BOSTON - With women on pace to take control of more wealth in the coming years, female clients represent a major opportunity for financial advisors who make a concerted effort to engage with them.

This could be bad news for advisors, both male and female, who don’t understand how to communicate with women clients. This was the theme at Fidelity Investments’ Growth Strategies Forum: Engaging Women Clients, conference on Wednesday.

Pointing to a statistic showing that nearly 70% of women clients will fire their advisor within 12 months of their spouses’ passing, Jylanne Dunne, senior vice president of practice management and consulting of Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, said “this is a tremendous opportunity for the firms that step up and it’s a tremendous risk for those that don’t.”

Compiling its own proprietary research, third party research, expert input and responses from interviews with nearly 20 advisors, Fidelity developed a guidebook for advisors on engaging female clients that Laura Kogen, Fidelity’s vice president of practice management and consulting, presented at the forum.

Kathleen Burns Kingsbury founder of KBK Wealth Connection, an author and an expert on working with women clients, kicked off the conference by laying out some of the major neurological and cultural differences between men and women. While there is only a 1% difference between male and female brains, there are still major differences in the way men and women tend to communicate she said.

“Women get a pleasure boost from sharing details and from connecting. Men share headlines,” Kingsbury said in her presentation.

Women have a neurological need to connect, they have greater verbal access to emotions and they are wired to see the whole picture, she explained. With this is mind, Kingsbury stressed, advisors should allow women clients tell their stories, talk about their feelings and help make them feel needed in the decision making process.

Some of the speakers said they felt slightly uncomfortable discussing gender differences, but the fact that it’s coming up shows a shift in the industry.

“Let’s address the elephant in the room,” Kogen said during her session. Many advisors may say they are blind to a client’s gender and that they treat all of their clients same, but it’s time to acknowledge and address the differences, she said.

As a former chief operating officer for Sand Hill Global Advisors, Kogen jumped right into the operations and implementation side. First, she said, advisors need to assess the assets at risk and understand the opportunity in their practice. Then they can start with their existing clients by altering the way they communicate.

Advisors also need to help build these skills across their teams and staff, she said.

Among other things, Fidelity's guidebook offers advisors four strategies to help them take action to better serve women clients from developing a consistent women centric marketing approach to providing ongoing education to engage clients.

“If there’s one big 'a ha' moment, I think it’s to start with the measuring process,” said David Canter, an executive vice president of practice management and consulting for Fidelity IWS. "That was a notion echoed in a panel discussion Canter led. Jordan Smyth, managing director of Edgemoor Investment Advisors said it was enlightening to actually quantify how many women clients his firm served, something he hadn’t done until his preparation for the Fidelity forum.

While women are the first demographic Fidelity is focusing on, there are plans to offer advisors similar information about and tips for working with other groups as well, such as the next generation of clients and geographic or cultural groups, he said.

And so far, the goal to bring advisors together to talk about what has worked for them and share actionable ideas to implement in their practices seems to have worked. “It’s one big study group in a ballroom,” Canter said.

The forum on women clients is the first in a series of practice management initiatives that Fidelity is launching to help advisors grow their practices, he said.