Those statistics should go a long way toward explaining why many financial services firms and advisors are now scrambling to catch up with the other half, devising marketing programs and products that specifically target women. This is clearly an under-served and somewhat under-appreciated client segment, given its vast potential. Nonetheless, women of wealth remain a mystery to many financial advisors, especially males, who may not be used to dealing with female clients.

To get a better idea of this important group of investors, we recently completed an extensive study of affluent women and their attitudes toward financial advisors and financial products and services. That study included 743 women who had a least $3 million in investable assets (excluding business and real estate interests that were not easily converted into cash). All together, the 743 women had $4.85 billion in investable assets. Importantly, they had to be the principal decision-maker when it came to the disposition of those assets.

Profiling Women Of Wealth

A significant majority of our respondents, nearly two-thirds, were aged 45 to 54. That suggests that they have been successful at a relatively young age. Many of them are probably still working and therefore facing such decisions as how to best invest for retirement. Since quite a few also own their own companies, they may well be thinking about such issues as business succession.

When it comes to their education, a similarly high percentage, 61.0%, have a college degree, and another one-third have graduate degrees. Almost all of the respondents were or had been married, with the largest group consisting of those who were married for at least the second time (40.1%).

Where The Money Came From

The largest segment of these wealthy females, just under one-third, made their money through their own business or a family business (Exhibit 1). When you add in those who have a professional practice (such as lawyers, doctors, architects, and accountants) and those who made their millions working for a corporation, the percentage of women who made their money on the job rises to better than half of the total. For financial advisors who work with them, women in that group will clearly be defined by their success and power. Another quarter of the respondents became affluent through inheritance or a trust fund.

Independence Is Key

When asked why they managed their own finances instead of handing the job off to their spouses or partners, more then three-quarters said they did not want to rely on anyone other than themselves (Exhibit 2). Again, this reflects a dynamic and authoritative group used to being in charge-on or off the job. The percentage is most probably given a boost by the number of women who have been divorced and want to be cautious about passing the reins to a spouse who might not be there down the road. Finally, as is the case with most investors, regardless of gender, very few of these women, less than one-tenth, were given any financial guidance by their parents.

Women Of Wealth Want Guidance

That last fact leads directly to the desire for professional guidance (Exhibit 3). Though they are a self-assured group, the women of wealth, like affluent men, do not want a second career managing their finances, and four out of five said they relied on experts to help them. Almost two-thirds understood that volatility was part and parcel with investing in stocks, and nearly as many were aware that successful investing is a long-term proposition. All of these findings are good news for financial advisors who are interested in targeting wealthy female investors-once they realize where the similarities with their male clients begin and end.

Next month, we'll take a close at the relationship between women of wealth and their financial advisors.

Hannah Shaw Grove is managing director and chief marketing officer of Merrill Lynch Managers. Russ Alan Prince is president of the consulting firm Prince & Associates.

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