Interview: Investing in Women

I was the Featured Profile in the PAXWorld March 2015 Women and Wealth newsletter. We spoke in-depth about women investors, gender intelligence and how all advisors can become more effective in sales communications. The full interview is below, and you can subscribe to the Investing in Women newsletter here.

Judi, can you talk about how you help groups elevate their gender intelligence?

I begin with a basic idea with a lot of evidence backing it up: gender differences are real. Gender affects the way people tell stories, the questions people ask and even the number of words they use. We have to consciously abandon the ‘one size fits both’ sales approach. It doesn’t work. Men and women hear and say things in different ways.

But let me be clear: Different is not less than! Sales people who are alert to the contrasts in verbal communication have the advantage. And they can build strong relationships with both male and female clients.

I work with groups to identify and root out the unconscious biases that obstruct empathic, effective communication. The benefits of being attuned to verbal, non­-verbal and even environmental cues are many: better judgment, more compassion and yes, better business results.

Do you think male and female advisors engage clients differently?

Absolutely. Generally speaking, men are focused on results. Men want information that leads to a solution. They want a problem they can solve. This is why they tend to ask more finite questions in sales meetings, make more assumptions and draw quick, hopefully effective conclusions. They tend to share less about their personal views and keep the focus on the client; partly that’s efficiency, but also it can be a protection mechanism.

Women advisors tend to value client connection more than men. It’s one of the criteria for their personal satisfaction with client relationships. So they’re often more comfortable with asking and fielding open­-ended questions. They look for ways to make financial decisions collaboratively and take time to form a three­-dimensional picture of their clients before they deliver advice.

That said, these general traits maybe helpful or hindrances. Each client relationship is different. And don’t forget: Different is not less than! A man with great expertise and a real dedication to optimal solutions may lose clients because he isn’t comfortable building rapport. A woman can earn trust with her savvy interpersonal skills and sensitivity and still fail to motivate the client to take action.

What are women investors today looking for that the financial services industry hasn’t yet provided?

It comes down to trust. Every person has a unique set of financial circumstances. You can predict some of them, but others will take you by surprise if you are too formulaic in your approach. Financial planning encompasses science and art. You need both to establish trust, and trust is what many women still don’t feel with financial advisors. Yet trust is the primary factor in a successful, stable advisor­-client relationship.

Regarding women and retirement — do women need to plan differently?

Yes. Women live longer, and they tend to put everyone else first. They’ll spend decades sending their kids to expensive camps, saving for college, supporting their aging parents and skimping on their retirement plans the whole way.

Advisors need an effective plan for respectfully pointing out the limitations of this approach. But whatever tactic they use, the goal is to get those women juggling one more financial ball, so to speak. They can’t take care of the people they love without taking care of themselves.

Why are self­-promotion and high­-value client acquisition important skills for advisors to have?

You can be the greatest advisor in the whole world. Your expertise might stand above everyone else’s. But if you have no aptitude for engaging people, asking for new business, and holding their attention, what good is all the expertise?

I’m still amazed how many smart, effective advisors don’t get this. It’s one thing if they have a thriving business and can’t take on any more clients, but I haven’t met many advisors who enjoy that kind of abundance. There is real business risk in the aging client base of most practices. Intergenerational planning is an important area of opportunity to bring in younger prospects.

Is there one thing every advisor should be doing in their practice to better serve and engage their female clients?

Listening more and talking less, at least at the outset. The numbers don’t lie, but they need a context. So pay attention to the details beyond the numbers: who is important to this person? Whom will they be supporting? What kind of job do they have and how important is the job to their happiness?

Holding back and listening also keeps you from projecting your values and expectations onto the prospective client. Be sure to inquire as to who plays what role in a couple. You need to know who is actually in charge of managing the day­-to-­day operations of the family finances, who has the better head for the numbers, who is more motivated to earn. The variety of answers is expanding as women acquire more financial power.

If you really listen from the outset, you decrease the chance that you’ll make a misstep or invalid assumption and jeopardize trust. By listening, you set a standard for mutual respect that increases the chance the client will value your knowledge when it’s your turn to speak.

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