In the process of working to expand her referral network, Hannah Buschbom, a Santa Barbara-based advisor for AmeriFlex Financial Services, began to wonder why there was no simple and straightforward way for like-minded professional women to find each other and collaborate.
She discussed the benefits such a platform might offer with her colleague and mentor, advisor Thomas Goodson, the Las Vegas-based founder and CEO of AmeriFlex. After an extensive series of brainstorming sessions, they decided to create The W Source to fill that void. Buschbom and Goodson are also FSI members.
The W Source serves two primary functions: It establishes chapters of referral networks for women covering specific geographic territories across the country, where members can share best practices for landing new business in addition to sharing contacts. It also allows customers in the general public to find female financial professionals and service providers through an online search tool.
“Networking has been known to have a negative connotation and be extremely intimidating for many people,” Buschbom said. “We believe in intentional networking that helps women focus on useful activities to excel in their professions, and stop engaging in those less useful activities like buying tickets to a boring ball, making small talk with strangers, and eating rubber chicken.”
Each W Source chapter is led by a female financial advisor, who is the only such practitioner in the group. The rest of the members can include multiple attorneys, accountants, insurance specialists, trust officers, real estate brokers and other professionals. Membership is free for each financial advisor chapter head that The W Source selects, while the other professionals each pay $999 per year for the service.
What started two years ago with Hannah as the first chapter head has since expanded into 35 chapters nationwide with 165 active members. The W Source has established working relationships with 15 broker-dealers and has plans to continue to expand substantially in the next few years.
“The goal is for each chapter to have 20 to 25 members, and to eventually establish 450 chapters spread across every state in the country,” Goodson said. “Expanding will allow us to provide more and better services to our members.”
Thomas Goodson recently was a featured presenter at the Advancing Women in Leadership Workshop just prior to the FSI Forum in September. He discussed networking strategies that women advisors can use to deepen their relationships with centers of influence.
According to The W Source, some of the best approaches include differentiating the advisor’s service offering from competitors; figuring out which COIs the wealthiest clients in a given geographic area seek for guidance; and reviewing official documents such as IRS forms, insurance policies, and wills and trusts to see which attorneys, accountants and insurance agents are working with these clients.
Goodson and Buschbom recounted how The W Source has garnered praise from women who have become chapter members.
One member thanked Buschbom for helping her craft an elevator pitch that led the transformation of her generalist practice into one specializing in transitions such as divorce, inheritance, business sales and retirement. Another member thanked Goodson for helping her increase efficiency in order to do more with less in an environment of fee and regulatory pressures.
“One of the most rewarding outcomes we often see is that our members learn ways to use their time better,” Buschbom said. “They find more time to be with family, or go on vacation, or focus on their clients. The only thing more rewarding than that is women who tell us about getting new referrals and growing their businesses.”
Buschbom notes that although broker-dealers are fiercely competitive about amassing assets under management and recruiting top advisors, firms have reached widespread agreement on the importance of maintaining an industry-wide push to improve opportunities for female advisors. To that end, she and Goodson have collaborated with brokerages, custodians and financial publications to speak on the issue at their conferences and workshops.
One of the most crucial factors in the success of that push is reflected in Goodson’s role at The W Source. A central tenet of the company’s approach is that men in the financial advice space should serve as advocates and allies for women advisors by tapping their professional networks on behalf of women who are seeking to establish themselves in the industry, as well as by considering qualified female professionals for senior leadership positions at firms.
“Men are not bystanders in this process,” Goodson said. “We must be active participants alongside women advisors.”