As a male in the mutual fund and asset management industry, you work with women in the workplace every day. And whether you are a man or a woman working diligently to ensure that good investment solutions are brought to institutional investors and/or retail clients, you and your firm may have made the decision to target women as clients or influencers in a certain community of interest.
Is communicating with women any different than communicating with men? In a word, yes.
In 2007, Marion Asnes, who was then editor-in-chief at Financial Planning, a sister publication to Money Management Executive, asked me to write a feature length article on gender differences and communication styles.
When Asnes suggested I write this particular piece, my first reaction was to recoil. As a woman working in a man's world, I did not want myself or other women to be seen as "different" or "less than" my male counterparts. But as Asnes and I dialoged about the topic, I began to understand why she and the leadership team at SourceMedia (the parent company of MME and FP, among others) had been discussing the creation of a special forum just for women professionals and why there was a need for the piece, which we ended up calling "Beyond Venus and Mars."
Our first step was to ask: Why did women in the financial advisory space need their own conference? What needs were going unmet? Although some editors on the team were doubtful, Asnes and a handful of others believed the project had value. Five years later, the Women Advisors Forum is one of the most popular conference series offered by Financial Planning, On Wall Streetand Bank Investment Consultant.
Just as women advisors and investment professionals didn't necessarily meet conventional expectations, the women you encounter may not fit your preconceptions. Here, then, are a few observations, which I hope will help you as a money management executive today.
Woman Are a Growing Financial Engine
Women have more power over their household finances than you may realize. According to a recent Fidelity guide, Six Tips for Engaging and Cultivating Female Clients, women control over 51% of the wealth in the U.S.-a percentage that's expected to rise to 67% by 2020. In 25% of two-career marriages, they are the primary breadwinners. They want to be served and respected as individuals, even if they sit quietly and defer to their husbands while they're in the realtor's office, the bank, a wealth manager's office, or a fund company with a retail storefront. And with women outliving men by five to six years on average, there's a good chance your married customers will one day become single clients-the surviving wives. Bottom line: it makes sense to work on your marketing communications strategy for women.
For Women, It's All About Life Stages and Needs
"Women's lives really are different. Therefore, so are their needs," Asnes said. "For one thing, many women don't progress straightforwardly from school to career to retirement, with a nice smooth wealth-accumulation curve to match. So although most conventional assessments of financial priorities are based on age, we realized that age wasn't necessarily relevant. When women may have their first child at 20, 30, 40 or even 50 in some cases, and similarly, start a new career at any point, what matters most is life stage, not age."
Women Are Generous With Referrals
Women will talk about their experience, perceptions and (good or bad) how they were treated in dealing with your firm. Treat them well, forge an authentic personal connection, and there's a payoff: Women are generous with referrals. "One way to connect quickly with female clients-or any client-is to talk about attitudes before you bring up account balances," Asnes said at one of her speeches for a large broker-dealer. "If you are developing online tools, consider leading with questions that will uncover a compelling portrait of the respondent's needs and major goals."
Women Will Chose Relationship Over Products Every Time
Women value being part of a community and will choose relationships over products every time. So before your team starts talking about products, make sure they've actually built the relationship. Work on listening and communication skills. Offer ways for retail customers to participate in live and virtual events and online forums-women will appreciate the invitation even if they participate sporadically or not at all.
For Women, Experience Counts
"Women are accustomed to receiving good service-and to walking away from bad service," Asnes said. "As experienced and sophisticated consumers of both goods and services, they know what a positive interchange should feel like, and that if one source doesn't provide it, another will. That means you have to pay close attention to the details that make for great service."
What does great service mean? It all boils down to the experience. Make sure your team spends enough time listening to make a genuine connection. And please, don't refer to working with women as a niche. If women control 51% of private wealth in the U.S., they are the mainstream. Give women the respect and service they deserve, and your firm will reap the benefits.
Marie Swift is chief executive of Impact Communications, a PR and marketing communications firm with financial service firm clients nationwide.