Written by Laura Webb | Webb Investment Services, Inc. | KNOW Asheville
The financial planning, advisory and wealth management disciplines need greater representation from women. And the younger you are the better because the average age of today’s financial advisor is between 51 and 55 years, with 38% expected to retire within 10 years. Like numerous other professions, women make up a minority of the population of wealth management experts – about 16%. It’s a male dominated profession, similar to the representation of women who pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, in which women comprise only about 27% of those in the disciplines.
Why is that? Well, historically male-dominated professions like financial planning and wealth management present a hidden barrier to entry and career growth for women. In my experience, the roles available to women have been historically focused on support and sales and ignore the strategic insights of eminently qualified women. Plus, the profession is really all about people skills and relationship building. Do you have to be good at math and running Excel spreadsheets? Actually, no. Those are tactical “nice to have” skills you can learn. But a great financial advisor possesses the ability to think more strategically and understands the significance of how numbers and a person’s values inform their approach to guiding a client to a more sustainable, secure and stress-free future.
The good news is that organizations are increasingly embracing and endorsing the economic value and returns that diversity can bring to the table. We’ve all seen the initiatives many companies now adopt regarding diversity and inclusion. These progressive organizations have discovered that building a culture of inclusion makes them a more desirable destination for top talent and increases productivity, which influences their bottom-line profit. Who knew?
One of the most buttoned-down CFOs I know once remarked, “The numbers speak to me and I listen.” In other words, the numbers inform her about her strategic planning for budgeting and forecasting and where her company needs to focus additional investment resources.
In matters of personal wealth management, the client base for a wealth manager is often broadly defined by a simple statistic called lifespan or longevity. Women live longer than men. They have outlived men for decades. So, women are more likely to need help with the management of their wealth, especially during a life-changing event such as a divorce or the passing of a spouse. And who better to help them than a qualified and credentialed financial advisor who understands the unique needs of women in those transitional situations.
Let’s look at what it takes for women to succeed as a financial advisor and wealth manager. (Spoiler alert: It’s the same for men.)
Education. Yes, you’ll need a degree from an accredited college or university. A business degree is helpful, because if you pay attention and do the work, you’ll learn about basic economics and how money works. All good stuff, but not absolutely required to enter the wealth management field. Some schools offer fast track courses and degrees in financial planning that serve as supplements to master the art and science of what a wealth manager does. There’s just not enough of them. But there’s no substitute for the practical training you can get from a financial firm’s advisor training programs. Some of the most competent and successful advisors I know were formerly teachers and people who majored in wildly diverse backgrounds that include biochemistry, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals and sharpened their saws through an internship or apprenticeship at an established firm.
Skills. As I mentioned earlier, the characteristic of people skills, when coupled with an analytic mind, are powerful assets to possess. A financial advisor, much like someone in sales or account management, needs to be a builder of relationships and trust. People are more likely to trust someone who has that human touch, which ropes in the rather high concepts of empathy, authenticity, listening and collaboration. Successful women in the business demonstrate the ability to relate and work well with others. Women make great advisors and super investors. Look at the amount of wealth women will control in the U.S: According to Morningstar in a March 2021 special report on Women and Investing “90% of women will manage assets on their own at some point during their lifetimes.” 
Women are problem solvers and care about helping people. This is not to say that men are incapable of such instincts. It’s just that in my experience women are more socially conditioned to develop and demonstrate the skills needed to succeed as a financial advisor. If there’s one thing that gets people uptight and worried, it’s money. The human touch, together with a solid educational background, is a formula for confidence to a person who wonders what to do with the money they worked so hard to accumulate. Money keeps people awake at night. A strong financial advisor helps people sleep better.
Women with wealth they suddenly find in their control are more likely to be comfortable with other women who know firsthand their situation and challenges.
Experience. It’s rare that a person can earn a business degree and then go hang a shingle that advertises their availability as a financial advisor. You need to be willing to serve an internship or apprenticeship with an established firm. Many investment advisors who strike out on their own paid their dues this way to earn later credibility. It’s the old adage you’ve heard: “I learned how to do it by doing it.” So true for many professions.
Your loftier goal may to one day run your own firm, but the path of least resistance and greatest preparation is to first work for one and see how all the pieces of a person’s life help solve the ultimate puzzle a wealth management professional must put together. You’ll also benefit from a mentorship with a person who has traveled the road you’re on and seen the hurdles, obstacles and challenges you’ll encounter.
Networking. As an advocate who encourages more women to pursue careers in financial and wealth management, I realized I could benefit from belonging to organizations and groups focused on the same goal. My association with groups like the Women’s Leadership Alliance, My Advisor Path, and Raymond James Women’s Financial Advisors Network have made all the difference in my growth as a wealth manager. These are women-focused groups where you can hear great speakers impart valuable information to help you on your journey to success. I believe they are unplanned shortcuts I take on my road to find out. These affiliations bring like-minded people together and the unscripted conversations you have with attendees outside the meeting room are as informative and enlightening as what happens within the room. Like almost every business, change is constant and belonging to groups that share a common objective keeps you fresh and in step with trends that merit attention.
Reputation. Good news travels fast, far and wide. The measure of success for a wealth advisor is assessed in dollars. If you participate on or lead a team that helps clients preserve and grow their precious wealth, you’ll be successful. Even more so if your clients respect you to the extent they happily recommend you to their friends and relatives. My clients learn of me from several sources: their friends, their own CPAs and attorneys who see the work we do for our clients and recommend us. It’s good old word of mouth advertising and so rewarding. It’s said that the softest pillow is a clear conscience. I have reassurance and I know my clients feel the same.
These five capsules represent to me the key steppingstones that trace a path from novice to professional. Of course, there’s a lot of effort to move from one stone to the next. But anything worth doing takes work. Now is an excellent time to enter the industry; many firms are looking for young successors, and many know they need capable women on their teams. Now is the perfect time to stay the course and keep walking.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Webb Investment Services, Inc.
Laura Webb is the founder and CEO of Webb Investment Services, Inc., based in Asheville, NC,
and the creator of the Her Two Cents podcasts, which focuses on helping women normalize the
conversation around money. Her team focuses its efforts on helping women secure their