SAN FRANCISCO – Emphasizing ways female financial planners can grow their practices and better help each other and their clients, more than 150 attendees on Thursday crowded SourceMedia's Women Advisors Forum to learn and to network.

“The female financial advisor has changed this business from a transactional business to a relationship business,” Advisor Group CEO Erica McGinnis said during the opening keynote presentation.

But whether a planning firm is led by a man or a woman, McGinnis and other speakers emphasized the various ways advisors can build those relationships.

Lynn Ballou told attendees that, in growing the firm she co-founded, Ballou Plum Wealth Advisors, in Lafayette, Calif., to $300 million in AUM and 170 client families, acquiring other firms was never considered. “Our secret sauce: slow, organic growth,” she said. It was “completely client and center of influence referrals,” she added.

Kate Holmes, CEO of Las Vegas-based Belmore Financial and Employee Financial Advice and also a founding member of the XY Financial Network, said advisors should sharpen their focus on what they discuss with prospects and clients.

TRUE PRIORITIES

“Are we asking the right questions?” she quizzed the crowd. For example, she mentioned a conversation with a male prospect that had begun with him asking directly for advice about what he should do with his savings. Rather then immediately answer, she replied, “When are you happiest?”

“His facial muscles changed. His tone shifted,” she recounted, and the conversation moved toward his priorities rather than generic investment advice.

Similarly, another client asked Holmes whether she should buy a house. “Prudent, the best investment you can make,” the client’s father advised, but the client began articulating other priorities like international travel and starting a business that didn’t include the financial and lifestyle commitment of homeownership.

CLIENT RECRUITMENT

On building a roster of clients, speakers at the forum offered several strategies.

Ballou noted that social media has become vital to not just recruiting clients, but retaining them.
Twitter, she said, is integral for outreach to the media. As for LinkedIn, “That’s where we’re finding new hires. That's where next-geners are connecting with each other.” She and her partner use Facebook for engagement on company news and events, and articles for and about clients.

Several years ago, Ballou said she fretted, “Oh my gosh, client privacy!” Now, she blogs regularly and shares information when appropriate. Blogging “is a great way to feature who you are and what you’re all about. … You want to be quotable,” she said.

Her partner, Marilyn Plum, rattled off a variety of website statistics she tracks, including impressions, engagement, referral traffic from social media, the number of new visitors their site gets and her reliance on Google Analytics. “You need to know these things,” she emphasized.

COMPENSATION

After her session, Holmes elaborated on her compensation model, which is based on an upfront fee and monthly charges, rather than on AUM. “People aren’t as engaged with the hourly model; it’s the pain of paying,” she said. With regular monthly charges, “I like that they see it as a line item. They think, ‘What am I paying Kate for?’ And they end up calling a lot more often.”

Regarding her assets under management or advisement, Holmes said, “It doesn’t make any difference, it has no effect on who I work with or the conversations I have. I’ve never had a client ask. I honestly can’t look clients in the eye and tell them that it makes sense to pay someone one or 1.5%.”

SUCCESSION PLANNING

Succession planning was another priority at the Women Advisors Forum. Mary Brooks and Maggie O’Hearn, partners at Integre Wealth Management, a Raymond James & Associates firm based in Walnut Creek, Calif., detailed how Brooks moved to bring on a younger planner like O’Hearn to prepare for a transition. At age 49, Brooks said, creating a plan became an abrupt priority.

“There’s nothing like having a life-threatening disease to get you to focus on succession planning,” she recalled after receiving a malignant diagnosis that she went on to battle successfully.

A HELPING HAND

McGinnis had the rapt attention of the audience as she described her career path in financial services, including an early stint cold calling potential clients. “The worst job I ever, ever had!”

She also recounted how, despite the camaraderie clearly present at the forum, she’s often been disappointed at how unhelpful many women have been along the way.

“I have never had a female mentor, let alone a female boss who helped pave the way for me,” she said, crediting several men who recognized her talent. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” citing an oft-repeated comment by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. “Don’t be the successful female financial professional who says: ‘I had to do it all on my own, so should she.’”

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