Susan Caplan: mentoring plays a key role in producing successful women advisers

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Women remain in a minority among the elite Financial Times 400 Top Financial Advisers. The list has been compiled annually since 2013, but women have never made up more than 10 per cent of the selection. This year is no different — among the group there are just 34 women.

It is difficult for anyone — man or woman — to achieve a spot at the top against tens of thousands of financial advisers in the US.

However, the gender skew is also a manifestation of a broader statistical disadvantage. Men far outnumber women in the financial advisory space in general.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 38 per cent of personal financial advisers in March 2015 were women, up from 36 per cent in 2014. While the data indicate that the industry is at least moving towards gender parity — the bureau’s data showed that women made up just 26 per cent of the industry in 2013 — women financial advisers say those statistics show how far the industry has to go before it reflects the broader make-up of society.

“If we were well represented with women and men and different ethnicities, then we would be better positioned in the industry to better serve the needs of the clients,” says Margaret Jackson, a financial adviser based in Annapolis, Maryland, and senior vice-president at RBC Wealth Management, who is among this year’s FT 400 top advisers.

As some female advisers point out, having more women in the industry could help attract more assets. They say this is because some female clients say they prefer working with women financial advisers.

The female advisers add that qualities often associated with women — being approachable, good listeners, attentive to detail — help them win business among both male and female prospects.

The 34 women who made it to the FT 400 list this year had an average of $1bn in assets under management (AUM) as of end-September 2015, up 42 per cent from the average of $703m managed by the women who made it on to last year’s list.

In contrast, the average AUM of the male advisers fell 11 per cent to $1.6bn from $1.8bn last year.

This year’s women FT 400 advisers have worked in the industry for between 16 and 38 years, clocking up an average of 27 years of experience. Over 70 per cent are at least 50 years old. Most work in teams, only about a quarter of them are solo practitioners.

Mentoring and access to women’s organisations are believed to be crucial in supporting the growth of the number of women financial advisers in the industry and their client assets.

Ms Jackson, who has been a financial adviser for 16 years, has been active in RBC Wealth Management’s Women’s Association of Financial Advisors (WAFA), where she was a board member for five years and served as president from 2011 to 2013. WAFA, which was formed 25 years ago, aims to recruit, retain, and enhance the productivity of women financial advisers and branch directors.

The industry needs more women-focused organisations, says Susan Kaplan, president of Kaplan Financial Services in Newton, Massachusetts. But Ms Kaplan says she would also encourage women to ensure that they belong to other organisations too.

Both Ms Jackson and Ms Kaplan believe that mentoring plays a key role in producing successful women advisers.

“Mentoring is very important, and it need not be a full-time commitment. I’ve had women call me in the field for just ‘quick-hit’ kinds of questions. And, although I don’t have a lot of extra time, for them I have all the time in the world,” says Ms Kaplan, who has been in the industry for 20 years. “Having role models . . . empowers women to feel that they can do it too.”

Ms Kaplan believes efforts to bring more women into the financial advisory field should even start in school. “I think the problem, sadly, begins at a very early age. Culture in this country convinces girls and women that they’re not good at, or have no skills in, math and finance. Sadly, it’s why you have fewer women going into the field,” she says.

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