About three years ago a couple of the top women advisers at Lincoln Financial Network got together to tackle an issue that is somewhat pervasive in the financial services space.
“Let’s face it, most advisers are men,” says Nicole Spinelli, executive director of the Lincoln Financial Network (LFN) WISE Group. She tells PLANADVISER that the name WISE is for “women inspiring, supporting and educating.”
As Spinelli explains, WISE is an enterprise-wide initiative designed to better support the unique needs of female advisers and clients. The group helps drive strategic partnerships and educational initiatives across the LFN adviser network, with the primary goal of increasing the number of women working in the field and in leadership positions. On the client side, WISE is about creating engagement and financial management skills for everyone, but especially for women.
These aren’t just moral goals, observes Karen DeRose, a founding board member of WISE and managing partner at DeRose Financial Planning Group. When firms recruit and retain women advisers they bring in new perspectives and new energy, she says. It’s not a rule, but women advisers can often drive better engagement with female clients, leading to longer lasting relationships. “And we have all heard the statistics that women generally outlive men and are more likely than men to have to take control of family wealth near the end of life,” DeRose notes.
To get a handle on these challenges and the opportunities solving them would present to LFN, the founding members of WISE conducted a series of research projects. The effort included extensive interviews with internal advisers and other firms, to find out what they were doing to boost diversity and attract women advisers.
“We took the best practices from all these firms and gained the clearance from leadership to formally establish the WISE Group,” DeRose says. “The idea was to start implementing these best practices at LFN and more broadly. It’s an ongoing effort but I believe we have made real strides so far.”
NEXT: Awareness often means interest
Spinelli says the WISE group members very quickly realized “the biggest issue we have right now is pipeline.”
“We saw there aren’t a lot of women advisers entering the business or being prepared to enter the business right now,” she explains. “But we also saw there are not really that many advisers in general entering the business. There is concern about a lack of focus and awareness on advising as a career path, for men and women, and this extends into worries about succession planning and a number of other areas.”
One more positive finding from the research effort was that, once people get a better sense of what it means to be an adviser and to work in financial services, often they are drawn to it. This holds for both men and women, DeRose explains, but it’s especially important for women to be encouraged to consider the field.
“It’s a great career path for women,” DeRose continues. “Unfortunately there have not really been enough examples yet to hold up and say, ‘this is what a successful women looks like in this industry.’ They’re out there, but they aren’t always getting the attention they deserve. This is what we’re talking about when we say inspiration is a big goal of WISE.”
WISE urges firms to consider mentorship programs, pairing industry newbies with long-time pros. Importantly, the teaching relationship should flow both ways—with the senior adviser instilling knowledge about business fundamentals and the junior adviser bringing new points of view, especially about technology and attracting the next generation.
The group also encourages more male-female adviser teaming.
“Our research also found women and men on a very general level think a little differently about finances,” DeRose concludes. “Men tend to gravitate towards the investment construction and analytical side of things, while women are more inclined to think about planning and objectives, things like retirement, college savings, etc. Bringing these two sides together can be a powerful combination.”