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A Woman’s Touch Can Reel in Assets

By Miriam Rozen October 31, 2013

At the very start of Barbara Hudock’s relationship with one of her wealthiest client couples, the husband, who has since died, came alone to their first session. She was an advisor at Merrill Lynch at the time, and the prospect had never spoken with her before. When he got home, his widow recently told Hudock, he said, “You’re never gonna believe it — I got a girl!”

Hudock, who began her career in 1975 as a secretary at Merrill, laughs about the episode. But the founder of Hudock Moyer Wealth Resources in Williamsport, Pa., which manages nearly $500 million, agrees with other top women advisors: Their success is both despite and due to their gender. Now that the discrimination has faded, they say, women should use their innate gifts to win prospects and forge client bonds that will last for decades. And male advisors would do well to think about adding a woman or two to the team, if they haven’t already.

There’s no question that the historical lot of women in the financial-advice industry has improved. For one thing, biases against female advisors have diminished. For another, because women are hardwired to build relationships, they’re excelling in the wealth-management business as it shifts away from stock jockeying and more toward understanding clients’ individual needs, dreams and worries. “At the beginning, being a woman was a disadvantage,” says Hudock. “I don’t think that is the case anymore.”

Many women advisors have followed the same trajectory, fighting doubt and prejudice early in their careers, then coming into their own as the industry — mirroring society in general — evolved. “I never felt like I was taken seriously when I began in the business,” recalls Sherri Stephens, who has a Raymond James–affiliated firm in Flint, Mich. In general, she says, she got fewer opportunities than her male counterparts, and she believes her experience was typical for women. “If I had been a six-foot male like my son, I would have had instant credibility,” she adds.

Standing Out

Today, far from being a liability, her gender is a big asset. “I think it’s become a tremendous advantage,” says Stephens, whose firm manages more than $390 million in assets. “As I evolved in this career, I’ve come to understand it’s as much about teaching and psychology as finance. I think women are particularly well skilled at those types of tasks. Plus we are good at multitasking.”

And Stephens doesn’t think it hurts to stand out. Women represent about only 15% of the industry, she says, adding that many prospects come to her because she’s a woman.

Janice Hobbs
That’s also the case for Janice Hobbs’s practice. The founder of Jan Hobbs Financial Group in Orange, Calif., which manages about $538 million in assets and is affiliated with LPL Financial, says men who expect their wives to outlive them often hire her rather than another guy. The reason: They assume (not always correctly) that their wives know little about finance, and that as widows they’ll be more comfortable with an advisor of their own gender.

Hobbs says her woman’s touch helps explain her firm’s excellent client-retention rate. By her current calculation, 83% of her clients have been with Jan Hobbs Financial Group for more than 10 years. She’s so close to many of them that she can choose just-right holiday gifts, Hobbs says, based on their hobbies, pets or favorite indulgences.

Not all women advisors who entered the business decades ago faced gender bias. For example, Lee DeLorenzo of United Asset Strategies in Garden City, N.Y., had the good luck to be hired by her father 34 years ago at the age of 19. Why? As president and cofounder of the firm they launched together, which now manages $660 million in assets, DeLorenzo believes her female intuition put her ahead of the curve on best practices that some men are starting to figure out today. “Women were already talking to everyone in the room,” DeLorenzo says. “We knew to look at both spouses. No one had to tell us.”