Push Is On for More Female Financial Planners

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By Kimberly Palmer

Ever since Manisha Thakor, the founder of MoneyZen Wealth Management, entered the financial services field, she's been one of the few women at the table. "In my early 20s, I tried to behave like the other people around me by wearing dark suits, being serious and showing no sign of feminine energy, but eventually the real me broke through," she says.

As her real self, which Thakor describes as "authentically quirky," she has found her greatest success: Now in her mid-40s, she runs a thriving business helping clients –- who are mostly women –- manage their money, and she is also a popular author, speaker and expert on personal finance issues. She attributes her ability to get ahead in a male-dominated field to her early financial education: Her father taught her about investing when she was 11. She was fascinated and went on to pursue an investment banking career and then an MBA at Harvard University.

Many leaders in the financial services field hope that more women will start following Thakor's path. According to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, 23 percent of CFP professionals are women, which inspired them to launch an initiative to attract more women into the field last year. "There are so many women who are not seeing that opportunity [to become a CFP]. ... Men do not indicate that same lack of knowledge about financial planning," says Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate for the board.

Old Boys Clubs? Sharks? Lower Pay?

Tim Maurer, a certified financial planner and director of personal finance at the BAM Alliance, a group of independent advisers, says there's a perception of the industry as an "old boys club." "Although there's been some improvement, there's a lot of truth to that perception," he says.

An April report by the board found that women are less aware of the financial planning field than men, and they also believe that the profession is focused exclusively on quantitative analysis and number crunching rather than long-term relationships with clients. "Financial planning is not the same as making investments or product sales," Blayney says. "It's a much more comprehensive, holistic, relationship-driven kind of practice. You're working with people over time, and not just putting a life insurance policy in place and moving on. You're a problem-solver for individuals and families."

Another issue is the salary discrepancy women face in the field, Blayney notes. The pay differential between male and female financial advisers is significant. Aite Group surveys from 2012 and 2013 found female financial advisers earn on average $32,000 less than male advisers. "The pay differential is disturbing, but not all that surprising, because we know it's the same in many other professional areas," Blayney says.

More Personal and Relational

Some female financial advisers report that being a woman can be an advantage. Thakor built a wealth management practice serving primarily female clients with $3 million or more in assets. Some clients, especially women, say they prefer working with a female adviser. "Female advisers are more naturally skilled in the more personal and relational elements of planning," Maurer says. "It would be a mistake, however, to presume that they are less skilled in the more technical and analytical elements of a planning practice."

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%To bring more women into the field, the board plans to increase education and awareness of the profession, starting with young girls and continuing on up to women in college and business graduate school. "They can see that jobs in the financial services aren't all 'sharks on Wall Street'. ... it's a profession that's built around helping others," Blayney says. She adds that the job also allows a large amount of flexibility and telework opportunities, which can help parents of both genders balance home and work responsibilities.

Thakor thinks the first step is introducing girls to financial concepts at an early age, as her father did for her. "I've noticed boys tend to engage in more 'social talk' around business and money concepts in high school and college than girls do," she says, which can help kids become more familiar with finance-related fields. As a result, she adds, "When the option of being a financial adviser comes up as a possible career path, it feels more relevant to their lives."

Plus, "Attracting more women will in turn become part of the solution, because they will have more role models and mentors," Blayney says.

12 PHOTOS
10 Tough Financial Questions You Must Ask Your Soon-to-Be Spouse
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Push Is On for More Female Financial Planners
Your credit score can affect your ability to start a family, buy a house or replace a car. Once you've married, your partner's credit score can be your problem, too, and it's not one you want to find out about after you file a loan application. Hint: It's a bad sign if your intended can't or won't answer this question.
Most of us consider this to be a closely guarded secret, but you can't hide it from your soon-to-be spouse for long. Nor should you. As you plan a life together, you need to know that both of you have realistic hopes and expectations about the lifestyle you'll enjoy.
You should know whether the person you're about to marry is living paycheck-to-paycheck. Many young people just starting out haven't banked much, and can't. But together you can work out a plan to establish an emergency fund covering three to six months of expenses.
A truly embarrassing question, but one that must be asked. Marrying someone makes their debt yours, too. And a substantial debt can wreck the lifestyle you want together. There is a worst-case scenario here: If the person you're planning to marry is skipping out on obligations like a student loan, credit card payments or child support, you might rethink your choice of partner. If your loved one just has poor spending habits, work it out together now.
As a couple, you need to decide whether you will keep your money in separate or joint bank accounts. Kadish notes that many couples opt for both, with a joint account for family expenses and separate personal accounts to cover day-to-day spending. Agreeing in advance on their use prevents squabbles later, not to mention the potential for bounced checks.
Talk about whether the health coverage each of you has is adequate to your needs as a couple. You may find that your partner's policy is better than yours, and that you can opt into it.
You or your spouse may have other job benefits that affect your joint planning. If, for example, one of you is eligible for a pension, that's a factor in your retirement planning. In any case, there's paperwork to be done, like adding your spouse's name as a beneficiary.
As a couple, you need to hash out your expectations for day-to-day life, and month-to-month spending. Will you eat out often? Is an annual vacation necessary to your well-being? Would you rather sit on the floor than buy furniture on credit? You need to understand each other's priorities. And if you're wise, you'll craft a spending plan that formalizes those priorities, so you're not spending carelessly.
Your retirement benefits are an asset that each of you brings to the marriage. You need to know what each of you is contributing now, and make changes if necessary. If, for example, your partner has a better 401(k) matching plan, it could affect your joint savings decisions.
You're getting ready to share the rest of your life with another person. Make sure you share dreams and aspirations as well. The colorless phrase "financial goals" covers a host of expectations for your life ahead. But you can't reach those goals without a plan -- so start crafting it now.
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