Women advisers’ skills questioned by men disproportionately, poll finds

Women in the financial advice business are more than twice as likely as men to say that their recommendations are second-guessed by clients of the opposite gender, results of an InvestmentNews Research poll found.

That is hardly surprising to women advisers who have worked business for decades and have had to clear hurdles to prove themselves. It is an industry heavily dominated by men — less than a quarter of all accredited certified financial professionals are women, a figure that hasn’t budged for years, according to the CFP Board.

More than 13% of female advisers said they sometimes or often feel second-guessed by male clients, compared with about 5% of male advisers who said the same of female clients, results of the recent InvestmentNews Research poll show. Women advisers were also more likely to say they’ve been treated unfairly in the past at industry events (9%), compared to men (4%).

Curiously, men were considerably less likely to say they see themselves reflected in the speaker lineups at industry events (36%) than women (46%), although both figures are below majority.

“I have countless stories of being taken for an assistant or secretary. When I worked in wealth management for a bank, someone assumed I was a teller,” adviser Lora Hoff wrote in an email.

Her husband joined her practice 10 years after she founded it. But at the first conference they went to afterward, people assumed he was the owner “and immediately asked him what it was like having his wife work for him,” although he quickly corrected them, she said.

Decades of experience in the business have taught her that “if you speak with confidence and back it up with real knowledge and experience … the initial assumptions fade away.”

How often do you feel that the following types of clients second-guess your recommendations?

 AdvisersAdvisers 
Client typeWomenMen
Younger than you13%23%
Older than you0%5%
Different gender than you13%5%
New to your practice11%15%
Source: InvestmentNews Research poll (respondents included 50 women, 279 men and 10 who did not specify gender)

TROUBLING FINDINGS

The issue of women’s aptitudes being challenged isn’t confined to financial advice. One recent academic paper found that women economists are more prone to criticism, hostility and patronizing questions from men at conferences.

That paper, published in February by researchers at Stanford University, reported that women were asked an additional 3.3 questions per presentation than men, a 12% higher rate. That paper was based on data collected from 462 economics talks at events in 2019.

“Women are asked more questions during a seminar and the questions asked of women presenters are more likely to be patronizing or hostile. These effects are not due to women presenting in different fields, different seminar series or different topics,” that paper read. The findings “add to an emerging literature documenting ways in which women economists are treated differently than men, and suggest yet another potential explanation for their under-representation at senior levels within the economics profession.”

A FEW EXPERIENCES

When Marguerita Cheng, founder of Blue Ocean Wealth, began her career in 1999, some people doubted whether the young mother could be successful in a business that seemed to reward loud, aggressive personalities, she said.

“I didn’t have a lot of role models around me,” she said. “It took me time to realize that there is more than one type of personality and leadership and communication style that can be successful in this business.”

In her case, that style is measured, detail-oriented and compassionate, she said. She learned that she didn’t necessarily have to be the best salesperson, because she could find answers for clients that instilled confidence and proved her value as an adviser, she said.

“Someone who is loud and gregarious can be successful, but someone who is more introspective and collaborative can also be successful,” she said. “Those skills and attributes I have – those are my superpowers. And that is why people like me.”

A theme that women advisers alluded to was an initial challenge to win acceptance that they overcame.

“I have been in this business since the ’80s. Absolutely there is gender bias. The sad thing is that not much progress has been made in all these years,” said Linda Farinola, president of Princeton Financial Group, in an email. “Women have to just keep plugging away. Everyone gets pushback from clients. You just have to put on your big-girl pants and stick to your guns. Clients want reassurance and lots of it, and they should, it is their money and they want to know a capable person is handling it.”

Some clients might not be a good fit, she said. Today, Farinola said that older women who have not worked in business are often a tougher sell.

Another adviser said getting accredited was sufficient to quiet potential critics.

“In my earlier years in the profession I did have the experience where both male colleagues and male clients would challenge the information or recommendation I was providing,” said Angela Ribuffo, president of Raion Financial Strategies, in an email. “When I received my CFP designation that seemed to stop … The trust relationship that I have with my current clients allows for a wonderful dialogue, so there is no second guessing.”

Marianela Collado, co-owner of Tobias Financial Advisors, similarly said some clients used to question her guidance, though that no longer happens.

“The key reaction is to not let this get you down. If I would’ve allowed this to make me lose confidence and become the ‘victim,’ I wouldn’t get the opportunity to show them who really knew their stuff,” Collado said in an email. “Now I’m older and I don’t worry about that at all. I don’t see it happen, and even if it does, it doesn’t bother me. I like being understated and then showing up like fireworks.”

Amber Miller, senior financial planner at The Planning Center, said being a woman has helped business.

“Prospects and clients are seeking me out because I am a woman,” Miller wrote in an email. “They are looking for someone who will take the time and listen to them and explain things to them, which hasn’t been the case in their previous experiences with male planners.”

ADAPTING TO THE VIRTUAL OFFICE

Women advisers also appear to have had a better experience during the remote-work environment caused by the pandemic, results of the poll show.

Forty-three percent of women said that the transition to virtual platforms has made it easier for them to participate in industry events, compared with about 35% of men. About 36% of women said it has made life harder, a sentiment shared by 44% of men. About one in five men and women said it has made little difference.

Women were also more likely to say that virtual communication made it easier to work with clients (44%) than did men (34%).

Leveraging video for authentic adviser marketing

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