Firms are doubling down on efforts to boost the ranks of women advisors, who have long been underrepresented in an industry traditionally dominated by men.

With its recently launched InvestHERS program, Mercer is the latest to do so and the firm joins a growing number of industry players aiming to achieve greater gender balance in the advisor ranks.

Wells Fargo, for example, has its Next Gen Talent initiative; Edward Jones has its WINGS program; and Raymond James, whose efforts go back to the 1990s, has a catalog of plans to meet this goal — the Women’s Advisory Council, the Advisor Mastery Program, the Changing Careers campaign.

“We recognize that the way the industry is going, we need to have more women come into the financial industry because the proportion of women that are going to be in control of the wealth in the United States is just going to be explosive,” says Kara Duckworth, client advisor for Mercer Advisors and chair of the InvestHERS committee. “We want to make sure our firm represents what our client base looks like.”

Indeed, women are in control of 51% of personal wealth in the U.S. — roughly $14 trillion — according to BMO Wealth Institute’s Financial Concerns of Women report. The group predicts that the amount will increase more than 50% to $22 trillion in the next three years.

Mercer's InvestHERS wants to make younger students aware of careers in wealth management. From left: Joyce Kim, CIWM intern, Alexandra Ong, CIWM intern, Lee Anne Maki, Associate Director, CIWM, Kara Duckworth, Mercer Advisors, Chair of the InvestHERS initiative at Mercer,  Josephine Ros, CIWM intern, Liliana Lucas, CIWM intern, Jo Hannah Faith Castillo Chua, CIWM intern.
Mercer's InvestHERS wants to make younger students aware of careers in wealth management. From left: Joyce Kim, CIWM intern, Alexandra Ong, CIWM intern, Lee Anne Maki, Associate Director, CIWM, Kara Duckworth, Mercer Advisors, Chair of the InvestHERS initiative at Mercer, Josephine Ros, CIWM intern, Liliana Lucas, CIWM intern, Jo Hannah Faith Castillo Chua, CIWM intern. Mercer Advisors


To be sure, Mercer already has a higher percentage of women CFP than the average norm; it’s at 40% while the industry average, according to the CFP Board, stands at 23%.

For comparison, at Raymond James, 15.5% of the financial advisors are women. At Wells Fargo, it’s 36%. And Edward Jones it’s 19%.

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Across the different firms, these programs share some similarities in their approach. Some of the advisors that came up as part of these programs started out in completely different fields and then made the switch.

Raymond James targets women in different careers that might be interested in a professional change, like school teachers, attorneys, and psychologists, Michelle Lynch, director of Raymond James’ Network for Women Advisors, previously told Financial Planning. Raymond James also targets recent graduates, particularly those coming from schools with CFP programs.

But one tactic that Mercer is taking is looking for even younger potential recruits, reaching out to college students who many not know what their career will be.

One of InvestHERS first initiatives is to offer scholarships to undergraduate female students in order to create an awareness of careers in financial services.

“We’re getting very involved there on campus recruiting, trying to provide education for undergraduate students on what a financial advisor actually does,” Duckworth says. “I think for a lot of undergraduate students there’s a perception that it’s either a sales job or it’s an analyst position.”

The program, Duckworth says, will work to get some awareness to students about the “life changing impact that a financial advisor can have.” As well as the unique set of skills utilized in the profession “in addition to the intellectual challenges of the technical proficiency and analysis that’s needed.”

Duckworth believes that students are looking for a sense of purpose in their work and wants this program to highlight the positives of a career in financial services, while changing preconceived notions.

At the moment the InvestHERS scholarship is only offered through the University of California, Irvine in conjunction with the Center for Investment and Wealth Management at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business.

Duckworth noted that Mercer has a list of other universities it would like to extend the program to, including the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Amanda Schiavo

Amanda Schiavo is an associate editor for Financial Planning. Follow her on Twitter at @SchiavoAmanda.