During her 12 years at Smith Barney, investment advisor Dorie Fain always felt it could do more to attract and serve female clients.
"It was all about closing the sale," she said. "But I couldn't sell something to someone unless I understood their life circumstances."
Four years ago Fain started her own firm, &Wealth, with headquarters in New York and an office in Baltimore. It manages $225 million and works with clients whose assets are in the $5 million to $10 million range.
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Fain's niche is women in transition—those experiencing a major life event such as the death of a spouse, divorce, marriage or birth of a child. Many of her clients are baby boomers whose husbands have died or who are divorcing and have never managed their finances before. To reach this group, Fain builds relationships with the professionals who interact with them: trust and estate lawyers, divorce lawyers, mediators and accountants.
Many have seen the compelling reasons to target women as investors. Last April, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management (which acquired Smith Barney in 2009) established the Women and Wealth initiative. A spokesperson for Morgan Stanley said the program is widely used by its financial advisors and reflects commitment to equipping women to make financial and investment choices that make sense for them.
Though women make up only 13% of the broker and financial advisor ranks, according to the 2012 Fidelity Broker and Advisor Sentiment survey, some are realizing they have an edge. They generate business differently than their male counterparts, in ways that resonate with women.
The Fidelity survey found that female advisors attend more networking events and in-person seminars than male advisors. And 71 percent of the females—versus 48 percent of the males—work with clients on areas outside of traditional investing.
For example, Fain's clients often need help prioritizing the financial tasks connected with a divorce or death. "Sometimes in grief they are anxious to just take action, but rushing to invest, for instance, is not a good idea," she said. "We tell them to repaint the bathroom instead."
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Writing a book is also a popular strategy for advisors who want to emphasize their expertise in topics of interest to female investors.
Kimberly Foss, founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Sacramento, Calif., is releasing Wealthy by Design: A 5-Step Plan for Financial Security in June. About half of her clients are women, and her fastest-growing client segment is women in transition. Female clients find her through speaking engagements and seminars, where she also promotes the book. Empyrion has $200 million under management and 80 clients—about half of them with more than $3 million in assets.
Similarly, Carol Pepper, owner of New York investment firm Pepper International, uses her book, The Seven Pearls of Financial Wisdom: A Woman's Guide to Enjoying Wealth and Power, to reach her target client base. Pepper's firm has more than $500 million under management and works with families that have at least $100 million in net worth.
To widen Empyrion's pool of potential clients, Foss plans events with other local businesses. Her most recent, "Investing for the Look You Want," was organized with a dermatologist and is aimed at women who want spruce up their appearance as well as their finances.
Working with female clients is generally more time-intensive, but they are also more loyal, Foss said, adding that "women will often be lifelong clients."
Kathy Boyle, president of Chapin Hill Advisors in Pound Ridge, N.Y., reaches out to women by giving speeches and blogging. She said she often writes and speaks on inspirational topics rather than about money, and women respond to that. Chapin Hill has about $100 million under management and works with clients who have assets of $2 million to $20 million.
Her enthusiasm for connecting people has also helped Chapin Hill grow. When a business owner recently said she needed help with e-commerce, Boyle introduced her to an onlline sales specialist.
"That made her more comfortable with me, which is important—because business is all about building relationships," Boyle said.