SAN DIEGO -- Women make up 35% of financial advisors, according to recent estimates. But at AIG Advisor Group's four independent broker-dealers, only 16% of advisors are women.

Even so, Advisor Group CEO Erica McGinnis has high hopes for women in the industry moving forward.

"I think women advisors have an incredible, natural gift and it comes from their ability to be nurturing, caring and educational that enables them to be amazing financial planners," said McGinnis.

LEND A HAND

But how can women -- especially those entering the industry -- find their stride? "For women advisors, it's about finding your own kind," she said in an interview during the company's 2015 WForum this week.

McGinnis urges female advisors to make a serious attempt to help other women in the industry.

"Part of what this conference enables us to do is look at all the women in the room and say, "'For those of you who are top producers, give your younger sisters a hand,'" she said of the group's ninth women's conference.

"Don't say 'I had to do it all by myself, so should she.' You've paved the way, help them along their journey."

But, McGinnis stressed that a "one and done event" isn't enough. The company also has a new mentoring initiative called Women's Forward aimed at encouraging both male and female advisors to nurture women entering the industry. The program focuses on training and networking initiatives for female advisors and provides tools to help all advisors work with and retain female clients.

DON'T TALK TO COUPLES

And while a growing number of female investors want to work with female advisors, there simply aren't enough to go around.

"If my answer were simply to say, 'Let's find more female financial advisors,' that's one thing to do, but it can't be the answer to this," she said. "We need to work with male advisors to make sure they know how to hang on to their female clients."

The industry can better embrace women if advisors change the way they have financial discussions, McGinnis said.

The tendency to underestimate today's stay-at-home mom is still problematic -- especially considering that many of these women are instrumental in making financial decisions for their households, McGinnis said, stressing the importance of having conversations with individuals, not couples.

"I think that financial advisors need to start recognizing that individuals have their own risk tolerance. Not couples," she said. "A couple does not have a risk tolerance. Individuals do. I would encourage advisors to start doing risk profiles with each of their husbands and wives."

Without having individual conversations, she said, advisors can't be sure that both parties are engaged.

"[The wife]'s just sitting there. How do you know you have a connection with her? You don't know. I think if advisors start treating each of their customers separately they need to be able to develop a personal relationship with each of them. The best way to do that is one on one."

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