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Engaging Women Clients: Seeing the Gender Difference

Before you can begin tailoring your approach to working with women, you first need to understand some of the attributes that make them uniquely different from male clients. In this article, we present five key differences in how men and women communicate, relate interpersonally, learn, are hardwired, and view wealth.

In my last article, I described the great wealth shift underway that is making women, a historically underserved segment of the population, one of the biggest immediate opportunities to strengthen and grow client relationships. It’s not a gender issue. It’s a business issue.

Engaging female clients requires time, effort, and a commitment by you and your entire practice to ultimately generate results. Before you can begin tailoring your approach, you first need to understand some of the attributes that make women uniquely different from male clients.

Based on recent research, in general there are key differences in how men and women: 1) communicate, 2) relate interpersonally, 3) learn, 4) are hardwired, and 5) view wealth.  Let’s explore how those differences may be relevant in your practice.

Differences 1 and 2: Communications and Interpersonal Preferences

Men tend to communicate in a hierarchical fashion with the goal of establishing who is the top dog or expert. Because men tend to relate in a competitive way, one-upping the other person is common practice.

Women, however, tend to prefer to communicate in an inclusive style with the goal of collaboration. Often, when two women sit down, they may subconsciously identify how they are similar instead of who is more proficient on a topic.

Advisors may want to keep several things in mind when working with women:

  • Women want an advisor who is a good listener, who understands her unique financial concerns, and who is willing to coach her over time.
  • Women want advisors who have expertise, but use it to collaborate and achieve positive outcomes together.
  • In the initial meeting, she’ll likely be evaluating if you are similar enough to her for you to really understand her needs.

Difference 3: Learning and Decision-Making Style

Men learn independently and typically like to try things out right away. A male client may listen to your recommendation, and, if your case appears sound, he may likely agree to move forward and see what happens.

Women tend to prefer to learn in groups, where they can discuss their options with individuals they trust. The process of verbalizing the advantages and disadvantages of a particular financial investment or decision is helpful for women in a way that is usually not true for men. This process takes time and could encompass multiple conversations with female prospects and clients, since they are typically slower to make any type of financial decision.

As I’ve worked with advisors across the country on this topic, I’ve found that some are surprised by the extent to which behavioral adjustments are needed. For example, one of the biggest changes an advisor may need to make is to not become frustrated by a woman’s slower decision-making style, which some mistake for indecision, but which may really be a desire to more fully understand her options and more fully understand potential outcomes of her decision. Given this patient style, she may be more inclined to weather the ups and downs of market conditions.

Difference 4: Mental Hardwiring

Research also shows fundamental differences in male and female brain structures. The male brain is hardwired for individualism and is more able to compartmentalize and separate emotions from logic and facts. The female brain is hardwired for connection and better equipped to access and discuss feeling states. A woman is also more likely than a man to notice and remember details.  Although these are generalizations based on research and not specific to any one individual client, there are techniques advisors can utilize to establish good relations with female clients.

To effectively advise women, advisors may need to recognize the following and may want to consider responding accordingly:

  • Women want financial advisors who are willing to engage in authentic, ongoing relationships.
  • They want to discuss their feelings about money and wealth.
  • They want professionals who notice the details of their lives and follow up after each client meeting in a thoughtful way.

Difference 5: Attitudes Toward Wealth

Men tend to view wealth as a way of making more money and achieving a certain level of success. Women tend to view wealth in the context of relationships and use their money to take care of those they love. When asked in a recent survey, 54% of women associated wealth with the word “security,” whereas men surveyed associated it more with the words “success” and “power.”

I’ll share with you what I typically share with Fidelity’s advisor clients. I don’t think that either definition of wealth is right or wrong, but they are distinctly different. Consider factoring these variances into how you talk to women about money and investments, making sure you always tie it back to their real-life personal and family goals. At the end of every conversation, whether with a prospect or an actual client, your goal should be to have female clients feel 100% confident in your ability to help them achieve their goals and feel secure.

Putting Insights into Action

If these five key gender differences prove anything, it’s that capitalizing on the female client opportunity may require that you break some habits of the past. In my next article, I’ll introduce a process that you may want to consider using to help you identify and define the solutions and approaches to better meet the needs of women.

Laura Kogen is vice president of practice management and consulting at Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services


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