About 30 years ago, Suzanne Muusers went car shopping. After she chose a vehicle, the salesman asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to check with your husband first?”
“I don’t have a husband and I have cash,” she replied.
The exchange left Muusers annoyed and determined to do more business with women. She has. “I have a female doctor, lawyer, dentist and CPA,” said Muusers, a financial adviser coach at Prosperity Coaching in Scottsdale, Ariz. “And I have a female financial adviser.”
Muusers is not alone. Many women prefer to work with female professional service providers. When it comes to financial planners, they may go along with their husband’s choice of a male adviser — and respect that adviser’s attentiveness, knowledge and integrity.
But if their husband dies, they may replace that adviser with a woman. About 70% of the time, a widow fires the male adviser within a year of her husband’s death.
To what extent should gender enter into a woman’s decision when choosing an adviser? Should she consider ruling out hiring a male adviser?
“I’m sure there are men who are great advisers,” said Liz Windisch, a certified financial planner at Denver-based Aspen Wealth Management who works almost exclusively with female clients. “But women may be embarrassed or not feel comfortable discussing certain things with a male adviser, like getting divorced or how little money they’ve saved for retirement. They may feel a little less judged when talking with a woman.”
She adds that if a woman feels inhibited from opening up to her adviser, it can undermine the relationship. An adviser who establishes more trust and rapport with clients can deliver more value.
“If you aren’t fully disclosing who you are and your situation, like marriage problems, then you’re not getting the full benefit that a financial planner can provide,” Windisch said.
She suggests that when shopping for an adviser, women pay attention to the conversational rhythm in the introductory meeting. Ideally, the adviser (regardless of gender) listens and retains what you say — and lets you do most of the talking.
Better yet, look for an adviser who asks questions such as, “How do you prefer to communicate?” and “How do you learn best?” You want an adviser who listens in an empathetic, nonjudgmental manner “and doesn’t seem frustrated or impatient with all your questions,” Windisch adds.
A female adviser may also have a heightened awareness of the kind of challenges that professional women face. For example, many women paused their career to raise children. Because men on average earn more than women for comparable full-time jobs, women may want to work with an adviser who appreciates the adverse effects of the gender wage gap.
In an attempt to educate a client, a male adviser might go overboard. To demonstrate his deep grounding in investment management, he might use too much jargon in explaining the firm’s asset allocation models or proprietary trading strategies.
If male advisers sound preachy, it can be a turn-off, Muusers warns. Instead, it’s better to present the facts and spur clients to take appropriate action.
“In the past, women were talked down to by some male advisers,” Muusers said. “I’d suggest that women look for an adviser who asks lots of questions as opposed to trying to show off.”
Finally, beware of any adviser (again, regardless of gender) who spends too much time telling you what to do and what not do to. Female clients may not respond well to a male adviser who tends to say, “You should stop doing that” or “You shouldn’t let that happen.”
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