Female Advisers Lead the Push for Greater Diversity

They believe that the role of advisers has become more holistic, making the profession more appealing and accessible.
Art by Katherine Streeter

Art by Katherine Streeter

Attend any retirement plan advisory industry event and it is strikingly obvious that the profession is dominated by white men.

However, with the role of advisers shifting from investment selection to participants’ retirement readiness and holistic financial well-being, today’s female advisers believe the profession is evolving to appeal to more women. In addition, they also say that retirement planning practices are beginning to realize the importance of diversity and are beginning to actively recruit not only women but people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

“It is still a man’s world,” says Ellen Lander, principal of Renaissance Benefit Advisors of New York and the 2019 PLANSPONSOR Retirement Plan Adviser of the Year. “There are many organizations still out there in this day and age that are run by very strong-headed men that don’t regard women as their equal.”

Before founding her practice nine years ago, Lander worked in sales in the retirement division at MassMutual and was always the only women in the department. “I grew up in a man’s world,” she says. “However, there were challenges I faced a long time ago that I don’t face anymore.”

Perceived Barriers

What largely keeps women from entering the retirement planning industry is the fear that they have to be rainmakers, to cold call to create a book of business and that their sales numbers will be scrutinized, says Lynn Ballou, regional director at EP Wealth Advisors of Los Angeles.

The profession has changed, says Katherine Mauzy, principal of financial adviser talent acquisition at Edward Jones in St. Louis, Missouri. “Careers in retirement planning have evolved from being transactional to helping clients achieve life goals,” she says. Today’s retirement plan adviser has become a “holistic life planner who conducts complete wealth management discussions. Women aspire to build deeper, trusted relationships that clients really value. The skills today’s adviser needs includes empathy and understanding each client. That is appealing to a lot of women. We as an industry need to reach out to more women to educate them about this opportunity.”

While the role of the retirement plan adviser has become more holistic, Ballou agrees, many practices still value advisers who are sales-focused and who prioritize building out a book of business.

“Women care more about the relationship than the sales numbers,” she says. “That puts us at a disadvantage on the pay platform. Both add value, so firms need to create a way to create some parity.” And Ballou is optimistic this will happen.

“I think the most successful firms in the future will be those that value the loyal relationships that women can build,” she says. “There is no sense in having a business model where you are bringing in new clients but others are walking out the door because you didn’t take care of them. We need to value both—the rainmakers and the relationship-builders.”

As the role of retirement plan advisers has progressed, the skills needed for success have also progressed, says Joan Antoniello, a principal with Mazars USA Wealth Advisers in New York. “While the financial services and retirement planning industries have traditionally been male-dominated, driven by sales performance, that is starting to change,” Antoniello says. “Men are more focused on tangibles—numbers and performance, rather than the goals and objectives that women value.” The change in the profession has definitely benefited female advisers, she says.

In addition, retirement planning practices “have started to realize that with women controlling a third of the wealth in this country, there is a market to serve women, which is creating a tremendous opportunity for women as advisers right now,” Antoniello says. “This realization is changing the DNA of what an adviser had been in the past. Firms are starting to realize that diversity impacts the bottom line.”

Technology has also made it possible for women who are either raising children or taking care of elderly parents, or both, to be more flexible, Antoniello notes.

Attracting Women to the Profession

In order to attract women to the profession, it is important to provide them with mentors and the opportunity to network with and learn from other women in the business, Mauzy says.

EP Wealth Advisors has also created a financial literacy program conducted by its female advisers at high schools in various school districts with different ethnicities, says Erin Voisin, director of financial planning at the practice. “A big focus right now is diversity and inclusion in this industry,” she says.

The hope, Ballou adds, is that “rather than try to attract women to the profession as they make career moves later in life, we can recruit them at the early stages of their lives by showing them the importance of this profession and what a profound difference it can make in people’s lives.”

It is precisely this kind of personal outreach that has enabled Edward Jones to successfully recruit female retirement plan advisers to the point that they now comprise 20% of that workforce. The firm has asked advisers in its 277 regions around the country to actively recruit women to the business and then mentor and support them once they join the firm.

For the women who have joined Edward Jones as retirement planning advisers, the firm holds “Women Helping Other Women” events around the country, where these advisers can share ideas and learn from panel discussions where top women advisers share their thoughts on best practices. Last year, Edward Jones held 55 such events and added a recruitment dinner the night before.

And for the past two years, Edward Jones has invited women advisers from competitors to attend its seminars, with 40% to 50% of these women then deciding to join Edward Jones, Mauzy says.

For the retirement planning profession to become more diverse, to include women and people of various ethnicities, will take time, Ballou predicts. “The change will be multigenerational,” she says.

At Edward Jones, “we are very optimistic that there is a bright future for diversity,” Mauzy says. “It will take time, discipline and consistency, but I know we are up for the challenge.”