'Dramatically different' networking group for women advisors partners with Cambridge

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A women’s networking organization centered on planners is expanding its reach to another one of the largest independent broker-dealers.

Cambridge Investment Research is joining a growing group of firms and financial advisors teaming up with the W Source to connect professional women in local communities across the country. W Source now works with 14 BDs — and it’s on track to reach more than 40 chapters in the next three months.

Financial advisors Hannah Buschbom and Tom Goodson launched the W Source in 2017. The organization helps planners set up groups of 20 to 25 senior-level CPAs, lawyers, realtors and other professionals from a variety of fields to organize referral networks and share knowledge.

Under the arrangement, advisors with Fairfield, Iowa-based Cambridge interested in becoming heads of a new chapter can work with its practice management team to get started. At least one Cambridge advisor is already working to create a new chapter in Silicon Valley, according to the firm.

Women earned 36% less than men in median weekly pay as personal financial advisors in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Counting about 100,000 more advisors than the industry’s commonly cited headcount of roughly 300,000, the agency says 35% of advisors are women.

Cambridge and Ladenburg Thalmann's KMS Financial Services, Securities America and Triad Advisors have among the highest share of advisors who are women in the IBD sector. Advisor Group and Cambridge also stand out in that they’re led by women in Executive Chairman Valerie Brown and CEO Amy Webber.

Still, just a quarter of the 3,956 registered representatives Cambridge disclosed to Financial Planning’s annual FP50 survey at the end of 2017 were women. The firm started its formal “community” of women advisors in 2011, and they’re represented on all of the firm’s councils for advisors and top producers.

Most large IBDs hold conferences for their women advisors and have committees aimed at boosting both gender and racial diversity in their ranks of advisors and clients. The W Source offers a different approach in the form of direct leads and professional collaboration across industries.

Cambridge runs a women’s forum attended by some 100 advisors each year, along with monthly calls and digital services for women advisors from its practice management team. Colleen Bell, Cambridge’s chief fiduciary services officer, also serves as the national director of education at the Women in Insurance and Financial Services.

The W Source is “a great complement” to preexisting support for women advisors, says Bell. “Having a structure for how you can be successful within your own community by creating these networks is very powerful.”

Buschbom will speak at Cambridge’s forum for women advisors in March. The firm is standing up a dedicated team within its practice management unit to help Cambridge advisors get involved and share best practices.

The W Source will have 42 chapters launched or announced by the end of May, according to the organization. At least a half dozen BDs and industry associations have scheduled presentations for 2019, and 14 BDs already endorse and support the program.

The strength of the W Source’s work with IBDs, positive experiences among inaugural chapters and rising awareness have bolstered growth, according to the organization. Buschbom wanted to do “something dramatically different” from other male-dominated or primarily social networking groups, she says.

“One of the keys to success in any industry is access to a network of people who can send you business. That’s’ just business 101, right?” Buschbom said in an interview in the fall. “It isn’t necessarily who has numbers, it’s the person who’s got the drive to really go out and get those clients.”

Cambridge is following some of its large IBD peers in working with the W Source. Ladenburg Thalmann and Advisor Group unveiled strategic partnerships with the organization last year, and the Santa Barbara-based advisor Buschbom describes it as being “broker-dealer agnostic.”

Six planners from Advisor Group, a network of four major IBDs with more than 6,500 advisors, started chapters last year. At least 10 more plan to open new chapters in 2019 as part of the “incredible traction” at the network, according to Emily Engen, a wealth management marketing specialist at Advisor Group.

Bell, who describes herself as an optimistic person, says she believes the industry may be reaching a tipping point. The industry’s looming succession challenges with an aging advisor force should also erase any fears among men that they could be displaced, she says.

“We need to join all our efforts to have one loud voice to say that this is an attractive industry for women,” Bell says, noting studies suggesting a growing demand for planning in the future, as well.

“We have to serve more clients with less advisors,” she adds. “There is plenty of room for more men, more women and just more advisors in general.”

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Gender issues Diversity and equality Independent BDs Referral marketing Referrals Colleen Bell Hannah Buschbom Cambridge Investment Research The W Source