By: David Macchia & Marcia Mantell
Advisor Perspectives | January 20, 2022
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If a recently widowed client hasn’t fired you, then you are among a lucky few. Here’s a thought experiment that illustrates the vulnerability advisors face when they don’t engage the female half of a couple:
- For the past 15 years, you’ve been providing wealth management services to an affluent family. Your clients, Harry, a prominent local businessman, and Paula, a homemaker, have been married for 27 years. Their two adult children, Noah and Olivia, have completed college and have found good jobs.
You believe you have done an exceptional job for Harry and Paula. Over a long period of time, growth in Harry and Paula’s investment portfolio has outpaced the market. Based upon this history of excellent performance, you are confident in your relationship with this couple.
Your primary connection has always been with Harry. On investment matters, Harry has been the primary decision-maker. Over the years, however, Paula, has also participated in many of your meetings. You’ve observed that she tends to listen to what you say, and nod approvingly.
You awaken on a Sunday morning, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and pick up your local community newspaper. You are shocked to read a news report that Harry has suffered a heart attack and died. Unsure if you should immediately call Paula, you decide to wait until the next morning. In the morning, you realize that you only have Harry’s mobile phone number. You decide to write a note to express your condolences to Paula. You drive to their home and leave your note in the mailbox.
Eight months after Harry’s death, you receive a note from Paula thanking you for your past services and informing you that she has decided to place her investments with another advisor: “You should expect the transfer paperwork shortly.”
Unless you have been isolated from the financial media, you are keenly aware that, over the next few years, ownership of an estimated $30 trillion of wealth assets will transition to women. For decades to come, women will be the central issue and a grand opportunity.
They are indeed the face and future of wealth management.
Historically, the planning profession has sub-optimally served women. Oliver Wyman estimates that these failures are causing financial firms to miss out on a $700 billion revenue opportunity each year. Research from a bevy of firms including McKinsey & Company, BCG, The American College, Merrill Lynch and Accenture has done an excellent job of identifying a host of past problems as well as future opportunities. These research findings are conveniently available, so we won’t repeat them here. But it is this singular fact that we cannot get out of our heads:
- In seven out of 10 instances, the widow fires the male advisor within 12-months of the husband’s death.
And it always comes as a complete surprise and insult to the advisor.
Looking back over the 20-plus year “relationship” with Paula, how could she so abruptly end the business? How acute must the alienation of the wife have been for her to decide to fire the “couple’s” advisor after her husband’s passing? And why didn’t the advisor realize the alienation was occurring? A woman’s decision to fire the advisor sometimes comes after a decades-long association that featured objectively good, and even excellent, investment performance.
But there was never a relationship.
Most male advisors suspect that women don’t like their approach. The problem is, they don’t know how to change their comfortable way of doing business. If you are male – and 86% of advisors are – then think of this as a warning signal that deserves your careful attention. Losing longstanding clients doesn’t make for a bright future.
No one has created a format or recipe for an advisor to follow when working with women. There have been attempts, but the desired result is always a product or an investment with a higher yield, which is not necessarily what widowed clients are looking for. Rather, women are looking for personal connections and the time to build strong relationships. That is distinctly at odds with men who tend to be too quantitative, too clinical, and too competitive.
This implies an acute need for coaching that is customized for males. As described by Marcia Mantell in a recent article:
Male advisers would be much more effective with women if they simply started every meeting by inquiring about each female client’s children. And not in generic terms. They need to ask about the children by their names, know where they go to school, and, for instance, know whether the school’s football team won or lost last week, or how the band or debate team did last weekend.
You can’t fake genuine
Women possess strengths in areas where men tend to be weak – and vice versa. They can spot a used car salesman four blocks away. It’s not that women have a special radar or a superpower. They just get people. As Marcia likes to say, “We understand body language and behavior. It’s instinctual. It’s our survival skill.”
Male advisors can and should focus on the business-building opportunities that come with female investors. But, for most men, that won’t happen unless they actively acquire new skills. It’s imperative for men to gain communications skills and insights that meaningfully address women’s differentiated needs and preferences. Think of it as upping your game for the win.