Financial advisors meeting with female clients need to know their silence does not mean they do not understand, and nodding does not mean they agree.

These subtle clues highlight the difference in communication between the sexes, panelists at IMCA’s annual conference in National Harbor, Md., said this week. And how advisors react can be the difference between keeping that female client or watching them walk away.

“I often hear advisors say to me, ‘She’s not engaged. She doesn’t care about finance at all.’ Why? ‘Well, she hasn’t really said anything,’” said Eleanor Blayney, president of Directions for Women, a firm that works to train financial advisors to work with women. “It may be that the fact that she hasn’t said anything has nothing to do with her aptitude or interest. It may be that you haven’t engaged her.”

Interest in attracting and retaining female clients is growing, from the largest wirehouse firms to small boutique registered investment advisors, Blayney said. That comes as women now account for 80% of household purchasing decisions.

But financial services firms are still behind in luring that female market, said Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, principal of KBK Wealth Connection, a firm that works to teach financial professionals how to better connect with clients.

That delay comes as the wealth management industry has historically been run by men, and has targeted men who traditionally held the money. The marketing, in turn, is geared to how men communicate and socialize.

“That’s why we are in this situation with women we’re in today where we’re basically are not doing a great job servicing them,” Kingsbury said.

To turn that around, financial advisors should follow some key tips to make women comfortable and win their business.

Silence should not be interpreted as disinterest, while nodding sometimes just indicates that a woman is following the conversation.

Financial advisors also need to stop speaking in jargon, and instead use plain language that a female client can understand, Kingsbury said. Advisors should also be ready to admit to their female clients when they are not sure of something.

“It is okay in the woman’s world not to know. That is actually seen as a strength,” Kingsbury said. “In a man’s world, not knowing is actually seen as a weakness.”

And it is often the small details that can make a big difference when working with female clients, said Janet Acheatel, co-founder of Wealth by Design for Women, a firm that specializes in helping recently widowed women or divorced women achieve financial independence.

Before meeting with a female client, financial advisors should make sure their staff knows who is coming in and can greet them by name, Acheatal said. When meeting with women or couples, financial advisors should always seat themselves so that they can make eye contact with those female clients, she said.

When working with couples, financial advisors also need to make sure they hear the woman’s feedback as much as the man’s, Acheatal said. Just because a woman is not speaking during a meeting does not mean that she is not telling her husband what she really thinks on the car ride home, and advisors also need to hear that feedback.

And when a female clients call with concerns, financial advisors should listen first before addressing market trends or how their investment plans are structured, according to Acheatal.

“You can’t build an environment with trust and empathy, if you don’t give her the time to talk and you don’t have the willingness to listen,” Acheatal said.

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