March 25, 2014 12:02 am

Could women make up financial adviser shortfall?

Women still make up only 30 per cent of financial advisers, and even fewer have made it to the top, but it seems that number will have to grow as the investor base evolves.

The industry faces a personnel shortage of 240,000 over the next decade, according to research by Pershing, the consultancy.

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Meanwhile, the research shows, more women, along with Generation-X and Generation-Y investors, will enter the market, bringing with them expectations of a more collaborative adviser relationship.

Investing in female advisers may be the answer if firms want to keep serving old customers while bringing in new ones, says Kim Dellarocca, global head of segment marketing and practice management at Pershing. “Women have inherent traits about how they build relationships and listen,” she says – and top female advisers say those skills make a big difference to clients.

Debbie Jorgensen, managing director and wealth management adviser at Merrill Lynch, is listed in the FT 400.

“When you think about what makes a successful adviser, it is the skills that encourage clients to be open and help them articulate what is important to them,” she says.

Debbie Jorgensen of Merrill Lynch

Debbie Jorgensen of Merrill Lynch

Ms Jorgensen says many male advisers display these traits too. But on the whole, the Pershing research shows, people tend to associate consultative and relationship-building behaviours with women.

Theresa Chacopulos, a senior vice-president and private wealth adviser at Morgan Stanley, left Wells Fargo after 29 years, taking clients with whom she had built strong relationships.

Ms Chacopulos, who is also in the FT 400, says investors want to work with an adviser who feels like family. “I am seeing from referrals that it is about the follow-through and the feedback. I take the time to explain things,” she says. Women, especially, seem to appreciate her approach.

In fact, according to a study by Spectrem Group, the consulting and research company, most affluent women prefer to work with a financial adviser. Sixty per cent of women say they would rather work with a female adviser, according to the Pershing study. For women over 65, that share increased to 79 per cent.

“It is indicative of a belief that women may be more open to a woman’s needs or desire for more education,” says Ms Jorgenson.

A 2013 study by Merrill Lynch revealed female investors were almost twice as likely as men to say they had below-average knowledge about investing, with the result that women tend to want educational material more than men, Ms Jorgensen says.

“Women want to do business in a different way,” agrees Margaret Starner of the Starner Group of Raymond James, and another FT 400 adviser. In the 1980s, she built her business by giving seminars for women who wanted to be included in their family’s financial decision making. This desire to be educated and included is still the case, she says

Ms Starner co-founded Raymond James’s women’s advisory board in 1992 and says the group has helped the firm retain more female advisers. Besides being a traditionally male-dominated industry that has not always welcomed women, the round-the-clock nature of the job does not always suit women, who tend to take on more parenting duties.

“The barrier to entry is not high, but the barrier to survive is,” Ms Starner says. But that is changing, as the team-based structure for adviser businesses gains ground, enabling advisers to be a big part of a business without carrying all of it.

Establishing workplace flexibility programmes, promoting coaching initiatives and putting more successful senior women in the spotlight can help firms recruit and retain more female advisers, Ms Dellarocca says.

Of course, she adds, it is up to firms to spend the money on these programmes – and that can require some convincing. “How do we get the recognition that there are different strengths that women bring and, most of all, these strengths are what customers want,” she asks.

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