Mars, Venus and money: What women want from their advisors

By Kate McCaffery | April 19 2011 04:26PM

Things have changed so much over the years, that it can’t really be said that men are more involved than their female counterparts when it comes to investing.

With that in mind, it may be surprising to see surveys like the one conducted by Franklin Templeton Investments late last year, which suggests men are more confident about their investment knowledge and abilities. It also found that women with advisors were generally more confident about their investment knowledge and optimistic about the outlook for their investments than those without.

This last finding didn’t surprise Certified Financial Planners (CFPs) who reviewed the survey. They say the financial planning process itself removes a lot of mystery and gives most clients, both male and female, confidence about their future goals and financial plans.

They say the real difference between men and women as investors and clients, is that women tend to hope for the best while planning for the worst – women generally anticipate that things won’t always go smoothly in life and they will often gravitate towards more balanced planning than their male counterparts.

"I would say they’re less interested in the competitive nature of how their portfolio did compared to others," says Calgary-based CFP, Sterling Rempel. It’s a sentiment echoed by Rod Tyler a Regina-based CFP at Tyler and Associates Financial Services.

"If you’re speaking to men, often they want to focus on some external measure. They’ll ask if they beat the index or they’ll talk about a friend who invested in gold 10 years ago," he says. "I never hear that from women. Women, I find are a lot better at choosing a course and revisiting the plan. They keep applying it and they become more successful. It’s very common for men (on the other hand) to want to jump around as though there’s some prize for it."

He adds that women are more realistic about the challenges they are likely to face personally and as caregivers. "They understand that they will be the ones ultimately providing care; they’re astute enough to know they’re going to live longer and they want to address it, whereas men quite often want to push back or deny reality. They often just won’t deal with it. Women are very willing to deal with it."

The biggest, or perhaps most fundamental difference between men and women though, seems to be the amount of information each group requires before making a decision. "Men are generally okay with just understanding the overall concept and they are more comfortable moving forward with what might be incomplete knowledge," says CFP Cynthia Kett of Stewart & Kett Financial Advisors Inc. Women as a group, meanwhile, "need to feel that they fully understand investment strategies and products before they invest."

Among all three, there are certain themes repeated when the advisors are asked to describe their female clients: Women seem better suited to the cooperative work that is required when putting together a financial plan. "Often they are better at engaging in a dialogue and working through the process," says Mr. Tyler.

This trait Ms. Kett says probably helps a lot of female advisors in the field as well. Women are also generally less prone to aggressive extremes in investing and they’re usually far more receptive, particularly to insurance-related discussions.

So what, then, about this survey that says men are more likely to feel confident about their financial plans and knowledge? The Franklin Templeton survey says only 65% of women surveyed were satisfied with their investment knowledge compared to 77% of men. As well, 26% have a pessimistic outlook for their investments compared to 18% of the men surveyed.

"I don’t think it’s a measure of absolute knowledge but more a relative desire to know more," says Mr. Rempel.

Ms. Kett, meanwhile, says it’s probably more accurate to call the women realists rather than pessimists.

Any gender specific differences that do still exist between men and women likely "have more to do with our life experiences and the way that society views women and men," she says.

For example, the advisors say men do generally make decisions more quickly with less information. "They’re risk takers," she says. "Growing up they might’ve been playing competitive sports. They’re often rewarded in those years for taking risks and going for it."

As mentioned earlier too, women are very aware that when things go wrong – when marriages end, or when family members get sick, they are the ones who are often left holding the bag. "Women will often carry the load of looking after the kids and finding a way to put it all back together," says Ms. Kett. "It’s often the women who are picking up the pieces."

Jennifer Ball, Franklin Templeton’s senior vice president of marketing, says an investment advisor is a big part of bridging any gender gap remaining. She says those advisors who are most effective are those who understand that "many women don’t feel like they have the necessary time to devote to educating themselves about investments. Finding an advisor who can take it off their plates, but also educate them along the way, can really help the female investor feel satisfied that things are being taken care of. Understanding a women’s investment situation is the single most important factor that women look for. That can go a long way to developing trust."