A few years ago, a collective lightbulb went off in the financial advisory business - women, with their current financial influence and potential $28.7 trillion in inherited assets, need financial advisors.

Suddenly 'Women' were a target market. The financial services industry was bombarded with articles, videos and conference sessions about what women want and how to appeal to them. There was even a piece for financial advisors called Knowing Women, as if they were a homogeneous group!

Historically, the financial services industry has not served women particularly well, tending to make female clients feel undervalued and thus engendering little trust in their financial advisors. While there have been genuine attempts to remedy this (including the aforementioned conference sessions and media pieces), the reality is that if the financial services industry sincerely wants to serve women better, it cannot simply lump them all together and call them a segment - or worse, a niche.

There are, indeed, sub-sets of women with common issues that, if addressed appropriately, would enable financial advisors to differentiate themselves, build their practices, and create a community of female clients for whom they can truly make a difference.

The Client Experience

Mark Tibergien, CEO of Pershing Advisor Solutions, recently spoke of firms that focus on "the client experience " as having better retention and higher margins. This is not surprising since the exclusivity of a true niche enhances expertise and efficiency. By focusing, financial advisors will become more adept at addressing common issues, leading to streamlined business processes and sharper marketing messaging. Groups of women with common issues include business owners, corporate executives, divorced with children, grey divorced, single by choice, and widows.

As with any group, an investment advisor should have a clear understanding of the members' specific needs and common concerns - and the knowledge and expertise to address them. Helping a grieving widow is quite different from working with a corporate executive, and grey divorce considerations may be a world apart from those facing a divorced woman with young children.

With a clearly defined female client base, it is much easier for advisors to extend the client experience beyond financial advice by adding easy access to auxiliary services appropriate for the defined group. Financial advisors should think outside the box of their usual Centers of Influences. If corporate executive women, who are typically short on time, are your target clients, partner with professionals who help relieve their time crunch such as concierge doctors or personal chefs. If the advisor specializes in working with women business owners, a business coach would be an excellent strategic partner.

The more the advisor knows about their clients and how to serve them, the easier it will be to connect with other professionals who work with the same type of client.

Communication is Key

One similarity across all groups of women is the need for an advisor to communicate effectively and build a relationship based on trust. Various studies have shown women's dissatisfaction with their financial professionals. Being ignored in favor of a male partner and being spoken down to are common complaints. To work with female clients, an advisor must have relationship building skills, the patience to gain trust over time, and the ability to understand the client's life situation.

Recommended reading if you are an advisor working with women is Kathleen Burns Kingsbury's bestselling book 'How to Give Financial Advice to Women' which lays out the essential skills for advising women, including building trust and active listening. Ms. Kingsbury also advocates for not grouping all women into one market segment but defining an ideal female client which may be by personality type rather than a set of life circumstances.

Benefits of Working with a Niche

Many advisors worry that by refining their target market, they may be limiting potential new business. Developing expertise in the complicated issues affecting a particular niche, female or not, may lead to more powerful connections, an increase in word-of-mouth referrals from existing clients and allied professionals who will know precisely whom to refer to you. Most importantly, it should help the advisor deliver an optimized client experience.

Nicola Sutton is Director of Practice Management and Development at The Investment Center, a broker/dealer based in New Jersey. She also created and leads the firm's Women Advisors Group.

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