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Funds, Advisers Would be Wise to Prepare for Women's Increasing Financial Power

There was a time when investing was considered a man's job. No more.

A 2004 study of 1,000 Baby Boom generation women by Prudential Financial of Newark, N.J., found that 95% of them were either solely or jointly responsible for an IRA account, compared to just 61% in 2000. Ninety-four percent were solely or jointly responsible for savings accounts, compared with 85% in 1985. Collectively, women are said to control some $14 trillion in assets, according to a study by the Center for Women's Business Research of Washington.

Women are clearly taking control of their financial lives like never before. In spite of their growing clout and financial responsibilities, many women continue to feel that they are slighted by the asset management industry. A survey conducted several years ago by Money Magazine and OppenheimerFunds of New York found that when women were asked whether they believe that stockbrokers and financial advisers treated them with as much respect as men, only 27% answered yes.

Yet other research has shown that two out of three women are inclined to use an adviser in selecting investments, higher than their male counterparts, making women a significant opportunity for adviser growth.

Such factors are influencing financial institutions to focus more on female investors by learning more about their financial needs, creating adviser programs to effectively deal with these needs and targeting marketing messages in order to tap into this growing and influential group.

So, what are the main differences between male and female investors? Women as investors are generally defined by a different set of characteristics than men. For example, they are often more goal-oriented, risk aware and focused on the long term. They tend to pick more conservative investments and to trade less frequently.

Additionally, there are a host of unique circumstances that can affect women and in turn act as an internal guide for their investment decisions. These include divorce and the impact that has on asset accumulation and family wealth, the financial obligations of motherhood and the fact that women outlive men by approximately seven years. Understanding these fundamental differences is the first step to developing a framework for product development and marketing programs designed to appeal to a female audience.

But simply understanding the unique financial needs of women isn't enough. In order to gain the trust of female investors, asset management firms should be providing advisers with the following tools to better serve women:

Women-specific investment options: Women tend to pick more conservative investments and prefer a more passive asset management style, typically picking and sticking with funds rather than frequently switching in and out. Therefore, advisers should focus on information regarding long-term, value funds when advising their female clients.

Female-focused programs: While women are increasingly financially savvy, many still don't feel informed enough to make financial decisions. Programs, seminars and hypotheticals specifically catered toward women, in addition to leveraging websites and personalized e-mails are among the ways mutual fund companies and advisers can better serve female clients.

Use existing research to construct specialized sales tips: To capitalize on the research many fund companies conduct, firms can provide advisers with relevant and timely sales tips and ideas that will appeal to their female investors.

Emphasize one-on-one relationship building with financial advisers: Because women tend to place a greater value on personal relationships, asset managers should develop and offer tools both online and offline to strengthen communication between the adviser and the client.

Of course, implementing a one-size-fits-all program targeted for women will not suffice. Firms and advisers must use personalization and customer segmentation in order to account for the varying individual priorities of their female clients as they build these product development and marketing programs.

So, who are the investing women of the future? Just 10 years ago, many women did not even know what a mutual fund was, and few were involved in their families' investment decisions. Much has changed in a short period. Women have continued to advance up the corporate ladder and have seen their own portfolios grow. Stay-at-home moms have gone back to work and started 401(k)s. And recently divorced or widowed women have taken charge of investment assets.

Collectively, these women are redefining what it means to be female and an investor. Asset management firms that want to take advantage of this opportunity should act now to establish programs to help see them through.

(c) 2006 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.