Stereotypes often die hard. Although it certainly doesn't apply to all women, many do tend to be good at several aspects of communication, starting with listening. "We communicate well with almost anybody, and tend to be comfortable asking questions about a client's purpose and meaning in life, which is a cornerstone of financial planning," says Susan K. Bradley, a CFP licensee, a veteran of the industry and founder of Women, Meaning, and Money in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "Women clients in general ask a lot of questions. I've overheard conversations where a female client will ask a question twice, and the male advisor's tone might change, indicating annoyance, like 'Didn't we just go over this?' I think men in general don't like to explain as much, whereas women won't make a decision until they understand all the details."

    Tom Zanecchia, a CPA and president of Wealth Management Consultants in Denver, whose average client is worth about $30 million, agrees. "A lot of male advisors don't know how to talk to women," he says. "Consequently, they'll talk down to women or over their heads." Zanecchia sees this condescension especially toward female spouses of corporate executives. "They might have gone through a divorce or received an inheritance and they want to understand what they have. They tend to get frustrated with old-guard male advisors."

    Bradley doesn't want to bash men, but she recalls a time when the old guard of investment advisors and attorneys couldn't fathom the notion of a woman with her own money. "There was no sense of a woman with paper-either they had bamboozled their husbands in a divorce or got an inheritance and were Daddy's little girls." Bradley notes that when she first put a "Bradley Financial" sign on her door, prospective clients looked at her nameplate and asked for her father.

    In Zanecchia's opinion, the cultural gap between male and female reflects another male stereotype: That men refuse to ask for directions on a road trip. "Oftentimes, men won't ask questions because they don't want to appear stupid, and in many ways that puts them at a disadvantage," he declares.

    Some women planners dispute the very idea that men and women are different when it comes to handling clients. "I resist the whole notion of financial planning as a 'soft' profession where counseling and life planning are elevated above analytics," Shine says. "Some clients prefer a counseling-type relationship, while others are more comfortable in a conversational setting, or in a very professional, analytic relationship. That has nothing to do with gender, but with personality. This is a profession, not a ministry, and I can guarantee you that successful planners, male or female, are both technically skilled and excellent communicators." Besides, she points out, the pioneers of life counseling-George Kinder, Roy Dilberto, and Dick Wagner-are all men.

    Shine has managed to excel in a male-dominated world ever since her days as a top salesperson at Xerox right after she graduated from college. She thinks men get a bad rap when people say women are more trustworthy. "Are we saying that 75% of the people in our profession are not trustworthy? I hope not."

    Ultimately, men and women require the same skills to succeed, and those skills are gender-blind, says Peggy Ruhlin, CPA, CFP, and principal with Budros, Ruhlin & Roe Inc., in Columbus, Ohio, whose clients average $3.2 million in net worth. "You absolutely must have the technical skills, and you have to be a really good communicator," she says. While women are often perceived as softer and more nurturing, Ruhlin frankly considers her partner Jim Budros to be more nurturing than she is.

    Regardless of actual skill, perceptions about gender roles can influence clients in their choice of an advisor. "Traditionally, our role has been to be caregivers, consensus-builders and information gatherers," says Judy Lau, CFP, of LauOlmstead LLC in Wilmington, Del., with about $350 million in assets under management. In some cases, she says, those roles play well into the relationship aspect of financial planning. "Money is a lightning rod in relationships, and it's important to build up a comfort level where you can talk about these issues and reach consensus."

    Furthermore, women are often perceived as less threatening, Ruhlin says. "Faced with a vitally important, scary topic, most clients don't want to discuss it with some hard-nosed, driven, know-it-all man." Whether it's fair or not, she says, women are perceived as more willing to discuss than command.

    Perception can be everything. "We get a lot referrals from estate planning attorneys," Ruhlin says. "I've been a pretty high-profile planner and investment advisor for 20 years, yet I don't think I've ever had an estate attorney refer a man."