Do you know if any of your clients are going through divorces? Do you know if any of them recently lost a parent? Chances are you know a lot less than you think.
Thats what Salomon Smith Barney discovered last year when it began designing a marketing program to help its brokers reach women going through painful life transitions. We were surprised to hear many financial consultants werent aware their clients were going through these transitional events, says Mindy Ross, SSB senior vice president of target market initiatives, New York. Their clients didnt tell them.
So SSB decided to give brokers a tool to identify and help clients experiencing these challenges. In February, the firm rolled out a nationwide Women in Transition seminar. It kicked off with conferences in Phoenix and Beverly Hills, Calif. Brokers were urged to invite clients and prospects going through divorce or recent widowhood. About 250 women investors and brokers attended each conference, along with other financial advisers invited by brokers.
At the January 28 conference in Beverly Hills, a panel of experts answered questions on the psychological, legal and financial implications of divorce and widowhood. The speakers included Jacalyn Barnett, a New York family law attorney; Tessa Warschaw, a psychotherapist and author; Michele Williams, vice president, Citibank Private Estate and Trust Department; and Laura Wolf, managing director of Smith Barney Asset Management. Each participant received a copy of Warschaws book, Rich Is Better: How Women Can Bridge the Gap Between Wanting and Having it All Financially, Emotionally and Professionally.
The speakers urged women to slow down in making short-term decisions that could have long-term implications. They advised women to create a financial team of investment advisers, attorneys and CPAs, and regularly meet with them. Warschaw challenged women to form a dinners and dollars group to regularly take members of their financial team out to dinner and quiz them on issues theyre concerned about.
The firm has packaged a seminar kit based on the conference and is distributing it to branches (see Seminar In a Box, below).
Where might reps find clients and prospects who want this type of information? Look for a daughter with a father whos very old and in poor health, Ross suggests, or prospect within retirement communities for both men and women. Look at people in the sandwich generation caring for both children and elderly parents. Reach out to families. Ask them if theyre prepared for these transitions, she says.
SSB broker Lauren Weissmans approach to the business typifies the firms new focus on women. She became a broker at the Beverly Hills branch two years ago after a 12-year career as an attorney. Her network of family law attorneys has helped build her book. She also works with womens investment clubs and every other month holds a seminar for women.
A big problem for women is that the Social Security benefit paid out to women is on average 23% lower than that paid out to men, Weissman says. Also, 90% of women will either remain single, get divorced or be widowed. But to hit [women] with statistics doesnt help because most dont think theyll ever be there.
Weissman has found that many divorcees want to dip into their retirement to pay for their childrens needs. They tend to go after higher yielding investments, but they dont realize theres also higher risk. At the same time, they also know they need education about their finances.
Weissman attended the Beverly Hills conference along with family law attorneys in her network and a friend going through a divorce, who in turn invited a friend. I was surprised how the conference opened her up to talk about what was going on in her life, Weissman says. The conference has prompted me to do my own seminar on a smaller basis to target these women.
Women in Transition is the latest in a three-year effort by SSB to increase the number of women clients. We originally identified three markets: women corporate executives, women entrepreneurs and women of inheritance, Ross says. We got a lot of feedback from FCs, saying their clients were raising many questions about divorce and widowhood. They asked us to customize this initiative for them.
Women now account for 40% of Salomon Smith Barney clients compared with 27% in 1995.
Salomon Smith Barneys Women in Transition seminar kit includes a video roundtable discussion featuring conference speakers, a seminar script, news articles on transition issues and a brochure developed by New York family law attorney Jacalyn Barnett entitled, A Guide for Women in Transition: The Journey to Financial Empowerment.
The 12-page guide presents three hypothetical case studies: two women going through divorce and one recently widowed. It includes Barnetts answers to their legal questions, examines short- and long-term financial needs and possible strategies, and lists 10 things women should know about financial planning.
The firm has not set a goal on how many seminars it hopes to hold around the country this year. We want branch managers to do with the seminar package whatever is appropriate for their market, says Mindy Ross, SSB senior vice president of target market initiatives. We feel this initiative is best handled going forward on a smaller scale so that women will feel comfortable opening up to FCs, and the FCs will be able to answer questions in more depth.