One pioneer on how she sees her market -- hint: it's not a monolith

March 18, 2010 — 5:35 AM UTC by Elizabeth MacBride


Elizabeth’s note: In my seven months at RIABiz, I’ve encountered many people that are to be admired. Advisors are entrepreneurial and involved in their communities. Many if not most seem to have their clients’ best interests at heart. But the absence of women in the business is downright shocking. I had to reach far back in my experience to come up with another professional community that was so devoid of the feminine gender. The one I came up with? The old-line manufacturers of York, Pa., the city in which I started my reporting career 15 years go.

What industry is most disliked by women because of the poor job it does meeting their needs? Financial services, hands down. Within financial services, what segment is absolutely the bottom-of-the-barrel when it comes to treating women with respect?

That should spell opportunity for smart financial services advisors who can figure out how to serve women, who are 52% of the population and, according to the Boston Consulting Group, control about half of the nation’s wealth.

Though most financial services companies see women as a market “segment,” they really should be thought of as the market itself, says BCG Partner Kate Sayre, who with Michael J. Silverstein recently wrote the book “Women Want More.” Their survey of 1,200 women across the country led to the conclusions above.

Come across as condescending

Few advisors have figured out how to win the respect and loyalty of women. Sayre says one big mistake is marketing directly to women. Those attempts almost always come across as condescending.

Rather, she suggests that advisors ask themselves a simple question: among the couples who are your clients, are you serving the needs of both?

The answer is, probably not. That’s the reason that divorce and widowhood are two key triggers for women to sever their relationships with financial advisors, according to the book.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the advisors who seem most attuned to women are the relatively few women advisors out there.

Being a woman and a financial advisor

Recently, I talked to Brenda Blisk, who has $250 million in assets under management at the Blisk Financial Team in Tysons Corner, Va. Between January 2009 and January 2010, the firm’s production increased 18%. We talked about her career and the ways that being a woman has affected it.

When did you become an advisor?

In 1985, at Prudential Bache Securities. In my graduating class, I was number five. But … it was tough. I was not given resources for extra training, for instance. ... I just tried to put my head down and work. I grew up on a farm. I got up at 5:30 and helped milk 150 cows, so I knew I could outwork them.

In 1990, I moved my practice to Shearson Lehman Hutton. The industry was really starting to gravitate toward a financial planning model. Shearson was an example of that. I was into more advanced planning concepts.

Your husband joined you at some point.

In 1991, my husband joined to take over the practice management side, and we started growing at 40% a year. It made a huge difference having a man on the team. We were given more opportunities. We were not overlooked, if you will.
In 1997, we went independent, on Valentine’s Day.
I took my entire team. 99% of clients came within 9 months.

What is it like working with your husband?

I run Blisk Financial Team, a five-member team. David is the managing director of Spire Investment Partners. (An independent broker-dealer). The two don’t overlap very often. We are both in our own realm.

What is your niche?

We do cater a lot to women. I have a strong niche in working with executives, particularly women business owners. Over the years, the number of divorcees and widows has grown.

When you say cater, what do you mean?

I spend a lot of time with my clients, understanding what their goals are. I see them as groups. The different age brackets are different.

If they’re in their 70s, they came from a time, where, like in my family, the father called the shots. ... Women had no credit in their own names. Those women are looking for the professional guidance for someone to be there with them and to give them a lot of advice.

Women in their 50s and 60s, they tend to be equally involved. They take a more active role with their husbands, and a lot of them take the lead. It’s a different mindset.
In the younger age bracket, there are many two-career couples. One spouse tends to have the skill set to manage the money. The younger people are more interested in understanding things.

What’s the difference between men and women as investors?

What we have found in this 24-year-period is that men tend to invest to outperform. Whether it’s a benchmark, like the S&P 500, or one of their friends. I actually have clients … who called each other to compare performance every year. It didn’t matter that they were invested in completely different things. ... If you go to a horse race, at least it’s all horses.

Women are much more focused on taking care of the children, leaving a legacy. They don’t want to spend it all. Their whole mindset on financial security is very much strongly focused in that area. As long as they are making progress toward a set goal, they are satisfied.

How well do you think the financial services industry is serving women?

There has been in the last 7 years, a stronger focus on women, and women and investing. But it’s a partnership arrangement … you can offer things … but it’s also that women have to take some responsibility. They have to take the first step.

Does it bother you that you encountered discrimination in your career?

Zig Ziglar once said, “Success is revenge.”

Share your thoughts and opinions with the author or other readers.


Kirsten Osolind said:

March 19, 2010 — 4:21 PM UTC

Good article. Wanted to add some additional context and facts.

According to a Center for Women’s Business Research study, 67% of women business owners choose financial products/services based on their relationship/experience with a financial institution or financial advisor. And women are 3X as likely as men to tell a friend about a service or product experience, good or bad. Financial institutions and financial advisors wanting to connect with women need to begin by fostering a relationship with women – and they need to be patient. Women take a winding, holistic path to a financial decision. She can’t be rushed. She’ll have questions. She wants peace of mind, a plan, security, to be responsible. She will share good and bad experiences with her friends via tightly knit Social Media Communities via Facebook and blogs.

What WON’T Work: – “Let me take care of it,” “I can handle it all for you,” “Did I tell you how smart I am?” – Facts, figures, numbers that mean a lot to industry insiders (not women) – Pushing things along at a pace to meet numbers for the month/quarter – Not being upfront/direct about compensation and motivations for pitching certain products or solutions over others

What WILL Work: – Stories and anecdotes that relate to a woman’s own situation – Making women comfortable enough to take their time to make decisions – Educating women along the way – Allowing for a longer relationship development process – Being very upfront about how you (the financial advisor or financial institution) are compensated

Congratulations, Ms. Blisk, on your career success.

Kirsten Osolind
women-targeted marketing and PR


Linda Wittich said:

March 19, 2010 — 11:53 PM UTC

I think you really hit home on the importance of gaining confidence of women investors. We typically measure success versus our financial planning goals and rarely consider how we did versus the market or our friends. It comes down to sales basics: listen – really listen – to your clients and establish a plan for THEM...not the plan that YOU would choose. Thanks for the insights.


Carol Cummings said:

March 20, 2010 — 2:42 AM UTC

Really interesting article. It’s always great to see blooming—late or early. This is clearly a new field for plowing, planting, and growing.


Yvette said:

May 3, 2011 — 8:58 PM UTC

Great article! Most research shows that women are more conservative investors. They do more research, compare more advisors before choosing one, and make few trades. Thanks for the added insight about women focusing more on trust and less on performance history when compared to men.

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