When it comes to marketing to women, education is the favored policy.

At least, many firms now see investing programs targeted to females as a means to attract assets from women who are seeking investment options themselves.

So while mutual funds for the most part are not advertising specifically to women, they're not ignoring them, either.

And that's a good thing, since more women are investing now than ever before. About 90% will be solely in charge of their own finances at some point in their lives, according to a recent report by Prudential Financial. And in a survey of American women ages 34-55 conducted for that report, 97% said they feel having enough money for their retirement is important. It had better be, because as the report noted, more women today will have to do that independently.

To attract assets of women investors, firms have opted to use educational programs and seminars over pure advertising. OppenheimerFunds was the first investment company to introduce a program dedicated to women investors over ten years ago, but since then, many have followed. Prudential, The Vanguard Group, Fidelity Investments, and Delaware Investments all have had programs to address investing for women, but none of them advertise in magazines or on TV shows whose audience are primarily women.

Marketing Through Seminars

In September, Prudential will present a series of seminars on investing in California for women with women's activist and founder of Ms. Magazine Gloria Steinem, a Prudential senior financial planner and Marcia Ann Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Ms. and president of Liberty Media for Women. "We feel we're reaching a demographic that's largely under-served," said a Prudential spokesperson.

Similarly, at Vanguard "We've created seminars and guides for women investors, but we don't advertise specifically to women," a spokesperson there said. "We don't think that's how to sell mutual funds."

To serve that demographic and attract assets, it makes sense that companies would spend money on educating female investors, not on advertising directly to them, said Jane Drake, COO of the Women's Equity Mutual Fund, a small socially responsible fund. It would behoove a fund firm to focus on women who are interested in investing and would attend a seminar or seek out literature, as opposed to just flash a brand on television or in a women's magazine, she said. "In general, what we have noticed is that most women who contact us about investing ask many more questions and like to have a lot more information than men."

Still, it may be a mistake for firms to ignore the segment of the female population that does not express interest in investing, said Sally Levens, senior VP at Asset Publishing, a marketing firm specializing in financial services. "I think there is equal potential for investment companies among women who have never invested and don't think they should be investing as there is with those who do," she said. "Still, that should be accomplished by getting educational materials in their hands. I don't think pure advertising--print, radio, TV--is going to be the prime market. It's got to be a word-of mouth/familiarity tactic, not a pure advertising tactic."

Beyond seminars and brochures, several fund firms, including Oppenheimer and Prudential, publish research on the topic of female investing as a way to market themselves, as in the case with Prudential's female baby-boomer survey and report, said Bruce Thorpe, VP at the Carpenter Group, a marketing communications firm in New York. "When companies come out with reports, surveys, and things like that, it's not just about getting their name out there, but they're trying to position themselves as an expert to that market," he said.

Selling Through Intermediaries

Much of the focus in gaining assets from women is on providing financial intermediaries with tools and information that serves women, said Levens. It is a good idea for fund companies to provide planners with materials dedicated to women so that they can use them when trying to convince their female clients to invest, she said.

And if the information is coming from a certain fund family, it will make the investor more comfortable in knowing that that firm is aware of and has addressed her specific needs. "Anything that you can put in the hands of the advisors to help them sell funds in general will help you tremendously in the long run," said Thorpe.

Investing for retirement by women is an area that has grown recently and should be a focus of fund companies," said Levens.Only 31% of women in that same Prudential survey said they understand their IRA or 401(k)s very well. "Women have typically not had the opportunity to learn about retirement plans very well," said Levens. "Either they were not working or were in and out due to elderly or child care. Now, more women have to take control of their investments."

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