Written by: Jessica Bokart
When Linda walked into my office last week, she was looking for urgent help. After her husband Paul’s death just a few weeks ago, she felt lost. Although Paul had been ill for some time and she had thought she’d be prepared when the time came, she felt like the world was suddenly on her shoulders. A big part of that stress was money. Paul had always handled the couple’s finances, and when Linda went to meet with his financial advisor just days after her husband’s funeral, she knew right away he wasn’t the right person to help her.
“There was no financial plan and no real strategy. All this man had done was sell Paul life insurance and a couple of annuities,” she told me. “I don’t know what was worse: the fact that he talked down to me when I started asking questions, or that he didn’t even acknowledge the fact that I was grieving. It was like he was afraid to mention Paul’s name.” It’s a scenario I know well. I’ve heard it time and time again.
Before Linda said another word, I just reached out and held her hand for a moment. That’s when the floodgates opened up. She told me how alone she felt, how scared she was of the future, and how no one seemed to understand how off balance her life had become, literally overnight.
Over the next half hour, I mostly listened, and we both cried. Eventually we got around to talking about how we could work together to get her back on her feet. We discussed how to get copies of the death certificate, and who to send them to, and how to deal with the transition of Social Security from her own to her husband’s so she’d have income coming in. And I wrote down the things that had to be handled immediately, and the things that could wait 6 months or even a year to tackle. But we only began discussing those important details after she knew she was sitting with someone who really cared—not about how much money she had, but about her.
Whenever I sit down with a female client who is going through a major transition—the death of a spouse, a divorce, a health change, a job change—I hear similar stories. It’s an unfortunate fact that too many advisors out there simply don’t understand how to work with women. Even if they do respect their intelligence (which can be rare), they often don’t connect with women on an emotional level. Some might say these advisors don’t ‘get’ women. I would go one step further: I don’t think they ‘get’ what women need from a trusted advisor.
The good news is that the industry is making an effort to change. It’s no wonder. Women now control more than half of the personal wealth in the US, so it is women who want and need to be served! But that shift won’t happen overnight. Until it does, the onus is on women who are seeking financial guidance to make their own smart choices, including being highly selective when it comes to choosing an advisor. Here are 3 tips to get started today:
- Choose your advisor relationship carefully. When it comes to choosing a spouse, most women have a long list of criteria that defines the perfect match. So what’s your criteria for choosing a financial advisor? Can you open up to this person about your biggest hopes and your deepest fears? Do you connect with this person on a deeper level than simply dollars and cents? Is he or she authentic and empathetic? Make the effort to find an advisor you feel you can work with for decades—someone you can lean on for guidance, no matter what life throws your way, without the fear of being judged in any way.
- Married? Don’t take a back seat to planning your finances. All too often, women concede the role of financial planning to their spouses. Don’t do it! Educate yourself on wise financial decision-making and be an active part of the client/advisor relationship. If your spouse has historically taken the lead in your finances, now is the time to change that pattern once and for all. Go to every meeting. Ask probing questions. Express your hopes and your fears. Participating in the financial planning process is the only way to ensure your own goals are being addressed.
- Single? Don’t try to go it alone. Whether you’ve never married or you are divorced or widowed, being single doesn’t mean you have to figure everything out on your own. Focus on finding an advisor who takes the time to listen to your unique needs, values, and goals. Single women tend to be particularly conservative with money, often investing less than they should and saving more in an emergency fund than they really need. That can feel responsible, but it can also set you back when retirement rolls around. Choose an advisor who is willing to act as your ‘financial significant other’ by urging you out of your comfort zone when necessary and keeping you accountable for everything from investing according to schedule to updating those neglected estate planning.
For women, building a trusted relationship with a financial advisor is unique, in part because we require much more from the relationship. For us, investment spreadsheets and 20-page financial plans aren’t going to be enough. Do we want our money to do well? Of course. Do we want financial security? More than anything. But while we’re working to get there, we want to be seen, heard, and—more than anything—understood. Find an advisor who can do all of the above, and you’ll be on your way to a more secure and confident financial future.
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