Wealth-management firms are targeting female financial advisors these days with the same enthusiasm that consumers are showing for the latest iPhone. The reason? The number of women with significant net worth is expanding, and many of these prospective clients prefer dealing with female advisors. And no firm wants to be left behind without a workforce to serve these potential clients.

Among the firms to step up its game to appeal to more seasoned female advisors is TD Waterhouse Private Investment Advice, which has radically transformed its recruitment tactics. As a result of extensive focus group studies on the female recruitment issue, branch managers have been instructed to approach a potential candidate through informal networking or a ‘warm call,’ says Linda Thorsell, vice president of national sales support for TD Waterhouse PIA, a subsidiary of Toronto-based TD Waterhouse Canada Inc.

Prior to this year, cold-calling potential candidates was the primary method most branch managers employed when going after a seasoned advisor. Most managers have a list of the competitive recruits in their community.

“Female investment advisors actually hate being cold-called,” says Thorsell. “We now instruct our managers to approach only a contact they know already or a referral from someone within the branch. They could call someone up and say something like ‘I have heard about you and your successful practice, could I please come in and talk to you about your business?’”

TD Waterhouse PIA’s search for a more effective recruitment strategy began last summer, when it wanted to expand its female sales force. The firm assembled 22 focus groups of female advisors at the firm and asked such questions as “What made you choose TD?” and “Why are you in this business?”

“The focus groups gave us a ton of guidance on what resonates with women when deciding to come here,” says Thorsell. “And it was great information that we had never formally gathered in the past.”

As a result of the research, TD Waterhouse PIA developed a dedicated tip sheet for branch managers to follow when looking to hire female advisors, many of whom look for different attributes than men do when seeking to switch firms, says Thorsell. Among the talking points managers are encouraged to discuss with female advisors are: how TD Waterhouse will help a female advisor become successful in reaching her goals, and the value system that the firm employs in its client/advisor relationships.

“[Women] are looking for a supportive culture,” says Thorsell. “One of the questions they often ask is ‘Will my branch manager coach and mentor me?’ As for more seasoned female advisors, their primary concern boils down to how the transition process will affect their clients. They often want to know how their clients will be treated within the new bank.”

Of 75 advisors TD Waterhouse PIA recruited from August 2009 to August 2010 (both seasoned advisors and rookies), 16 (21%) were female. For its efforts TD Waterhouse PIA received a Catalyst Award this past July from Toronto-based Catalyst Canada Inc., a subsidiary of New York-based Catalyst Inc. for its efforts to advance women and other diverse groups within its workforce.
@page_break@Toronto-based RBC Dominion Securities Inc., on the other hand, has grown its female advisory sales force through a focus on retention and new support services. DS’s philosophy: the more female-specific support the bank can offer its female advisors in-house, the more they will stay with the bank — and competitive recruits will follow.

Among the new services DS is putting into place this year is an online network, a private intranet site that only the women of DS can log on to in order to share best practices and look for business-building ideas via live chats and discussion forums. The firm is also launching a woman-to-woman mentoring program for new female advisors who want support from a female source.

These services give DS recruitment managers something to talk about when they meet potential candidates at networking events.

“As our managers recruit, they mention [these services] to let [potential recruits] know what we have,” says Lisa Norton, vice president of communications with DS. But all of it wouldn’t be possible without the support of senior management, she adds: “Executive support is what makes this work. They attend all of our networking events, which also helps with recruitment.”

The firm also continues to run its national Women in Wealth Management symposium in various parts of the country. These two-day sessions feature business speakers from inside and outside the firm, who cover such topics as financial planning, financial planning for women in divorce, and charitable giving for high net-worth clients. The conference allows female advi-sors to network and share best practices, as well as connect with senior management and express ideas they have about the firm.

“It’s a service we use to retain our female advisors,” says Norton, “and it gives them a chance to be heard.”

Since the end of 2009, about 25% of DS’s new recruits have been women. The firm also received a Catalyst award this past March for its efforts to advance women and other groups within its workforce.

A combination of trends — such more women pursuing higher-paying careers — is what has led to increase in wealthy female clients, says Norton: “We have clients calling in to the branch wanting to see a female advisors. Having more women in the branch rounds out our service offering to clients.”

Despite the efforts of some financial services institutions to increase female participation in their workforces, there has been no significant boost in the past 10 years. Martha Fell, president and CEO of Toronto-based Women In Capital Markets, notes that the workforce in the financial services industry today is 17% female: “As an industry, we have gone from 16% to 17% over 10 years. [That] doesn’t make much of a difference when considering women control 50% of the purse strings in North America.”

Among the roadblocks that often prevent women from entering the industry is the risk of not being able to build a big enough business to support their families.

“Fear of the unknown causes women to jump out [of the industry], whereas men will jump in,” says Thorsell. “Also, for women entering into the industry in their late 20s or early 30s, their concern was ‘If it takes five years to build my practice, then what about my family? How much time can I take off?’”

That’s where the industry needs to do a better job of promoting itself and the flexible hours it provides, says Charyl Galpin, chief operating officer with BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc.: “We need to do a better job of promoting this business, in that you have the freedom to manage your calendar in a way that works for you, vs a career that’s nine to five.”

Although the efforts of these firms may not have had a dramatic impact on the percentage of women in the industry overall, Fell says, firms speaking publicly on the issue is progress. “As an industry,” she says, “it means we are recognizing that recruiting women is a business issue and that women can contribute to the bottom line.”

According to DS, women control about $294 billion of consumer household spending — 67% — on average in Canada. IE