Women are marching around the globe to stand up for what they believe in, but they’re still crawling excruciatingly slowly toward careers in the U.S. financial services industry.

Only 16% of the nation’s financial advisors are women, according to research published in January by Cerulli Associates. The percentage of CFP professionals who are women has remained flat at 23% for at least a decade, reports the CFP Board. Fewer than 10% of all U.S. fund managers are women, according to a 2015 study by Morningstar.

The numbers don’t really add up when you consider that in the U.S. more women have earned bachelor’s degrees than men every year since 1982 and more master’s degrees since 1987. Also, consider that women make up 35% of the nation’s attorneys and physicians.

Members of the small but spirited sisterhood who’ve found their calling in financial planning concur that the shortage of women isn’t rooted in a lack of opportunity but rather in a lack of awareness and misperceptions.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” says Kate Healy, the managing director of marketing and RIA sustainability for TD Ameritrade Institutional. Healy has been very focused over the past year on how to raise the visibility of women in the profession.

Agreeing with that assessment is Jocelyn Wright, the director of the American College’s State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services. “I firmly believe our industry has an image problem,” says Wright. “The face of the industry is an older white male,” she says, and the industry needs to do a better job showing advisors can be women and diverse women. (Wright is also the founder and managing partner of her own firm, Ascension Wealth Management in Jenkintown, Pa.)

Another deterrent identified by these women is the idea that financial planning is purely a sales model. Many women are hesitant with this “eat-what-you-kill” approach, says Healy. The RIA world must convey that planning isn’t just about rainmaking, she says, but also about relationship building, problem solving and strategizing—crossovers from many other professions.

The industry also needs to better support work-life synergy, says Healy, noting the participation dip among women ages 35 to 45. Flexible schedules can be productive and successful, she says, but those stories need to be told more.

Michelle Lynch, vice president and director of Raymond James’ Network for Women Advisors, says many women also remain hindered by the assumption that advisors must be finance majors or excel at math. They don’t realize “it’s a relationship business, first and foremost,” she says.

The majority of women advisors Lynch speaks with fell into the industry instead of deliberately pursuing it. Unlike law or medicine, there isn’t a very defined career path, she says, or even TV characters for girls to observe. “When I was that age, the only financial exposure I had was a teller at a bank,” she says. She’s glad more colleges are starting to introduce financial planning programs.

Texas Tech University’s personal financial planning department has a much higher percentage of female students in its degree programs than the percentage in the industry as a whole (44% of those in its Ph.D. program are women, while 37% of its graduate students are females and 28% of the undergraduate students are). Still, Deena Katz, an associate professor who has built up the department, thinks participation by women should be stronger.

As a nation, “we aren’t presenting this career opportunity as well as we might,” says Katz, who is also co-chairman of Evensky & Katz/Foldes Financial Wealth Management, a financial planning firm with offices in Coral Gables, Fla., and Lubbock, Texas.
“Kids are woefully financially illiterate,” she says, and aren’t aware of this major when they get to college. When financial planning programs are buried within business schools, students may not find them, she adds. Until five years ago, Texas Tech had a financial planning division, not a department, which wasn’t even listed on the university website.

Another deterrent is the litany of negative financial news. “We don’t hear about corrupt doctors or lawyers as much as corrupt money managers,” she says. Women need to know that financial planning “is not about the hot stock of the last 10 minutes,” she says. “It’s about, can you achieve goals, send your kids to college and have a good retirement.”

Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network, adds that women don’t realize financial planners can be worthy of the same respect afforded to doctors, lawyers and accountants. She’s also concerned that recent college graduates who’ve learned about holistic, fee-only planning, but don’t immediately get hired in this still-nascent corner of the industry, may get discouraged and pursue a different career.

Other women who’ve worked awhile may feel they’ve “been put into support roles for life,” she says, and lack the confidence or tools to build their own practices. Initially, “I was so petrified of clients, I wanted to stay behind the scene for eight and a half years,” she says. She even tried to quit the industry three times, before connecting with women mentors.

Women may also be unfamiliar with the many roles in the industry that could match their skills or interests, says Lafayette, Calif.-based Lynn Ballou, a regional director with EP Wealth Advisors. And they also may not be aware that job titles and descriptions can vary between firms. At EP Wealth Advisors, advisors lead client relationships, while its planners do a lot of research, reporting and computer modeling.

Women may not realize that traders and compliance officers are also part of the financial planning world, adds Healy, who expects to see more complex roles evolve as industry consolidation continues. “You can be a financial planning professional who isn’t in the sales seat,” she says.

