A new study reveals why financial advisors sometimes feel like marriage counselors.

    Men say they wear the financial pants in their families. Their wives beg to differ.

That's one conclusion of a just-released survey of affluent couples, which reveals that while 81% of married women say they share investing and long-term financial planning equally with their husbands, only 44% of married men concur with that observation. The majority of men, 56%, say that they make most of these decisions on their own.

Despite their view that they have an equal role with their husbands in money management, married women overwhelmingly shun the role of primary financial decision-maker. The gender gap on this issue is widest among 27 to 41-year-olds, the so-called Gen-Xers, with 60% of men in that age group saying they make most financial decisions on their own compared to just 18% of women.

The survey offers no explanation about why men and women differ so dramatically on their perceptions about their respective roles in financial decision-making. But understanding those differences and adjusting communication strategies accordingly is critical for financial advisors who want to retain client loyalty across generations, says Chris Parisi, national sales manager at MainStay Investments, which sponsored the research. MainStay Investments' Across Generations Survey, 2006, is based on responses from 1,512 married individuals between the ages of 27 and 83 with minimum investable assets of at least $250,000.

In a study of the same topic, a report by Spectrem Group, a marketing research firm based in Chicago, also indicated that more men think they are in charge of financial decisions while more women think it's a joint effort. In that study of couples with investable assets of $500,000 or more, 56% of affluent men say husbands make the financial decisions, while just 20% of affluent women agree.

"Men tend to be direct in their approach to investing, while women often take a more methodical, collaborative approach and discuss things with their spouses and their peers," Parisi of MainStay says. "Advisors need to adjust their communication strategies to make both spouses feel involved in the decision-making process. Women's strong feelings about sharing the financial responsibility with a spouse implies that advisors have more opportunities to involve married women."

Advisors who make the mistake of excluding one spouse run the risk of losing assets under management with the next generation. "Many advisors tend to have a singular focus on men as the head of a household, and in the short-term that may work," he says. "But a woman will typically live longer than her husband. If he passes away and the advisory relationship with the wife has not been nurtured and solidified, the children will often end up taking control of the assets."

Experts say the dichotomy of opinion regarding who calls the money shots reflects broader differences in the way men and women view money and their roles in managing it. Men typically prefer to take greater risks than women in many areas, including their investment approach, according to psychotherapist and author Olivia Mellan. "The thrill of the ride is hard-wired into a man's brain," she says. "In investing, that may translate into not diversifying enough, or in overly aggressive strategies. With women, it means being too attached to safe investments."

Women also like to feel "connected" with their investments, she adds. "Men are usually more interested in whether a stock is going up or down. Women like to know more information about the companies they are investing in, such as the kinds of products they make or their policies toward employees."

For financial advisors, the key is taking on a mediator's role by understanding each spouse's preferences and bridging the gaps. That may mean crafting an investment strategy that combines the risk attitudes of both spouses, or providing additional background about a company and the business it engages in. Even seating arrangements are gender-driven, says Mellan. "Women prefer to sit across from people so they can look them in the eye," she says. "Men like sitting next to the advisor so they can avoid eye contact and look at charts and graphs."

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