Women investors demand significantly more from financial service providers than men, according to a new study released Monday by Hearts & Wallets LLC, a retirement and savings trend research firm that's a partnership of Chris Brown of Sway Research and Laura Varas of Mast Hill Consulting.

Entitled Quantitative Panel 2011 Insight Module: Understanding Women Investors, the Hingham, Mass.-based firm's study of more than 4,500 U.S. households found that women investors are much pickier than men about their financial suitors, both in terms of firms and advisors, and the reasons for these preferences.

Such expectations carry financial clout, Hearts and Wallets says, because women control or influence at least $16.2 trillion of U.S. household assets and are now the sole head of 32 percent of U.S households, which is an increase of 18 percent in the past five years. The study found women want more from their financial services firms than men in every category measured--in many cases by at least 10 percentage points.

"Many women are in a difficult position in terms of getting the financial advice and support they need,'' said Chris Brown. "As a result, they may feel frustrated and be even more discerning than men in their selection of financial providers and advisors.''

Brown said the study identified that women find several key financial tasks more difficult than men, notably retirement planning, and are getting less help with this task. More women than men also describe themselves as very inexperienced about investing and anxious about their financial future. The survey also found that women are 50 percent more likely to be concerned about "making assets last throughout retirement and outliving my money."

Selected other key findings from the survey include:

An estimated 56 percent of women find retirement planning difficult versus 51 percent of men. Only 12 percent of women seek help for retirement planning, resulting in an advice gap of 44 percent.

More than one-third of women (35 percent of women versus 26 percent of men) feel moderate to high anxiety about their financial future.

A much larger number of women, 41 percent, say they are very inexperienced with investing versus 27 percent of men. Only 15 percent of women have a good understanding of how their primary financial provider earns money, a key trust driver, as compared to 25 percent of men.

The top three attributes women seek in a financial services firm are that they provide low fees, provide fees that are clear and understandable, and that they explain things in understandable terms. Women ranked these three traits at least 10 percentage points higher than men queried in the survey.

"Our study points to the importance of educating women on fees," said Laura Varas

Regarding financial advisors themselves, the top three attributes women seek are that they don't pressure them to buy products, that they're open and honest about fees and compensation, and that they're responsive. Women ranked these traits at least nine percentage points higher than men.

Advisory firms that meet women's needs could be positioned for growth, the study found.

It also found that women tend to own fewer types of investment products than men, and have higher allocations to bank products due to lower risk tolerance and lack of financial experience. "Asset managers, broker-dealers, employer-sponsored plans and others can help women become more comfortable with asset categories that can lead to long-term wealth creation, a positive for both women and providers," Brown said.

The study provides channel and company-specific benchmarks and offers detailed insights into women investors.

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