Catch Them While You Can
Hiring more female advisors isn’t as much of an option as a necessity, say these professionals. For one thing, women are expected to control two-thirds of the nation’s wealth by 2030. This huge wealth transfer “is so much more than a niche,” says Wright, and it’s very important for advisors to know how to market financial services to women.

There’s also the aging advisor workforce. According to Cerulli Associates, nearly 40% of advisors plan to retire within 10 years. It’s a great opportunity to bring in and train young women, says Ballou, but the industry isn’t talking enough yet about succession planning.

And regardless of the status of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, “the fiduciary movement has taken hold,” says Garrett. Clients will want advisors who really know them, she says, and women can do this well. Mainstream media coverage is already raising public awareness and encouraging dialogues about what a fiduciary is, says Healy.

Industry insiders say that if advisors want to attract the next generation of women to the industry, it’s imperative for them to reach out to girls and young women and educate them about financial literacy and the profession. They suggest speaking to middle schools, high schools, colleges, the Girl Scouts and Boys & Girls Clubs.

Last year, Texas Tech launched its annual Financial Planning Academy for teens interested in learning about careers in financial planning and wealth management. About 25% of attendees were girls. Katz has also started asking female advisors to participate in mentorships and other networking relationships with Texas Tech students.

Raymond James, which has more than 950 women advisors, has started asking them to serve as ambassadors at nearby colleges, says Lynch. The firm also actively recruits women interested in changing careers. Advisors include former schoolteachers, engineers and attorneys, says Lynch. Raymond James’ 14-member Women’s Advisory Council includes a former psychotherapist and a former real estate agent.

Approximately 30% of Raymond James’ female advisors began as sales associates. The firm offers a yearlong mentoring program that lets sales associates explore careers as advisors before committing to its advisor training program.

According to Wright, other good potential candidates for advisor roles are financial executives looking to get back into the workforce after being home raising children.

Garrett, whose network supports approximately 240 fee-only advisors (35% of whom are women), knows that jumping into the industry and cold calling clients can be difficult, particularly for young women. She thinks it could be beneficial to build a pool of paraplanners who are paid a salary for a year while they’re trained on how to work with clients.

Retaining Talent
Katz knows flexibility is the key to retaining talent—a challenge recently put to the test when four team members at Evensky & Katz/Foldes Financial (two advisors and two support staff) were pregnant at the same time. The firm offers flextime schedules and arranged for them to work from home for the first few months after giving birth. The firm’s supportive environment ensures there is always client coverage, she says.

“We recognize they have a life outside the business,” says Katz. That said, the women are on specific career paths and know what they need to do to get to the next level, she adds.

Ballou encourages firms to consider flexibility because she knows a lot of work can be done remotely and off hours. When her children were young, “I never missed a soccer game, a play, a field trip—because this profession allows for that type of work-life balance,” she says. Two women in her office—a retiree seeking part-time work and a mom with young kids—had an effective job-sharing arrangement.

Women should be encouraged to find the workplace fit that’s right for them, to advocate for themselves (even if it’s intimidating) and to communicate how they can add value, say Ballou and M.L. Graeme Campbell, director of wealth management and a member of the investment committee at Inverness Counsel, a New York-based independent RIA.

Campbell was 24, with two years of experience in private equity and venture capital, when she turned down offers at larger firms to join Inverness. At her interview, she told a senior advisor, who’d been with the firm for decades, that she wanted to work directly with clients—and he was very supportive. She also gained support from the firm’s founder. “I don’t think they looked at me as young and inexperienced,” she says, “They had me at the table with them all the time with clients.”

Is ownership a barrier for women in the industry? Financial Advisor posed this question to Healy (women own or co-own 23% of the more than 5,000 RIA firms TD Ameritrade Institutional works with). She said it’s not a barrier, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to know how to do it. “It’s kind of like that secret club,” she says. TD Ameritrade provides transition teams to help newly independent advisors set up shop and offers training and continuing education to help advisors and employees run better businesses.

Of course, it’s beneficial for everyone for women to build networks and mentor relationships both inside and outside their organizations. The CFP Board WIN-to-WIN mentoring program, part of the board’s Women’s Initiative (WIN), connects current and prospective female CFP professionals.

“I think the definition of a women is an advisor,” says Ballou. “Think about all the things women juggle.” The industry needs talent, she adds, “and as women, we are going to need to lead the cause to make change happen and not just sit back and hope that it will.”

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