Do female investors prefer to work with women advisors? Conventional wisdom says yes -- but a new Pershing study finds the answer is no.

The study, titled “Women: Investing With a Purpose,” shows most female investors have no gender preference at all when it comes to the advisors they work with.

Among women investors who use a financial advisor, the study found, 86% "said that they are equally comfortable working with either men or women financial advisors." As it turned out, 83% of the affluent women surveyed currently work with male financial advisors.

That doesn't mean the industry's diversity problem isn't a concern, says Pershing managing director Kim Dellarocca -- but, she adds, it's less related to the number of female investors than some people think.

"I don't think the issue is that we need female advisors to serve female clients," says Dellarocca. "I think the issue is we need a diverse and inclusive work environment."

DIVORCE DIFFERENT

The Pershing study echoes the results of a 2011 TD Ameritrade study, which showed that most women have no preference regarding their advisor's gender.

Yet there was two key subgroups with different ideas: One in four women who were widowed or divorced felt "strongly about the gender of their advisor," the study found -- and most of these investors preferred to work with a woman. 

It's helpful to think of the two groups separately, explains Kate Healy, managing director of institutional marketing at TD Ameritrade.

"I think that there are trust issues when you go through a divorce," she says.

Widows are a little different, she notes, because they tend to be older: "A lot of it is the generational impact. A lot of widows are older and have grown up in an environment where the men handled the finances, so a lot of it stems from that."

GROWING INFLUENCE

The Pershing study did note recent -- and significant -- growth in female consumers' financial influence. Women now control approximately two-thirds of annual spending in the U.S., and 75% of women say they feel responsible for day-to-day household spending, according to the study.

The aim of the study was to show that women should not be treated by advisors as a niche, but rather as a powerful consumer, Dellarocca says.

And both female and male advisors should be taking note. After all, Healy says, when it comes to building a relationship with an advisor, women tend focus not on gender but on finding someone who will actively listen to their needs.

"Women are really looking for that advisor to be the quarterback, to look at their entire financial picture, not just the investments," says Healy. "It's not so much the gender of advisor, it's the advisor listening to a woman and performing."

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