Women Feel Stereotyped by Wealth Managers

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Most well-to-do women surveyed by The Boston Consulting Group say wealth managers need to do a better job serving their needs as they face frustrating stereotypes that leave them feeling like second-class clients.

The findings by the management-consulting firm were based on a 2010 survey of 500 women and interviews with private-banking specialists and rich investors.

According to the study, 55% of respondents said wealth managers must improve how they approach the advisory needs of women. Discontent was highest among women with $1 million to $5 million in assets under management.

Many of those interviewed said relationship managers assume they have a low risk tolerance and provide only a narrow range of investment services. Others said they were given "dumbed-down" versions of the standard offerings. A common complaint was that advisors don't take them seriously.

Respondents also cited "superficial strategies" that wealth managers use to target women, approaches that can come across as patronizing and contrived.

"The dissatisfaction stems from the unshakable perception that men get more attention, better advice, and sometimes even better terms and deals," says Peter Damisch, a BCG partner and a co-author of the study.

The findings come at a time when an increasing number of women are entering the ranks of affluence.

Women controlled an estimated 27%, about $20 trillion, of the world's wealth in 2009. In North America, women control a third of the wealth, and BCG projects that wealth controlled by women will grow at an average annual rate of 8% through 2014.

Several long-term trends have fueled this growth. Women have become more active in the global workforce, doubling to 1.2 billion between 1980 to 2008. The income gap between genders has narrowed as a result. Nearly 42% of women responding to the survey said they derive the entirety of their wealth from their own salaries and bonuses.

Due to longer life spans, women are also increasingly likely to assume control over large sums of wealth.

"There is tremendous frustration out there for women who have high levels of education and higher-and-higher paying jobs," says Kate Sayre, who heads BCG's global efforts on marketing effectiveness and is co-author of Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World's Largest, Fastest-Growing Market (HarperBusiness, 2009). "There's a real disconnect between the gains they have made in the workplace and the way they're treated when it comes to their wealth."

What do women want? A recurring theme among respondents was that wealth managers don't pay attention to the life changes that can alter their investment priorities, such as marriage, divorce, pregnancy and the death of a spouse.

Women also reported that the advisory process is often geared toward short-term results, which discounts the significance of long-term objectives that reflect these life changes.

"A problem arises when there is an assumption that all women have a preference for lower risk investments," Sayre says. "Women want to have a discussion about their life objectives, their life goals and then have a discussion about how different financial products may fit."

The failings may not be entirely rooted in sexism. Incentive systems and company cultures are often focused on near-term performance.

Wealth managers need to rethink practices that may lead women to feel undervalued or overlooked, the study suggests. Above all, catering to the needs of women should be substantial, not just window dressing via clever marketing. "Artless overtures," as the authors put it, can do more harm than good.

-- Reported by Joe Mont in Boston.

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