Nearly 100 women advisors descended on Dallas for a day of educational sessions, discussion and networking on Thursday. The topics at this Women Advisors Forum event included behavioral finance, tools for working with widows and divorcees, the need for succession planning, strategies for philanthropic giving, ways to get more women into the planning industry and more.

Here are some of the smartest things we heard at the conference:


“Are you part of the solution or part of the problem?” speaker Joy Kirsch urged advisors to ask themselves. Kirsh, an advisor who lost her husband at age 30, has become an expert in working with other widows and shared her tips with advisors. “Before my loss, I think I was part of the problem,” she says.  “I thought I could dazzle them with my brilliance…but we need to show up and be present with these clients.”


Deena Katz, an advisor and associate professor of financial planning, led a behavioral finance session focusing on the mental shortcuts people take when making decisions and how advisors can adapt. “In classical finance, people are rational,” Katz says. “The longer you’re in this business, the more you realize there are no rational investors.”


“It doesn’t have to be as major as losing a family member, but a lot of people go through stress in life transitions,” says attendee Ellen Derrick. As a planner with LearnVest she works with mostly young and not-yet-wealthy clients who face plenty of challenging life transitions. Whether it’s finishing graduate school, getting married for a second time or having children, Derrick says the same principles apply. “The idea of transitions and dealing with stress in transition happens to everybody.”


Despite assumptions to the contrary, financial planners' clients are almost always financially equipped to give away assets, says Karla D’Alleva Valas, a managing director of the Complex Asset Group for Fidelity Charitable which accepts contributions of equity assets of a minimum of $5,000 to start a donor-advised fund. "Giving while growing," Valas says, is the trend of the future. "New accounts are on the rise."


Eleanor Blayney, the Consumer Advocate with the CFP Board, had some negative news about women's growth in the CFP profession compared to men: Fewer enter, fewer pass the CFP exam, fewer stay in the profession, and fewer practice even if they have the certification. To counteract these trends, the CFP Board is studying the barriers women face and has launched a new initiative designed to increase the number of women CFPs. A roomful of women advisors applauded when Blayney said that adding women to the boards of financial planning firms "raises the collective intelligence."


Though the CFP Board is investigating the gap between men and women in CFP certification rates and interest in the program, attendee Kimberly Holcomb says something was missing from the conversation during a session on the CFP Board’s findings on women and the CFP certification. “Nobody talked about the 800 pound gorilla in the room,” she says. What gorilla? The constraints on women’s time when raising children, Holcomb says. As a new mother, Holcomb says it took years to complete the CFA examination because she didn’t have the time it takes to prepare.


Kelly Rigas, managing director of KR Wealth Management Group, says new client couples come to her after upsetting meetings with other financial planners. In one case, a male advisor had failed to address the wife. "He would not speak to me," Rigas remembers the woman telling her. Rigas's response: "No offense Mr. Man but her name is on those account statements." She says she sees a major shift underway in the industry. “I feel like there is such a huge wave of change because people are not getting what they want.”


A panel discussion on succession planning turned to the role of mentoring in developing new advisors in the field. “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t mentor other women,” says Marie Moore, executive director and financial advisor at The Moore Group at Morgan Stanley in Dallas.

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