Forget boilerplate agendas and scattershot mailing lists. Salomon Smith Barney brokers Corinne Miller Crabs and Angela Sutter listened to their women clients, took a fresh approach to seminars and issued invitations selectively. Lunch at Microsoft, anyone?
The Bellevue, Wash.-based reps started "The Wealth Program," a series of monthly workshops for affluent women. The twist is in the meeting location--a public company, the perfect place to talk investing.
Pathogenesis, Weyerhaeuser, Targeted Genetics and Nordstrom have welcomed the workshops to their offices. Upcoming hosts include Microsoft, Immunex and Boeing.
In a program lasting an hour and a half, an expert addresses a specific financial topic, followed with a talk by the CEO or an executive from the host firm. Some are lunch time programs, others are held in the late afternoon.
Planning the Program Three years in the making, The Wealth Program evolved from informal lunches Crabs and Sutter held with a group of executive women clients to discuss financial subjects. "We provided a setting where they could talk confidentially about these issues and be mentors to each other," Crabs says.
But the women desired something more structured than the lunch meetings. Crabs and Sutter listened and did some market research. "We learned that women wanted to become more comfortable and confident with their finances," Sutter says. "And we found that once they have confidence, women gather information and make very good financial decisions," Crabs adds.
The brokers made a commitment to create a 12-session program covering a range of topics, including investment choices, asset allocation, retirement planning, family wealth management and philanthropy.
Though they maintain separate businesses, Crabs and Sutter work together on this program. They invested more than 20,000 dollars in marketing and materials, including a workbook with information for each session and a glossary of terms.
They incorporated SSB-approved items, but they wanted to put their own stamp on everything they distributed. "We wanted it to be unique and fun, and we wanted everything to have a consistent look and feel," Sutter says.
A professional graphic artist, copywriter and marketing consultant were hired to help. The brochure reflects the reps' focus on serving female clients. Creatively illustrated with photos of flapper-era women, the piece took a year and 10,000 dollars to produce.
The invitations to the November "Getting Fired Up" kickoff luncheon were printed on vellum and cost 7 dollars each. Crabs and Sutter sent 300 invitations to women they knew and referrals from women they knew. Demographics varied; some were stay-at-home moms and some had high-level positions in corporations.
The only prerequisite was that each woman should have at least 100,000 dollars in assets to invest, although no attempt was made to verify this. They trust the source of the referrals. Sutter explains, "Research shows that women tend to refer up."
Debuting the Workshop Almost 100 attended the program's debut at Seattle's Sorrento Hotel. Dana Bruttig, founder and chair of Captura Software, talked about balancing her personal and professional life, and developing a personal mission statement, which she wrote about in her book, "The Days of Wine and Software."
Laura Berry, vice president and portfolio manager for Smith Barney Asset Management discussed philanthropy. Tina Noble, executive director of Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income women with job wardrobes, also addressed charitable giving.
Philanthropy as a theme ran through the kickoff meeting and will continue to accent other sessions, too.
"We found affluent women tend to be philanthropic," Sutter says. "We're trying to bring philanthropic awareness to younger women." The workshops create an environment for mentoring in which women from old money familiar with philanthropy mingle with younger women.
Thus far, the regular sessions have covered various aspects of retirement planning and estate planning. At lunch time meetings, guests enjoy a box lunch while they listen.
Crabs and Sutter lead off the meeting, then an expert addresses the financial topic for the first 45 minutes. Almost an hour is allowed for an executive of the host firm to discuss stockholder-related issues. In some instances, the women have had a guided tour of the company as well.
Measuring Success The team doesn't talk about success in terms of new clients because they believe it's too soon. They see the program as a long-term investment. However, they have achieved the interest and visibility they'd hoped.
The workshops, which began in January, have an average attendance of 45 to 50. The reps prefer to keep the group small, but they do encourage each woman to bring a friend, so new prospects come to each session. Because some women missed the kickoff session, the reps plan to repeat it. When all 12 sessions have been completed, they plan to start all over.
Crabs and Sutter have the energy for it since The Wealth Program fits right in with their objectives. "Our mission is to encourage and educate women in the area of philanthropy and mission-related investing," Crabs says. "This is our passion."