Has Wall Street finally lowered its testosterone level?
The nurturing female rep who listens well and builds well-functioning teams is seen by some as a role model for all brokers.
Women brokers talk about a much more female-friendly industry emerging in just the past few years. “I'm seeing proactive recruiting of women all over the Street,” says Michelle Owens, a broker with Salomon Smith Barney in Bethesda, Md.
Susan Bradley, a Raymond James & Associates rep in West Palm Beach, Fla., has noticed firms' ads featuring women brokers. “Whether it's reality or not, firms now believe that women are better at the planning and relationship side of the business.”
Bradley says Raymond James recognizes that women have the skills the firm wants. “They're committed to hiring more female reps and keeping those we have,” she says. “The difference now is that it's coming from the top down.”
The firm holds an annual symposium for women brokers. It also has a women's advisory council of 11 senior female reps who work with management on recruiting and training women, and networking opportunities for newer brokers, says Michelle Danielson, a retail sales vice president who heads the networking effort. Danielson also runs an e-mail group of women brokers to pass on ideas, articles and success stories.
Joan Reilly, a Prudential Securities branch manager in the corporate headquarters, has experienced change at her firm. At a recent national branch manager meeting, managers decided to start a women's group to help women get to the next level, whether by increasing production, getting into branch management or moving up in corporate management.
Some see irony in the position women are assuming. Jennifer Elmore, a 17-year veteran with Dain Rauscher in Denver, remembers when the message was clear from firms: “Women, you need to be like men to succeed.” The message Elmore hears now? “Men, you need to be like women to succeed.”
No one disputes that women bring different strengths than men to managing client relationships and their businesses. “Women are the caretakers,” Reilly says.
Better listening skills tops the list of women's strong points. “I've found in my work with a male financial planner that once he feels he knows the problem, he wants to give the solution,” Bradley says. “But the problem is clients haven't had the chance to express themselves. Clients need to understand themselves before they can understand us. Women have more patience to listen to the same story over and over.”
Women brokers also note that along with greater sensitivity to clients comes a natural desire to educate. “We're a little more detail-oriented about the dance we do before getting someone in investments,” says Kelly Kennedy, a Raymond James Financial Services broker in Denver. “We ask how they feel about the ups and downs of the market. We're more cautionary.”
A better sense of order also characterizes women brokers' books, Reilly says. “We're more organized about our business because it's still our job to organize our families and homes,” she says.
Jill Bradley, a First Union Securities branch manager in Louisville, Ky., sees differences in how women in her branch lead teams compared with male-led teams. “Women are more careful in adding members; they evaluate what role everyone in the team takes,” she says. “Men tend to add members by trying out someone and seeing what happens. Women are more comfortable about their sales assistants developing skills. I get resistance about that from men brokers.”
Whether women's natural consulting skills and other abilities give them an advantage over men in brokerage is up for debate. Some say yes, women are better positioned for success.
“The success of a financial adviser depends on how he or she makes an emotional connection with the client and builds trust,” says Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D., of Financial Psychology Corp. in Sonoma, Calif. “Women innately are much more equipped to handle this.”
Broker coach Matt Oechsli believes women have an advantage, especially in large metropolitan markets. Investors are used to being approached by transaction-oriented brokers because of a misperception that big-city investors don't want to take time for planning, Oechsli says. “But people don't want a hard-charger handling their finances, so the relationship-oriented woman can have an advantage.”
Jill Bradley emphasizes a planning approach to business building in her recruiting, and that attracts women. Half of her 19 brokers now are women. She concludes that women have an advantage because they are more comfortable with long-range planning and providing ongoing service.
“I had one businessman client tell me he liked dealing with women because they were better at servicing and listening,” Jill Bradley says. “Another man client said he was shocked to find his CPA, attorney and broker all were women. He said he didn't plan it; he just felt more comfortable with them.”
Openness about emotions may aid women in serving certain clients. Susan Bradley leads seminars for financial planners on her specialty — working with people who have suddenly come into large sums of money. The men have trouble applying her process of working through these investors' emotional issues to develop a planning strategy. If they want to work with these folks, she recommends they team up with a woman in their branch or find an outside counselor to bring to the first few client meetings.
In addition, women reps tend to remember the niceties more readily, and that's important for client retention. Reilly says she's seen a number of men brokers lose business because they forgot to talk about clients' children and hobbies or failed to recognize birthdays and anniversaries in a personal way.
There's a same-gender comfort issue that may boost female reps' businesses. Elmore finds she penetrates extended families through the women, not men. “Retired people come to me because the man is looking for a woman broker,” she says. “He'll say he wants someone his wife will be comfortable working with when he dies.”
And female reps with female clients may find themselves more richly rewarded when it comes to referrals. In her own business, Jill Bradley has found more than 75% of referrals come from her women clients, and they refer both male and female friends.
Some say women have no innate advantages.
Patti Branco, an independent broker trainer in Ventura, Calif., says she's surprised at what she's concluded from her work in the past two years: Success has nothing to do with gender.
“In the early 1990s, I felt women had an advantage because they're more nurturing,” Branco says. “When I was a manager for a bank broker, I could put a woman in a region where a man had not done well, and the woman would always do well.
“Then I trained 6,000 brokers at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. I discovered it's a sensitivity issue. Men have been able to find that nurturing part in themselves that women naturally have,” Branco says.
A woman might have an advantage in initially getting an investor to sit down and talk to her, Branco says, but it's all equal once the hellos are out of the way.
Reilly believes that men are narrowing the advantage gap quickly. “Men are very quick learners,” she says. As the markets have gone down the past year, she's seen male brokers develop the client relationship skills women have already honed.
The move to broker as consultant is benefiting women only in that they no longer have to adopt a business style that's alien to their nature, Owens says. After nine years in the business, she doesn't see men brokers struggling to adapt or women enjoying a leg up. “At the end of the day, I don't think the issue is worthy of attention,” she says.
Any advantage women brokers may have in the new consultative world could well be short-circuited by a lack of women in senior management, some brokers say. Jill Bradley doesn't see any change in the number of women at the top. “Men are still afraid to hire women; they're still looking for mirror images of themselves.”
A veteran wirehouse broker on the East Coast agrees: “Senior management now is saying, ‘We must take the consultative approach,’ but what do they know about how to do this if they're all men? No one talks about whether different skill-sets are needed in senior management. Firms will handicap themselves for the future if they don't recruit and train women for senior management positions.”
Learning to Speak Up
Being overly humble doesn't work in the brokerage business. So self-effacing females may have a tougher time unless they can shake that trait.
Joan Reilly says women are often fearful of touting their skills to advance themselves. Reilly, a Prudential Securities branch manager at the firm's corporate headquarters, experienced it in her own career. After more than 15 years as a broker, Reilly thought she was ready for the challenge of branch management. She told no one.
One day her branch manager mentioned he thought she'd be a good manager. When Reilly said she thought so, too, he asked her why she never spoke up. “I couldn't give him a good answer,” she says.
And all the innate consultative skills in the world couldn't grow Jennifer Elmore's business until she learned to speak up. After seven years in the business, the Dain Rauscher broker in Denver read “How Men Think” by Adrienne Mendell and began making some changes.
“I found women need to learn male communication skills so they don't get run over,” Elmore says. “I never thought about going to my manager and saying, ‘I just opened a $1 million account.’ I figured he'd just know.”
In talking with men clients, she realized she needed to trumpet her accomplishments a bit and be prepared with a written list of services at which she excels. Men want to be told directly about the quality of the person they're working with, Elmore notes.
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