Twenty-five years ago, I attended a conference given by an expert in demographics. In the audience were 90 sales managers gathered together in the same room. I still remember his opening statement: “If 80 percent of family purchasing decisions are made by women, why are there only three women in this room?”
Today, over two-thirds of advisors in the Canadian financial industry are men. Thus, it’s not surprising that policies that have been around for decades, never really evolved to meet the needs of women. What’s more, this issue also affects female investors. While the number of women with strong economic earning power is on the rise, the industry’s customer approach is slow to react in evolving its practices.
We all need more female advisors in our firms. Why? Because an implicit bias1 still exists towards female clients. However, studies have shown that women tend to have a higher tolerance for risk, and make more decisions when dealing with a female advisor. Female advisors know how to develop a trusted bond, speak the same language, and understand their clients’ concerns.
It’s a major challenge that speaks to me personally. Therefore, I’ve brought the right people together to rethink our approach and establish new strategies that will enable us to attract, train, and retain more female advisors at National Bank Financial.
Through several focus groups comprised of women, we soon realized that the investment advisor role is less understood. Women believe that to be an advisor you need to be strong in math or finance while, in fact, you really need to be good at building relationships – a skillset that generally comes natural to women. Female advisors typically have strong interpersonal skills, apply empathy and know how to connect well with clients to understand their needs, which are not always as easily expressed.
Another big surprise: during their academic years, female university students admitted to having perceived the job of Investment Advisor as a “sales job.” While business development is a key component of the job, I believe being an advisor is above all, a role that requires guidance and listening to better provide focused advice for the client’s life goals.
Both these outcomes convinced us to start actively working on changing the perception of this occupation by taking concrete measures to ensure that this career destination is better understood by the next generation of women.
To attract more young women to this profession, we connected with universities and put in place an “experiential mentorship program.” I emphasize “experiential” here because I believe many mentorship programs today are too formal. We set up a time for a meeting, sit down, have a discussion, explore a given subject and that’s it.
At National Bank Financial, my team and I created an innovative program where young female students are paired with one or several female advisors so they can experience a-day-in-the-life of this advisor: client meetings, portfolio reviews, business lunches and networking events are all a part of the overall mentorship experience.
We collaborate with over 40 Canadian universities for this program. Each year, we get record numbers of applications from women. For example, in 2019, we received almost 260 applications, of which 25 were selected. It’s a program that grows year after year, and makes us extremely proud.
These selected mentees also get a chance to attend the NBF Women Investment Advisors’ Symposium - another one of our annual female initiatives celebrating its 10th edition this year on September 23rd – 24th. This conference brings female advisors and numerous National Bank colleagues together. It enables us to create awareness and contribute to the development of women in our industry. In 2019, we also organized through a team-building activity, participants will collect donations for the “Shoe Box” - a charitable organization helping women in need.
Once hired, we need to foster an environment that works for female advisors. How can we ensure that their new profession supports their reality? Right at the time when these young professionals would like to start a family, they’re confronted with policies that are not built to support them through this momentous life event.
Most female advisors shared their feelings of stress at the idea of leaving their clients to take maternity leave, not to mention the financial burden that comes with starting a family. We put in place new policies to provide them with options that work for them as new parents. In our firm, no woman will ever have to chose between building her business and starting a family.
I’m proud to say that we have now achieved parity among male/female clients and that our aim is to approach each client in the most personalized way possible.
It’s just as important to me that all advisors have access to trainings providing them with the ability to better connect with women investors. My team and I have put in place new programs and tools to improve communication between advisors and clients.
While an approach based on portfolio returns has long been preferred in our industry, today we much rather focus on helping clients achieve their life goals.
Investors, especially women, prefer to understand the impact of their returns on their family’s plans, such as milestone holidays, funding their child’s education or caring for their elderly parents.
However, female investors still too often delegate investment decisions to their spouses. Eighty percent of women change advisors within the first year of the death of their husband because in part, our industry has failed to keep them engaged2. Women need to be much more involved vis-à-vis making financial planning decisions that will impact their life objectives. I believe that having more female advisors will have a positive effect on this situation.
There was a time when it was men that made the financial decisions for their families, so it’s normal that close to eighty percent of advisors today are men. But now we’re living in a completely different era. That trend needs rebalancing. That trend can be changed.
To get there, we all need to act now in increasing the number of female advisors, changing the way we communicate with women investors and, above all, increasing their engagement when making Wealth Management decisions that impact their life objectives.
Want to join our team? See employment opportunities with NBFWM
Vice-President, Development and Client Experience
National Bank Financial Wealth Management
This content has been reviewed on January 25th 2021.
2 Tim Querengesser, The Confidence Gap: Why aren’t there more women investors? February 10, 2014
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