Deborah Nixon, Entrepreneur, Consultant
Judy was panicked over her investments and frozen in indecision about what to do next. The market wasn’t doing well and she wasn’t sure what all of this meant for her. She was in her mid-50s, didn’t have a pension (darn those years of doing her own thing) and was single.
Late at night, while lying in bed, she was obsessed with the haunting images of ending up as a bag lady, pushing a cart down the street and wearing old clothes. She knew this was irrational — after all, she was well educated and considered a success by any objective standard. But she couldn’t get these thoughts out of her head.
Whenever she heard from her investment advisor, she grew more frustrated. He just didn’t seem to get it. The more she expressed her anxiety, the more he talked about numbers, ratios, forecasts, averages, and projections. By the time he got to his third piece of information about her portfolio, she wasn’t even listening anymore. Oh, she was polite enough and looked attentive, but the rush of emotion and the overload of data overwhelmed her. She didn’t feel her advisor really understood her — he was a successful guy who looked so confident. And whenever she told him she was anxious, he just responded by giving her more information.
She wanted to scream, or cry. All she wished for was to be understood and reassured. Maybe she should find a new advisor; this situation was never going to change. And there was no point in bringing it up to him. He just didn’t seem to understand. She didn’t trust what she was hearing and she certainly didn’t trust that he appreciated her situation.
This is a real scenario and typical of what is happening in the financial services world. Women are frustrated with the inability of most financial institutions to realize that their approach to investing is unique and quite different from a male’s approach. In their book Women Want More, Boston Consulting Group partners Michael Silverstein and Kate Sayre found that women were scathing in their comments about their dealings with financial services and institutions. As one of their respondents said: «I hate being stereotyped because of my gender and age, and I don’t appreciate being talked to like an infant.»
Women’s bag lady fears are also more common than people think. A 2006 study by Allianz found that 48 per cent of women earning over $100,000 income «had a tremendous fear of becoming a bag lady. Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine and Katie Couric have all reported suffering from this fear. It cuts across women of all social groups; it’s not like wealthy women don’t have it,» says money coach Olivia Mellan. «Heiresses, women who have inherited wealth, have big bag-lady nightmares because they really feel like the money came to them magically and can leave them just as magically.»
If you ask most men about this, they find it hard to believe. They don’t bring their emotions into their financial lives in the way women do. So when male advisors are dealing with women, this is an aspect that they neglect to account for. This lack of understanding of how women do business is one of the reasons so many women are demanding female advisors. The industry, however, is sadly under-served by women. In 2012, less than 25 per cent of advisors are women, a small number compared to women’s representation in other businesses. As a result, the business is neglecting the needs of women and is thus ignoring hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue and profit.
Advice to professionals: understand that in dealing with women, the relationship is incredibly important. This requires you to shift mindsets from selling to listening. You need to slow down and invest time in the relationship. Throw out the script and the process — it won’t help here. What women — no, all customers — want is genuineness. They want you to be real. And to know that you’re sincere. They want to be reassured that not only are you listening, but that you’re really hearing what they have to say. That you are invested in their dreams, their ambitions and that you understand their fears and insecurities.
Advice to women: stand up for what you need. Demand that your financial professional provide information and support in a way that makes sense to you. It is your money and you are ultimately responsible for it. Nobody will care about your money as much as you do. If you don’t feel heard or understood, walk away. This is a competitive market and there are many options available to you. Getting control of your financial life is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself.