I went to Indianapolis recently to hear a lecture by Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, author of How to Give Financial Advice to Women. It was primarily geared to help male advisors deal with female clients. She had five “practical strategies.” First, when meeting with a female client, sit directly across from her and give her lots of eye contact. Second, make sure she gets to tell her story, because “women connect and build relationships by sharing the details of their lives.” Third, don’t do a data-dump on her. “Use analogies and stories she can relate to.” Fourth, meet with her individually, because husbands and wives have quite a different view on the role of money. [I require my clients to complete a risk questionnaire independent of each other, and they rarely agree.] Fifth, when discussing investment performance, discuss it in terms of her life goals, not just his.
Personally, I felt totally comfortable with these suggestions. In fact, I generally prefer working with women, as it eliminates the ever-present competition between men. But, this still doesn’t explain why so few women enter financial planning.
Kingsbury talks about women being “natural nurturers.” Indeed, I have always thought of financial planning as financial social work — helping people make some of the most important decisions they’ll ever make. Unfortunately, young financial planners are forced to be salesmen instead of nurturers for many years, until they build up their “book of business.”
One of the two leading candidates to replace Ben Bernanke at the Fed is Larry Summers, who lost his job as President of Harvard University, because he made some condescending statements about the ability of women to do math. While I cannot speak to that, I do think financial planning is perceived as more math-intensive than it really is. While it is somewhat math-dependent, it is not difficult nor high-level math. Mere nimbleness with arithmetic is usually sufficient.
The bottom line is that I don’t know why women are under-represented in financial planning. But, I also remember the banking industry back in the 1970s, when it was largely male-dominated. That is no longer the case, as women have excelled and pushed the “glass ceiling” higher and higher. I suspect it will be the same in financial planning. At least, I hope so . . .