ETF Trends
ETF Trends

If you’ve been following my recent “Men vs. Women” series, you know that there are a number of ways in which the genders behave differently as investors, from their different approaches to investment decisions to women’s tendencies to be less confident and more risk averse investors.

It turns out that men and women also differ in how they prefer to work with their financial advisors. This can have some very real consequences for investors and advisors alike. Why advisors? Once trust is established, women tend to be more loyal clients and refer more business than men and, as my colleague Sue Thompson pointed out a while back, gone are the days when men were the primary breadwinners and wealth controllers in this country.

In this post, the fourth of my series, I cover differences in how the genders prefer to work with their financial advisors, outline the potential consequences of these differences and provide some tips to help women assess the suitability of an advisor.

Q: So how do men and women differ in how they prefer to work with their financial advisors?

A: A Fidelity Investments guide on engaging female clients argues that while men veer towards competitiveness and hierarchy in their communication approach, women look for inclusiveness and a collaborative approach, and want to stay engaged in the financial planning process. In addition, for many women, it is especially important that their advisors understand their comprehensive financial picture. Finally, women usually want to be educated, and not just about products and fee structures, but also about financial planning skills and investing in general.

Q: What impact can these differences have on the advisor-client relationship?

A: Given that the financial advisor community has more experience working with men, women’s different approach can lead to misunderstandings and strain in the advisor-client relationship.

According to a 2010 Boston Consulting Group study of women’s experiences with wealth management providers, many women feel stereotyped by their advisors. They report receiving dumbed down versions of standard offerings, and a focus on strategies related to social issues or sustainability rather than performance. Similarly, women often report demeaning behaviors by their advisors, such as an advisor assuming that the husband naturally takes care of the family’s finances, and as a result, women often do not feel taken seriously.

It’s no wonder, then, that women categorically rate their advisors worse than men, as the firm Sullivan found in its 2011 investor trust study, and 70% of women fire their financial professional within a year after their husbands’ deaths, according to a2011 Spectrem Group study of wealthy women investors.

Q: So what should women focus on when picking an advisor?  

A: I suggest that women focus on two areas beyond an advisor’s qualifications, like licenses, speciality areas and fee structure:


1.   Knowledge on women specific issues. As compared to men, women generally have lower workforce participation, lower pay, longer life expectancy, lower risk tolerance and confidence levels, and often end up being the main caretaker for children, elderly parents and the spouse.

(You can read more about some of these differences in the recently released findings of BlackRock’s first ever Global Investor Pulse Survey). Women would want to look for an advisor that is knowledgeable about the impact of these issues on income, savings and investments. To gauge this, women investors can look at advisors’ marketing approach and materials, as well as ask upfront if the advisor has any concrete strategies to tackle these challenges.

2.   Interpersonal approach: Key for a lot of women is an advisor who seeks to personally understand her needs, focuses on her overall longerterm financial picture, and together with partners, such as accountants, is able to offer quality comprehensive financial planning.

A clue of a more inclusive approach is that an advisor brings both spouses into the financial planning discussions, and coaches the woman by, for example, asking open-ended questions. In addition, a collaborative advisor is available and approachable for questions, is appreciative of women’s general interest in learning through group discussions and is able to provide ongoing education, such as through seminars and research communications.


Sources: Studies linked to throughout the post.

Nelli Oster, PhD, is a Director and Investment Strategist in BlackRock’s Multi-Asset Strategies Group. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Management Sciences from the London School of Economics and a PhD in Finance from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where her dissertation focused on behavioral finance.