After Merrill Lynch financial advisor Alyssa Moeder initiated a relationship with a prospective female client, it took several years before they were able to formally develop a working relationship.
During that time, that female client went from a partner in a marriage where she played no role in the investment decisions, to a divorcée learning to handle a significant settlement from her ex-husband, a principal at a hedge fund.
Working to attract new clients is just one of the challenges for financial advisors looking to serve a growing population of underserved clients: women in transition. These women may be experiencing the death of a spouse, a divorce or grappling with a difficult health issue. Surprisingly, they can be of any age, a panel of experts said at the IMCA New York Consultants Conference on Monday.
Part of attracting those female clients is making it known that you are there to serve them before those life events occur, Moeder said.
“It’s more challenging to try and develop that relationship when the transition is happening,” Moeder, a senior vice president at Merrill Lynch’s Private Banking and Investment Group, said. “You want them to be thinking of you as they’re going through it, and a lot of the time that just means having yourself out there as someone who works with other women who look like that.”
Retaining women clients who are going through a transition can also prove difficult for some financial advisors. Women who are experiencing divorce or the death of a spouse typically stay with their existing financial advisor for less than one year, statistics show.
That is important for financial advisors to recognize, because half of their book is typically comprised of women, according to Susan Hirshman, president of consulting firm SHE Ltd., which works to help financial advisors work with women.
“If I were you, I would take my book and I would look at all my A and B clients that are 60 and I would say, ‘What’s my relationship with the wife?’” Hirshman said. “If it’s not great, look at how much potential risk I have to my book.”
Improving those relationships with female clients all comes down to one thing: communication, Hirshman said. Based on neuroscience, women tend to process information verbally and emotionally, while men gravitate toward action and facts. Remembering those differences is key to cultivating successful advisory relationships, Hirshman said.
One client Hirshman works with said he immediately noticed a difference after he changed his approach in a meeting with a recently widowed client. When that financial advisor emphasized facts, data and solutions, the client became visibly upset. When he turned that conversation to feelings and relationships—her children and what she wanted out of life—the conversation completely turned around.
“He said he couldn’t believe it himself until he actually did it,” Hirshman said. “I challenge all of you, if this is an issue that you think you have … to try it and see if it makes a difference.”
Working with women in transition may also pose other hurdles for financial advisors. Often, their assets deplete instead of grow over time, which might discourage some advisors from taking them on in the first place.
Still, the upside potential is worth it. That’s because women are so much more likely to refer their advisor to their friends, it is possible to keep growing your book, Moeder said. “There’s no better referrer of business than a woman.”
Lorie Konish writes for On Wall Street.