Originally published in FSIVoice.
As the financial advice industry works to meet its clients’ evolving needs, firms and professionals throughout the sector have become keenly aware of the growing imperative to encourage more women to become financial advisors. Women clearly represent a rising force in the world of financial decision-making: according to industry publication Bank Investment Consultant, women currently control the majority of the wealth in the United States, and will receive an estimated 70% of the $41 trillion that will be changing hands as part of intergenerational wealth transfers over the next several decades.
As Cetera Financial Group CEO Valerie Brown says, “The more our advisor population can reflect the diversity of the investors they are serving, the stronger will be their relationships with clients and the efficacy of their advice.” With that in mind, she says, “It’s pretty clear that women are under-represented in our industry.”
Winnie Sun, Founding Partner and Managing Director of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California, agrees, and notes that ongoing changes in the way investors approach financial decisions will have significant implications for the industry in the near future.
“Most families today tend to make decisions as a team, so the woman’s input is just as important to the final decision of who they choose to be their investment partner as the man’s. That’s a significant shift, and it’s going to be very important for our industry going forward,” she says.
Brown believes that the principal hurdle standing between women and career opportunities in the financial advice sector is a lack of awareness. “The barrier to bringing women into this industry has been, in large part, a matter of education and outreach. I think we could do more on college campuses as an industry, as well as in the public relations sector,” she says.
This outreach would include efforts to familiarize female students and professionals with the financial advice business model and the role advisors play in their clients’ lives. As Brown says, “Our best advisors, regardless of gender, are obviously very comfortable with numbers and financial products, but they also spend just as much of their time — if not more — working with clients as people and families, understanding and helping them through life events and sharing in the joys and sorrows that come along with that.”
Helping women understand that the financial advice profession involves a balance between these various personal and quantitative elements would undoubtedly make the industry more compelling for aspiring female professionals and those considering second careers, says Brown.
Sun points out that firms and advisor teams can also play an important role in inspiring women to pursue the profession — and help them attain long-term success — by establishing options to help female professionals raise families without the fear of jeopardizing their client books during maternity leave or other family responsibilities.
“Women would really benefit from defined programs that would enable them to build a family while knowing that their business will be intact when they come back,” says Sun. Such programs could include facilitating partnerships with other advisors early in a woman’s career or enabling broker-dealer home offices to provide support for clients on a contract basis for a sustainable amount of time.
Mary Kusske, President of Kusske Financial Management in Burnsville, Minnesota, suggests a two-pronged approach to inspire women to become advisors, combining concerted local outreach in advisors’ own communities with efforts to establish strong networks of successful women advisors to serve as role models.
“I would like to see our industry reach out to young women at the high school level to enable them to do a six-week internship between their junior and senior years,” she says. Such programs would not only help women understand career options in the sector early on, but would enable them to plan ahead as they consider their college choices, says Kusske.
Women would also benefit from efforts to build communities of potential female mentors within the industry, she says. “Bringing together groups of successful women advisors to serve as role models, and giving young women those examples to look up to, would help enormously.”
Kusske notes that FSI’s networking efforts are already very helpful in this respect. “FSI, with their continuing focus on creating venues for networking and discussions on best practices, is already providing women in our industry with opportunities to connect and think about how we can help the next generation of female advisors. I think that FSI will continue to play a very important role in these efforts going forward, as well,” she says.