It's clear that the underserved female market represents a remarkable opportunity. But how can advisors reach out to this market and speak more effectively to female clients and prospects?

Financial professionals need to understand that women need to feel genuinely cared about and valued in any relationship. They want their advisor to listen to their needs and fears. Married women want to build a genuine relationship with their advisor, feel like they are treated as an equal partner to their spouse, attend all meetings that their spouse attends, and focus on investments that address her needs, as well as her partner’s.

Women in general, married or not, must be genuinely listened to, if you plan to solicit them as clients or retain them.  I teach all of my advisor clients the skill of “Active Listening” to effectively communicate your genuine concerns to women (and also men, for that matter).

Prior to the meeting, tell your secretary to be sure to hold all calls, etc. and turn off your cell phone. Come out from behind your desk. Make sure you make and maintain good eye contact with her throughout the visit.

The key to active listening is not concerning yourself with what you will say next or how to respond to the speaker’s point or question.  Instead, you pay particular attention to what she says and her nonverbal communication (facial gestures, body language, eye contact, etc.) so you can understand the essence of her concerns. You then paraphrase what she said, by mirroring it back to her and empathizing with her concerns (even if you think they are irrational), because you must be on the same page with her to truly understand her concerns. You never give your opinion or your thoughts about what she is saying until you are certain that you understand where she is coming from, she confirms that you have it right, and is asking for an opinion.  Often the first visit is just you listening and understanding…not giving advice.

There are many “Active Listening” models out there, but I particularly like the ideas below that Kathleen Burns Kingsbury describes in her wonderful book, “How to Give Financial Advice to Women.”

Step 1:   Lead with an open-ended question to begin the dialogue.  For example, you might ask your widowed client, “What is your biggest concern right now?” Even if her response has nothing to do with finances, go there with her.  Your job is to understand the emotional space she is in now, not necessarily to direct her into the financial arena.

Step 2:  Ask clarifying questions to get an in depth understanding of her concerns and needs.  For example, “What are your greatest fears about will happen over the next five years or so?”

Step 3:  This is the key to active listening.  Reflect back (paraphrase) what you just heard in your own words.  For example, if she said, “I don’t know how to raise my children without their father in the picture and I’m feeling overwhelmed,” you could paraphrase, “What I’m hearing you say is that you’re worried that without your husband, you may have difficulties raising your children and it will be very stressful.  Is that how you feel?”

Step 4:  Ask for more clarification.  For example, “What are you afraid that you won’t be able to handle with the children?”

Step 5:  Summarize both the content and emotion of the client’s conversation. For example, “It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment, not knowing how you are going to handle the children and all of the responsibility by yourself and you are afraid of failing in that regard.”

Notice that the conversation may not go anywhere.  Your job is to listen and understand your client’s concerns.  The conversation this time may never come to financial issues.  It doesn’t matter.  Your client needs to know you are concerned, you understand her and you will help her.  Once she understands that you care about her and are a support system for her, helping her to make sound financial decisions will be much easier in future conversations.  It all starts with trust and communicating genuine concern for her welfare and that of her family and their future.  This is the process of developing trust in you as an advisor…it’s never about the outcome (what products she agrees to purchase from you).

Here are some other ways to attract and work with female clients:

  • Review your book of business and see if you have been accommodating your present female clients and determine what percentage of your clients is female.
  • Write investment-related articles for your local newspaper or broker/dealer publication that address female issues and concerns.
  • Make sure that your office staff reflects your values as it applies to working with and attracting female clients.
  • When meeting a new couple, schedule separate meetings with the husband and wife, so that she will have the opportunity to share her concerns and desires, without her husband dominating the conversation.
  • Speak at female-owned business owners’ meetings.
  • Sponsor a female-oriented charity or client appreciation event.
  • Volunteer your time at widow and divorce workshops.
  • Build a referral network among family law and divorce attorneys, especially female attorneys, showing them the special care and attention you provide to female clients.
  • Always remember that women are about relationships and trust, so be sure to keep these values paramount as you work with women.

Dr. Jack Singer is a professional sport psychologist and a speaker/trainer, primarily for financial professionals. You can learn more at www.funspeaker.com.

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