The financial advisory industry is overwhelmingly dominated by men, but women at the TD Ameritrade Institutional national conference in San Diego, California made their presence known at a women’s leadership roundtable on Friday.
It seems that firms, including TD Ameritrade, are realizing the business potential of bringing women on board. “TD works with women representing 228 firms and $784 billion in assets,” said Kate Healy, director of marketing at TD Ameritrade.
Women advisors are in a position to truly understand how women relate to money both on a professional and personal level. “The women in this room are not only the future; they are today,” said Ellen Koplow, general counsel of TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation.
TD realizes that its workforce needs to reflect its target client market, which is why diversity is a big focus for Karen Ganzlin, chief human resources officer for the firm. One of TD’s initiatives is to attract more women into the firm and keep them. “You have to create a culture within your organization that is inclusive,” she said. “You have to bring candidates in and keep them.”
The same can be said for women clients. Cathy Curtis of Curtis Financial Planning in Oakland, Calif., who attended the women’s leadership session, has developed a niche practice catering to women. One of the challenges she has seen for women trying to break into the advisory industry is that they get stuck in support roles, instead of working with clients. Robin Giles, a certified financial planner with Harrison deCharon wealth advisory group, has had the same experience. “I want to do it, not just sell it,” she said.
The challenge is that if women want respect they need to walk into a room immediately and take it, without being afraid of being labeled as aggressive, said Diane M. Pearson, director of financial planning at Legend Financial Advisors Inc. One thing Pearson noticed with her male colleagues is that she doesn’t hear the same words they hear when a client is speaking.
The way to beat that, said Curtis, is to start your own firm. Many of the women agreed that women clients feel more confident working with female advisors, especially post-Bernie Madoff. The challenge is for women advisors to find the work-life balance: creating their own schedule and making sure they have time for their family and outside interests.
All the women agreed on one thing: female advisors are the future of the advisory industry, with its focus on nurturing and listening skills and the inherent flexibility of the job. “Women typically have those personality traits,” said Giles.
Although there is a perception in the industry that by nature women aren’t as competitive as men and won’t be as successful in the industry, society seems to be coming around, placing more value on communication and relationship-building.
The good news is that the future of women in the investment advisor industry is strong. Women live longer than men and they handle more of the money. The next step is to ensure all firms hire women and create a pipeline for young women to enter the industry, through internships and mentoring programs.