Lessons from the Edward Jones Women’s Conference

Speakers and attendees at the event, which drew some 200 leading female advisers from across Edward Jones, emphasized the importance of mentorship and providing a robust support structure for new advisory professionals.

Late last week, Patty Carter, principal of branch team talent acquisition at Edward Jones, stepped away from the fifth annual Edward Jones Women’s Conference to speak with PLANADVISER about the gender diversity gap that exists in the financial adviser industry.

Carter notes that Edward Jones continues to invest in programs that support the development of its female financial advisers, such as the Women’s Initiative for New Growth Strategies (WINGS) program. She adds that the firm is well on its way to meeting its pledge, made back in 2017, to ensure half of its advisory staff members are women.

“Our model allows for training tailored to each stage of a financial adviser’s career,” she explains, “ensuring they have the knowledge they need to continue to best serve clients.”

Carter says the practice management challenges voiced by the firm’s female advisers match those voiced by the full adviser cohort. In fact, a survey of Edward Jones’ female financial advisers taken ahead of this year’s Women’s Conference found that the majority of respondents say they consider new or impending industry regulations to be the biggest challenge to growing their business as a financial adviser in 2020. Other top concerns included fee compression and geopolitical uncertainty.

In the survey results, advisers say that professional development plays a crucial role in keeping pace with their myriad challenges. More than half (55%) note that they plan on leveraging internal resources made available through the firm as a means to pursue professional development in 2020. Additionally, one in four respondents say they plan to attend industry events and conferences for professional development.

When asked what strategies they will use to attract more clients and grow their practices in 2020, a strong majority of respondents (85%) plan to leverage existing client relationships (or word of mouth) to grow, focusing on the personal relationships they’ve cultivated. The remaining 15% plan to host educational events in the community (7%), leverage digital marketing (4%), attend networking events (3%) and advertise in local media and at events (1%).

“While leveraging existing relationships still remains a viable strategy for female advisers to attract new clients, with fee compression, financial advisers will need an innovative approach to reaching prospective clients,” Carter suggests.

Asked what would be the most effective way for financial services firms to help attract women to the industry, almost half (46%) of respondents cite “clear visibility of women in executive leadership positions,” where they have a noticeable impact and can determine firm-wide policy. Additionally, 27% of respondents note that more access to financial classes for high school and college students could help lead more people to a financial adviser career—including women and people of diverse cultural backgrounds.

Speaking from personal experience—having been with Edward Jones for 27 years, including 10 in senior leadership roles—Carter points to the critical importance of coaching and mentoring for women entering the adviser field.

“It’s not an easy industry for anyone to break into,” she says. “At Edward Jones, our managing partner is such an inspiration, Penny Pennington. She’s been at the firm for 20 years and has made such a wonderful impact here. We also have one of our most successful advisers being a woman—Jennifer Marcontell in Baytown, Texas. The two of them were in the same training class 20 years ago, and here at our firm they are such fantastic role models for all of us.”