As financial anxiety among Americans continues to heighten, one major demographic group seems to stand out from the rest: women.
A recent study from Northwestern Mutual, “Planning and Progress Study 2016,” found that half (50%) of single women and 41% of married women reported feeling either a moderate or substantial amount of anxiety regarding personal financial security, compared to 45% and 35% of men, respectively.
The continuous gender pay gap, issues surrounding a lack of paid maternity leave, and the longer life expectancy for women spearhead this anxiety, explains Allison Engel, director of women’s multicultural marketplace strategy at Northwestern Mutual. She believes a lack of confidence more than a lack of expertise or knowledge is also playing a significant role.
“One of the recurring themes that comes up whenever we speak to women is this concept of confidence,” she says. “Women don’t feel that they have the tools and the knowledge to adequately control their financial future.”
This is where expert advice can make all the difference, Engel says. The data clearly shows women as well as men can benefit tremendously from sitting down with an adviser who can listen carefully to their challenges and enact a personalized financial plan. Confidence is shown to increase dramatically with the support of an adviser, in other words.
“As an adviser, you can take advantage of those face-to-face moments to really just keep your ears open and to pick up on different preferences that men and women are going to bring to the table,” Engel says, adding that careful listening is the most direct path to building client trust.
Jennifer Openshaw, a partner at Mercer and co-author of the study “When Women Thrive,” recommends advisers steer clear of heavily promoting products or services, especially early on in the relationship. Instead, the focus should be on solutions and strategies, with product-specific discussion limited more to the implementation phase.
“Women tend to feel like they’re being sold products when they build an advisory relationship, and that can damage trust,” she says. “Success is about helping a woman understand why this or that product matters to her and her life at this stage, and making it really relevant and tangible with real-world examples.”
NEXT: Value of personalized assessments
Nevenka Vrdoliak, director of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Wealth Management CIO Office and co-author of the research series, “Women and Life-Defining Financial Decisions,” proposes that personalized assessments are highly effective in helping advisers cater to unique client goals.
“It’s a structured approach to soliciting key considerations from a client that works best,” she says. “You must understand the client and what their goals are—and their life priorities.”
Openshaw agrees, adding that advisers should focus on smaller, step-by-step tactics that can both engage clients and elevate trust over the long-term.
“Do not talk about these huge, lofty goals, but again, bring it down to tangible steps that everybody can relate to,” she says. “Trust is really important, and it will continue to be important.”
According to research from the State Street Global Advisors, women tend to be more confident in their adviser’s investing strategies if they are female. Engel believes women advisers can establish more connectivity with women clients not only because of gender similarities, but also because of the perception that they hold better soundness.
“Women tend to have a good combination of both head and heart when they’re coming to a meeting, and that resonates really well,” she says. “At the end of the day, it all stems from authenticity, and having advisers who are there for the right reasons, and wanting to do it for the right reasons.”
The experts agree that clients and advisers are both increasingly accessible to one another, via the use of social media and 24/7/365 digital advice platforms—implying these platforms can be a powerful stepping-stone to gaining clients’ trust and confidence.
Engel concludes that melding human interaction with technology can create a hybrid experience that will work well for women.
“It’s all about being able to find that fine line where they feel like they’re getting enough of your expertise, but they also have the ability to check on their own accounts, and potentially in some instances have control or make changes if necessary,” she says. “Your biggest tool is not going to come from any technology or any research, but it’s really going to be your ability to connect with your customers in an authentic way.”