A Time magazine cover this year called women "The Richer Sex." A new Prudential study found the majority of U.S. women surveyed are now the primary breadwinners for their household. Those are the kind of data points that Little Rock, Ark., wealth manager Cindy Conger pays a lot of attention to.

"Women are the largest overlooked natural resource in the world," says Conger, for whom single, divorced and widowed women make up about 70% of her client base. (The other 30% is married couples.)

Conger knows something about a specialized practice. From 1985 to 2005, she was co-founder and president of the Arkansas Financial Group, a practice focused on the medical profession. Even today, many of her clients are physicians; among the couples she works with, women are often the primary breadwinners, and several clients are female radiologists married to stay-at-home fathers.

But there are different issues involved with her female clientele. Half of all her clients are widows and divorcees living solely on their investments, so Conger works to manage various income sources and develop a budget, including an account she calls "savings to spend" for pricier discretionary items like travel and entertainment. There's also an emotional component with her female clients, she says: "I'm a big nurturer and women respond to nurturing."

AIMING SMALL

Conger, who says she prefers to run a small practice, serves 46 clients with a bit more than $47 million in assets under management. She serves as lead planner and tax preparer as well as chief investment officer; her staff also includes one other CFP and one support person. Conger tries to keep everyone's workweek to 32 hours, she says. That's to stay in line with the firm's mission - "to help our clients live the life they want."

An integrated approach to tax preparation is one reason she left Arkansas Financial Group, she says. "My partner and I disagreed on the future of our practice." But Conger says she "loves doing tax returns"; she boasts she has never had a physician's tax return audited. As a result, Conger screens for clients who like their financial planning, tax returns and investment management bundled together in one firm, as well as those who want her to manage all their assets, including their 401(k)s and 403(b)s.

Her annual fee structure includes the firm's full menu of services and is layered: 1.5% on the first $500,000, 0.75% on the next $1.5 million, 0.5% on the next $3 million, 0.33% on the next $5 million and 0.25% on the next $10 million. The firm's initial financial analysis - which covers employee benefits, insurance coverage, estate planning and investment strategy - gets billed as a flat project fee based on projected hours and complexity.

Conger Wealth Management develops a customized asset allocation for each client, based on risk tolerance and the portfolio's risk capacity (and factoring in women's longer life expectancy). Conger believes in modern portfolio theory's ability to protect client assets on the downside, using AdvisoryWorld's optimization software to determine that allocation.

Most client portfolios are 50% to 55% in equities, generally in ETFs. She does not follow individual stocks, but will hold them if clients insist. Conger also limits any one asset class to 20% of a portfolio and limits industry sectors to 5% of a portfolio (or less), depending on the volatility of the asset class.

The balance of a client's portfolio is held in cash and fixed income. She buys individual bonds for portfolios in excess of $600,000 and uses target-date ETFs for portfolios under that amount. Conger avoids alternative investments and hedge funds of any kind, although she likes to use Invesco PowerShares' alternative energy ETFs within the natural resources sector of portfolios.

One investment that often appeals to female clients: Conger sometimes puts up to 2% of a portfolio in the Pax World Global Women's Equality Fund (PXWEX). The fund invests in companies around the globe that are leaders in promoting gender equality in the workplace and beyond; as Conger explains, it singles out companies with a significant percentage of women on their board of directors and in upper management.

As part of her buy-sell agreement with Arkansas Financial Group, Conger took 31 clients with her to start her new firm. The group was primarily made up of single women, in part at the suggestion of her former partner.

Recently divorced and widowed clients also need someone to cry with, says Conger, who admits she herself cries easily. She keeps a big box of tissues and a big box of chocolates in her conference room. And when clients face really big decision moments, like signing new estate documents, she brings out her British tea set to celebrate the occasion.

But it's important for clients to move beyond nurturing to empowerment, where they can develop greater financial literacy and resources, Conger says. She cites a client who came to her in 1985 when the woman was an telecom executive. The client married soon after and stayed home for 10 years, until her husband died of cancer in his late 40s. Conger remembers her client telling her at the funeral: "I guess this is one thing we never planned for." The client fell apart for more than a year - missing deadlines, failing to deliver paperwork, etc. When she finally invited Conger to her house, the coffee table was stacked high with bills and financial documents.

Conger spent two days at her client's home sorting through the husband's stock options, her health insurance situation and more. She encouraged the client to work part-time, if only for extra pocket change. The woman, who has become one of Conger's closest friends, now works part-time for the U.S. Tennis Association arranging tournaments.

REDECORATING BUDGET

Over the years, Conger began noticing that almost all widows redecorate their homes after a death, particularly if their husbands endured a long illness. So now Conger has newly widowed clients set aside assets in a renovation fund. "I've never had anyone recently widowed spend less than $25,000 on redecoration," she says.

STAYING ACTIVE

A big believer in part-time jobs or volunteer work for retirees, especially Type A personalities, Conger asks her clients, "What are you going to do when you retire?" She encourages them to retire to something, not just retire from something. Conger is especially proud of one retired professor who joined the Peace Corps at age 72.

When it comes to retirement, men also need empowerment. She encouraged a retired male doctor who needed another $25,000 to $50,000 in retirement income to take a part-time job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He takes care of wounded people for short periods of time; his last stint was in Haiti. The client discovered that the job gave him a purpose in life, a strong feeling of satisfaction and much less paperwork than he had as a full-time physician.

These days, Conger's main concern is rethinking the succession plan for her practice. Although the 64-year-old practices what she preaches, and hopes to continue working for another 20 years, she has also engaged FP Transitions to facilitate a sale. "Good succession planning is a huge weakness in most practices," she says. "If I am physically unable to continue, [I want to know] my clients will still be taken care of."

Jim Grote, CFP, is a Financial Planning contributing writer in Louisville, Ky.

 

Cindy Conger

Conger Wealth Management, Little Rock, Ark.

Credentials: B.S. in Accounting, University of Arkansas-Little Rock; MBA, University of Arkansas-Little Rock; CPA, PFS, CFPe

Experience: General securities representative for FSC Securities and Keogler Morgan; co-founder, president, and COO of the Arkansas Financial Group.

AUM: $47 million

How I see it: "Women are the largest overlooked natural resource in the world."