Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In was a popular talking point at the Women Advisors Forum in New York, where roughly 200 female financial planners listened and discussed how to become better at their jobs and level the gender playing field. Only 23% of all CFPs are women, said CFP Board Chairwoman Nancy Kistner, who announced a new program to try to increase that number.
The women at the SourceMedia forum, held in May, were ready for that disparity to change. (The conversation is sure to continue at the forums set for Oct. 29 in Chicago and Nov. 14 in Newport Beach, Calif.) Among the key points made during the New York presentations and discussions:
1. Confidence gap: Cathy Smith, director of Allianz Global Investors' Center for Behavioral Finance, noted that men are often more overconfident, particularly in male-dominated fields like finance. (Note the "over" part - there's nothing wrong with confidence.) Men trade 45% more than women, she said. The result? Female portfolio and hedge fund managers have outperformed male peers over the past five years, she said.
2. Focus: Instead of spreading yourself too thin and being all things to all people, Michelle Smith, CEO of Source Financial Advisors in New York, told the audience to specialize. Find the niche within the niche that makes you invaluable to your clients, said Smith, who specializes in advising divorced women. She said her knowledge about divorce separates her from legions of advisors who have the same elevator speech.
3. Think tablet: Cynthia Stephens, a marketing executive at ByAllAccounts, cited stats from Financial Planning's December 2012 technology survey, which noted that one in two advisors is using a tablet. Other advisors noted that use of tablets can often make communication with clients more personal and engaging.
4. Stand out: You've got competition, said Christine Gaze, TD Ameritrade Institutional's director of practice management: Clients with more than $10 million in assets have three advisors on average. To satisfy wealthier clients, offer better communication and tier your service, she suggested. Too often, advisors only consider revenue and assets, she said, but there are other factors to consider: "Think thoughtfully about clients with future potential, both in terms of assets and for referrals."
5. Smarter networking: Laurie O'Toole, an advisor with Ameriprise, said she aims to improve her business with divorcees by networking more frequently with divorce attorneys, and identifying potential clients when they are in the midst of a divorce (or considering one) rather than waiting until after the division of assets is settled. "I can be more helpful while a divorce is in negotiation rather than when the woman walks away after a less-than-ideal settlement," she said.
Paula Vasan is a senior digital editor at Financial Planning.