that the female feels confident in."
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