When I saw a session at the recently completed IMCA New York Consultant’s Conference titled, “What Women Want,” I figured, being a woman, I should find out what I want.
The talk was presented by Susan Hirshman, a former wealth manager and author of the cleverly titled, “Does This Make My Assets Look Fat” about women and money.
There are good reasons to “go long” on women, she said. They control an increasing amount of the wealth as decision makers and spenders: More than 50% of them are not living with a spouse, the number of women-owned firms is growing twice as fast as all U.S. firms and, of particular interest to bank reps, women bought 64% of the $1.9 billion in fixed annuity sales last year.
These women need your help with their finances, and you don’t need to be a woman to serve them. But, 70% of women report low or moderate satisfaction with their advisors. They only stay with their advisors for five years on average, only one year after becoming a widow.
By the way, the average age of widowhood is a surprisingly young at 55.
According to Hirschman, differences between men and women are physiological: women have a more highly developed corpus callosum or the layer of nerves that connects both hemispheres of the brain. Men have less of this. It leads to different ways of thinking, talking and acting. As a result women tend to think and talk more broadly than men.
What women want from their advisors is a quality relationship that involves interpersonal relationship-driven factors. What does that translate into in your everyday practice? It starts with listening skills. Women will nod along with what you say, and interject “uh-huh, yes, I see,” while men will sit quietly, making few if any gestures.
Women’s nodding along doesn’t mean they understand what you say or agree with it. It’s just their way of participating and showing that they’re listening. If you’re a man you might want to try this with women clients. As they talk, nod, make occasional brief interjections of acknowledgement because to a woman “watching someone sitting still looks like they don’t like you and or are not engaged,” Hirschman said. “The women may be thinking, ‘He hates me.’ If you’re a man remember to nod your head and say uh-huh every once in awhile. It’s small but powerful.”
Men and women also respond differently to the question: What do you think?
Men will hear this question as a call to action, to deliver some decisive position,
women, as an invitation to have a discussion about a range of subjects. “Male advisors don’t know why she’s raising all these issues,” Hirschman said. “Try to understand why they’re doing that and come back to the subject matter at hand.”
Men and women also tend to have different goals: Men hope for more riches while women crave freedom from the fear of poverty. Therefore, they’re less willing to take risks, and investment performance is not enough as a source of satisfaction with their advisor.
This doesn’t necessarily mean women crave more contact from advisors, Hirschman said. “Some do, some don’t, but women all over the country say ‘Why don’t they [the advisors] ask me how much I want to hear from them?” and with what kind of information she wants to hear.
Women respond well to being educated about finance. Men are more likely to resist education or act like they already know. Women often feel bad that they don’t know more and will be responsive to learning. “Women feel like advisors don’t want to spend the time educating them because they feel the answers [advisors give them] are short and they fear asking questions,” Hirshman said. Don’t use terms like basis points, which are jargony and they don’t understand. Indeed a lot of finance terms are explained in sports metaphors, which aren’t necessarily a part of women’s experience. Hirshman suggests choosing women-friendly metaphors. She talks in terms of diets and food groups to illustrate different asset classes. Fast-burning bagels are small caps, whereas slow-burning sweet potatoes are large caps.