How to add value for women writing the next chapter of their lives.
Change is inevitable. A solid financial plan recognizes that and integrates a degree of flexibility to accommodate it. But some changes – divorce, a spouse’s death, illness, a career change, an unexpected windfall – can require a substantial revision. These changes can be especially challenging for female clients. As a trusted advisor, you can make a material difference both financially and emotionally in helping them edit their plan.
1. Personal stories establish empathy and trust
2. A productive financial conversation doesn’t begin with finances.
3. Consider developing your communication skills
Three leaders in the field of women’s financial health shared with The Flexible Advisor podcast series some key considerations when working with women in transition:
- BE A TRUSTED ALLY
You want to create an environment where a woman feels safe to share her thoughts and feelings, and to ask questions without fear. Stacy Francis, President and CEO of Francis Financial and Founder of Savvy Ladies, an organization dedicated to empowering women with free financial education and services, says “While women, especially those in a transitional situation, come to you about their money it’s not just because of the money. It’s because of everything else that comes along with the transition. We interviewed 150 women going through a divorce or in post-divorce. When asked what they looked for in a financial advisor, the number-one quality was honesty and authenticity. Almost half of the women said they were looking for a good listener. While they talked a little bit about market return, the most important things to them were not about the money.”
How does an advisor create that one-to-one dynamic? Francis encourages advisors to share their personal stories — situations where they or a family member, close friend, or a client faced a major transition and the emotions and challenges they experienced. This establishes an authentic connection, a commonality that demonstrates empathy and vulnerability. The advisor becomes an ally. Someone who understands. Someone it is safe to open up to.
"Take the time to understand your client's emotional needs.”– Steph Wagner, Head of Women and Wealth at Northern Trust Wealth Management
Perhaps most important: don’t be afraid to reach out. Steph Wagner, Director of Women and Wealth at Northern Trust, says: “If the woman is not ready to receive that gesture you'll know, but I think it warms any client’s heart to know that you care and you care about them in ways far beyond their accounts.” She also echoes the importance of listening. “Meet them where they're at and lead with empathy. Understand that every single person going through a major transition is in a different place. Take the time to understand your client's emotional needs.”
- REVISE YOUR APPROACH
Here is a game-changing concept: A constructive financial conversation with a woman in the midst of significant change should not begin with her finances.
“The way advisors have talked about money historically may have worked for a while, for a certain segment of our population, but it hasn't worked for women,” says Heather Ettinger, Founder and CEO of Luma Wealth – an advisory firm created specifically to serve and empower women.
“The way advisors have talked about money historically may have worked for a while, for certain segment of our population, but it hasn't worked for women.” – Heather Ettinger, Founder and CEO of Luma Wealth
“If you start the conversation with money, a woman is probably going to just turn off and not hear three more words that you say. Instead, start with a deep dialogue about what's important to her and make sure they know that information has been heard.” She explains: “Our industry sees money as the ‘What.’ That is the disconnect. For many women, money is not the ‘What’, it’s the ‘How.’ We identified six areas that are the real ‘What’ for women: life purpose, relationships, community, health, play, and spirituality. Our job as advisors is to connect the woman’s financial capital and human capital – the ‘How’ – to serve that ‘What.’
Another important consideration: Wagner suggests that advisors check the impulse to over-manage. “Anything that you can do to put some order and structure around the situation is helpful. Maybe that’s a simple financial statement, which she and her family will need anyway and frees up some headspace. At the same time, don't do it all for her. This is a tremendous opportunity for her to build confidence, to feel empowered around her money. This may well be the first time she is taking control of her financial life. It may take baby steps to do that work and develop those muscles.“
In other words: Allow her the dignity of that experience and those discoveries. Support, guide, facilitate - but don’t dominate.
- DEVELOP YOUR LISTENING AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS
“As financial advisors, and as an industry, we’re still learning to really listen,” says Francis. “Stepping into the role of financial decision maker, by necessity rather than choice can be daunting. And the transition brings with it a variety of emotions. It’s important to recognize that many women who come to you for help in a transitional situation are worried about feeling judged or being taken advantage of.”
“As financial advisors, and as an industry, we’re still learning to really listen.” – Stacy Francis, Founder, President and CEO of Francis Financial and Founder of Savvy Ladies
For some advisors, facilitating supportive and constructive conversations in times of heightened emotion is instinctive. But bringing genuine empathy into a professional discussion is not something we learn when getting a CFA or a Series 7. There are, however, a variety of certifications and designations that can help an advisor hone these skills. For example, did you know there is such a thing as a Certified Divorce Specialist designation? Or a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist? Pursuing one or more specialized designations may provide some useful credentials as well as practical skills that can pay notable dividends over time. As you might expect, a wealth of information about various professional designations is available online. FINRA.org may be a helpful place to start.
These tips are, of course, applicable in your work with any client. But we believe they may be especially useful in building productive and mutually constructive relationships with women. The leaders quoted above share many of their specific experiences and more useful perspectives in their respective episodes of The Flexible Advisor podcast series. You can access them here:
Heather Ettinger | Luma Wealth
Steph Wagner | Northern Trust
Stacy Francis | Francis Financial
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