Develop a trusting relationship — and be sure to show your appreciation in an appropriate manner

By Wendy Cuthbert | February 2007

What would you do if your husband died? This was the question Rebecca Horwood, first vice president and investment advisor at Richardson Partners Financial Ltd. in Toronto, asked her top women clients this fall in preparation for a seminar of the same name she had devised.

“There was a huge buzz,” she says of the event, which drew 51 participants, more than half of whom were friends and colleagues of her high net-worth women clients.

The seminar touched a nerve among Horwood’s target market of affluent women: how can they manage their finances today to maintain their comfortable lifestyles after the death of their partners?

“They’re hungry for information,” says Horwood of her wealthy women clients. In fact, she has seen women’s involvement in investing evolve considerably since she started in the industry in 1980 with what was then Richardson Greenshields Securities Inc. — as its first female investment advisor.

“At that time, I was attracting wealthy women,” Horwood says. And the makeup of her client book — mainly divorced and widowed women — highlighted the fact that finding a woman in the financial services industry was a welcome breath of fresh air for women investors. “Women had a desire to deal with another woman,” she says.

Today, Horwood and her husband, who entered the business in 1987, manage more than $500 million in assets for about 110 client families. (They also manage investments for about 150 individuals — mostly friends and family — with assets of less than $250,000.)

Horwood says she is more likely to deal with couples and families than single women. But the first line of defence for these wealthy Canadian families has shifted significantly since the 1980s. Now, the wives tend to get the investment ball rolling initially. “Women are taking a more active role,” she says.

We are all familiar with the reasons why targeting moneyed women makes good business sense: they have more money than ever and, because of their longer life expectancies, have a greater need for sound retirement planning advice. Yet, arguably, they are not being served by today’s financial services industry.

A recent report by Spectrem Group says advisors in the U.S. are not doing a good job at reaching affluent women (defined as primary decision-makers in homes with US$500,000 or more of investment assets). The Chicago-based consultancy found that some of the tools advisors regularly use to reach clients — seminars, newsletters and Web sites — are not in line with what affluent women want. The chief dissatisfactions were the lack of seminars conducted by women and the limited choice of topics.

With women numbering fewer than one in four financial advisors in Canada and the perception, fair or otherwise, of an old boy’s network running the industry, the task of reaching potential women clients can seem onerous. But there is hope. Here are what a few advisors who are successfully tapping this market recommend:

> It’s All About Relationships.

The importance of the client relationship has been repeated countless times, but a trusting relationship is of particular importance to women, according to Brian Ward, certified financial planner and founder of By Design Financial Services Inc. in Markham, Ont. Ward manages investments for about 200 client households, and his client relationships usually start with women, generally single, in their 30s and 40s, who eventually bring other people into his office — from boyfriends or husbands to family and friends.

“When you’re sitting down and dealing with women, it’s all about what’s important in their lives and who’s part of their circle,” Ward says. In fact, 80% of his referrals over the past eight years have come from his women clients.

He adds that the loyalty women have for the key service people in their lives, such as hairstylists and estheticians, says a lot about their desire for commitment and trust, and this is something for which advisors should strive: “Women know when you’re there on their behalf.”

“Women have a strong ‘BS’ factor,” says Karin Mizgala, a fee-only CFP and president of LifeDesign Financial of Vancouver. “They know when something is being packaged as a sale.” As a rule, women clients distrust advisors who lead them down the “let’s make a deal” path and prefer advisors who structure conversations around their relationships — to money and people, she says.