Women’s Path Forward

Identifying and expanding financial planning opportunities
in Broker Dealers

By Bonnie Reed

Ms. Reed is Vice President of Business Development for ING Financial Partners, a broker-dealer with more than 2500 independent representatives nationwide and a Women’s Advisory Network established in 2005 to support the needs of female financial professionals. She can be reached at bonnie.reed@us.ing.com

Looking at the world of financial advisors, one could certainly argue that it’s a man’s world.  Based on a 2011 study done by Cerulli Associates, 86% of financial advisors are men, meaning that only 14% are women.  Given the growing body of research indicating that women are in urgent need of retirement advice and planning, increasing the pool of talented female financial advisors is a real opportunity for both the industry and the customers it serves.  One significant challenge to this opportunity is showing women a clear path forward to success.  In other words, women need to see up-close and personal real-life examples of how other women have succeeded.

Broker-dealers are catching on to the opportunity to bring talented females into the industry.  Whether women are just starting out their careers or opting for a mid-career shift, there needs to be a support network for them.  One avenue to do this is through formal women’s networks that offer ongoing training, mentorship, networking, and practice management activities.  These networks play an important role, and broker-dealers that offer a ‘best-in-class’ experience for female financial advisors help themselves and their female advisors.  What makes for a ‘best-in-class’ women’s network?  Here are some ideas that can make a significant difference as women strive for business success and growth in the financial planning industry.

In-Person Events

Nothing beats the power of women gathering in person to share their ideas and learn from one another.  I find that women are particularly open to sharing and absorbing new ideas and information in the right atmosphere.  My company hosted its annual Women’s Forum event in May.  During this event, female advisors shared best practices and attended practice management and information workshops to improve their skills and build their practices.  I saw first-hand how productive it is for women to come together- in person- to share ideas, best practices, and their collective passion for helping clients.  It is inspiring to see the information exchange, networking and what a difference the support makes for female advisors.  The enthusiasm generated from participation in an event like this is contagious.

Making the Connections

While formal presentations and workshops are a valuable forum for delivering and sharing new ideas, important connections are made beyond those boundaries.  An essential part of women finding support is building the informal connections.  Trust and tight-knit connections are built through the social aspects of women’s events and do not just take the form of cocktail hours or sit-down dinners.  There are other creative ways to instill trust and connection.  For example, the women’s event included a scavenger hunt in the local area, allowing women to work in teams to achieve common goals, further fostering an opportunity to network and build personal relationships with other advisors and support staff.

Involve the Team

The administrative staff who support the advisors are the glue that keeps a financial services practice running smoothly.  Including women’s administrative staff in conferences and advisors’ networking events allows office staff to share their own best practices and bring new processes and ideas to their work.  One session at the women’s conference allowed administrative staff to share the ‘secrets’ that help them achieve practice goals and communicate well with clients so that both their financial advisors and their clients have the information they need when they need it.  Administrative staffers shared ideas, such as their system for organizing client files to facilitate order processing and make it easy for both the office staff and financial advisor to quickly find important paperwork when they have a client on the phone.

Celebrate Victories

Broker-dealers are catching on to the opportunity to bring talented females into the industry. Whether women are just starting out their careers or opting for a mid-career shift, there needs to be a support network for them.

An additional benefit of female support networks is creating the opportunity to focus on the type of training that female advisors will value most, such as developing a strong marketing plan and getting up-to-speed on new advisory products and services.  Women events also give female advisors their ‘moment in the sun’ to be acknowledged for their efforts and accomplishments, without being overshadowed by their male peers, many of whom have spent more years in the business.  Celebrating the female top performers and the growth of their practices recognizes these women for the hard work they’ve done, and can inspire the women coming up behind them to strive for higher achievement in their own practices.

Mentorship: Paying It Forward

Top-performing female advisors can play an important role as mentors for other female advisors. Because the majority of financial advisors are men, women entering the industry have had a tough time finding role models who can provide a female perspective on how to overcome the challenges all financial advisors face in developing their practice.  Female financial advisors who are able to ‘pay it forward’ and become a mentor can make a huge difference for women starting out in the business.  Some women are drawn to serve as a mentor because they were lucky enough to have had a female mentor who helped them get started and provided invaluable guidance along the way as they grew their practice.  The annual in-person events allow women to find mentors who are not just in their own backyards but whose styles and approaches align with their own.  Many top-performing female advisors are mentoring and partnering other female advisors located in different states and time zones to help them grow their practices.
While making apples to apples comparisons between advisors can be challenging, female representatives affiliated with ING Financial Partners increased their sales by an average of 18% from 2010 to 2011.  The sales growth has served as a powerful motivator for women advisors.  In an industry where women are so outnumbered, it makes sense to create an environment where women can support each other both emotionally and professionally.  This will not only enhance the success of female advisors but is a win-win-win strategy, for the female advisors, for their customers, and for the broker-dealer.

Women Working With Women

A recent study commissioned by the ING Retirement Research Institute found that women face some distinct challenges that have put them at a disadvantage in terms of retirement savings and planning.  For example, the study found that women had an average of $41,000 less saved for retirement than men.  The study also found that only one quarter of women had a formal investment plan to reach their retirement goals, and more than half of women (56%) reported that they do not feel financially prepared for retirement.
Several industry studies indicate that some women have a preference for working with female advisors. Women are looking to work with an advisor who will take time to educate them about the complexities of financial planning and products, treat them with respect, and provide solutions that address their unique needs and concerns.  Female financial professionals can be more attuned to the distinct needs, communication preferences and decision-making processes that other women follow, especially when making important decisions that impact their future and those of their families.

Finding Your Own Network

Through a well-designed women’s network, women can get the support, feedback and positive encouragement that helps them become more successful and confident.  Today, female advisors can choose from several all-female organizations to seek out the like-minded support and personal connections that can help keep their practices growing.