When Eleanor Blayney retired from Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros and Blayney after nearly 20 years as a prominent planner, she wasn't sure what her next chapter would be. As she began looking back, she realized that, as the only female partner in her firm, women clients had sought her out. She recognized a group of professional women much like her, age 45 to 65, who were hungry for a different kind of advice.
"Women my age grew up in a world with one set of expectations and models about our role as financial beings, and now we're in a world where almost 50% of the workforce are women; we're the wealthier gender," Blayney says. "Women have a much larger role to play financially today, but they're feeling dissatisfied and underserved by the financial advisory community. They're not happy; they haven't been heard; they've felt peripheral to the conversation."
This, she says, is mainly due to the different ways in which men and women communicate. While men's competitive nature measures performance in numbers and statistics (catered to by the ESPN-like format of many financial TV shows), women have an appetite for education and understanding the big picture. Women seek a sense of community, a trend Blayney refers to as "circles."
And so she set out to create a community of such women, hoping to serve those much like herself through her own circle of female professionals. She named her new project Directions, after the old adage that when lost, women ask for direction while men find their way by trial and error-a gender difference Blayney sees plenty of truth in. She set off to do three things in order to make finance more woman-friendly: empower, educate and engage with advisors.
Over the past two years, Blayney has spent countless hours speaking with female investors about what they want and need from an advisor. The last part of the equation, then, was engaging female CFPs to work with them. Does that mean she believes female planners are better for female investors? "I think it's a dangerous statement in some cases, but yes," Blayney admits. "Financial planning is an ideal profession for women because of their ability to speak to other women, and their difference in style and approach." Women are, after all, twice as likely to hire a female advisor than men are, she points out.
As for the one-to-four ratio of female CFPs to males, Blayney calls this a lesson in Econ 101. "If you've got huge demand and limited supply, the value of the female advisor to reach out and engage, empower and ultimately advise is huge," she exclaims.
Blayney expects to launch Directions in March, a dream she has waited two years to see come to fruition. "We have to catch up, we have to bring women into this environment," she says. "It may mean we have to change the areas of traditional planning, but as financial planners we need to be doing a lot more to help women maximize their human capital. These stereotypes have an expiration date."
Years in industry: 23
First job: Teaching English literature at Cambridge University.
Best career decision: Backing way, way up when I first entered financial planning to start at the beginning.
Worst career misstep: I've made missteps in trying to find the balance between being right and being a material help to clients.
Fantasy career: Personal Finance Czarina, a new cabinet level post in the Obama administration.
Favorite way to relax: Writing on my sofa with my dog next to me, though that may have been preempted now by holding my first grandson.
Most important thing I learned this year: I learned that though I had less money, it mattered so much less.
Your wish for the year ahead: To someday create a foundation whereby paying women's circles could contribute to the establishment of personal finance circles for women who cannot afford the advice and support (but might need it desperately).
Your worst fear for the year ahead: This is the time to be thinking about things differently, and my main fear is that we would leave that conviction.