Advising professional women

By October 16, 2017 October 20th, 2017 Claire in the media, Financial planning

“The number of Australian women who are in need of financial advice is on the rise.”

Claire discusses what her professional women seek from their advisor.


  • Women control over 27% of the world’s wealth
  • Women influence how wealth is managed — 66% of women in all the countries sampled (the US, UK, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore) identified as primary decision-makers over household assets
  • 53% of the women surveyed did not have a financial adviser. Of the 47% who did have a financial adviser, 67% felt misunderstood by their adviser.

According to Quantum Financial’s principal and head of advice Claire Mackay women, in particular, are looking to create a bond and are great networkers.

“I network with them outside of the client-adviser relationship. We’re supportive of each other, and the conversations are not just about their wealth plan. It’s about their careers and about their families,” she said.

 “We’re all going through similar issues, and supporting each other through that is fabulous. That means that you’re more referable to other like-minded clients.”

The typical financial profile of professional women

Mackay identified her typical professional female clients as generally aged 40 or older.

 “You cannot pigeonhole a professional woman, but in terms of the common characteristics, they’re smart, savvy and driven,” she said.

 “They have successfully built up their careers and a degree of wealth with that. These women come to me because they realise that they don’t want to keep working forever and wish to build on their success to be able to create their dream retirement.”

Financial goals

Mackay reiterated that professional female clients have very clear goals regarding what they wish to achieve.

“For most of my professional clients, the mortgage is not a concern, and insurance is even less of a concern,” she said.

“It really is about focusing on, ‘When can I retire?’ and, ‘Can I have the lifestyle of travel?’ and all the other dreamlike things that they enjoy doing, with a focus on financial independence and freedom in their later years.”

Non-financial goals

It is essential for an adviser who is working with a professional female client to understand that a lot of the time, the non-financial goals involve preparing for and dealing with specific personal life events.

A common issue that professional women face relates to job security and longevity. Mackay explained that as a result, discussions outside of wealth planning are often around skills development.

“A number of my clients have pursued opportunities overseas in start-up businesses and the like, so our discussions are far reaching,” she said.

“I have a number of clients in the media — which is a challenging industry and job space at the moment — so working closely with clients and understanding their needs at a personal level is vital because these professional women are financially dependent on themselves.

“Making sure that they have confidence and opportunities and that we work through these opportunities while keeping in mind what that means for their finances is important as well when it comes to their non-financial goals.”


Professional women have to be conscious of the issue of longevity, both in relation to their own career and the fact that their life expectancy is generally longer than that of men. As a result, the need to have appropriate insurance and superannuation in place is essential.

According to Mackay, women should also be conscious of the importance of long-term wealth building rather than “quick-hit” solutions.

“My professional women clients have a focus on building up their superannuation. As one of my clients said, ‘This is me. There’s no-one else, and I’m concerned that I’m going to have to start supporting my parents and my sister too, but I’m the one that’s got to support myself. There’s no plan B’,” she said.

“Also, with greater review of our superannuation system and the wider concerns around women — the pay gap and the breaks in careers — there is an awareness that women on the whole generally have less superannuation than their male counterparts.”

What advice would you give a middle-aged woman who was worried about not being financially prepared for a comfortable retirement?

“I remember speaking to a woman exactly in that situation, where she knew that she was in her 50s, she didn’t have a great deal of super, and she was concerned about her financial security, going forward,” Mackay said.

“The key thing is, yes you could have made decisions yesterday or last year, but once you make a decision, it’s never too late. So, yesterday was great, but today’s just as good — it’s that focus on, ‘This is the first day of the rest of your life’.”

Gender disparity

The 2015 Westpac Retirement Readiness Report determined that there is a $145,000 gap between the median superannuation account balance for women and men, aged 60 to 64, in Australia.

The three chief causes of the superannuation gap consist of:

  1. The gender wage gap
  2. Time out of paid employment
  3. Working hours.

The gender wage gap

There is currently a full-time average weekly earnings difference of $277.70, which is equivalent to a full-time gender pay gap of 17.3%, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2015.

Time out of paid employment

Many women become mothers or primary caregivers, resulting in irregular career paths. This can impact heavily on finances by limiting future career options, influencing short-term cash flow and reducing contributions to superannuation.

Working hours

Females have a higher likelihood of working in part-time employment.

Are women less interested in investing?

Mackay believed that women’s regard for investment is not so much a lack of interest, but a difference in financial priorities.

 “It is one part of a holistic approach to their finances and to their financial security,” she said.

 “There is a tendency for men to want to focus on the exciting decision-making around specific investments, whereas women are more concerned about making sure that they have complete financial security across their financial affairs.”

Life events that prompt women to seek financial advice

Mackay observed that women are often prompted to seek financial advice due to career success or when confronted with major challenges.

“Their business is at a certain point or their practice is at a certain point. They’ve received promotions or their business is growing into the next stage and they have really focused on, ‘What am I doing with this wealth’ and, ‘How can I make it work for me?’” she said.

“The other side of things is when there are challenges — the death of a partner, separation — and it’s really about, ‘That stage of my life has come to an end. This is the next stage of my life. How do I best utilise what I have to look after us in the future?’”

Working with financial advisers

When assessing financial advisers, professional women typically value the ability to focus on their overall financial picture as the most important attribute — ahead of focusing on portfolio returns — according to the 2014 Affluent Women Retirement Survey by US bank Wells Fargo.

US market research company Versta Research conducted the survey of 1,872 women — between the ages of 40-79 — holding a minimum of $250,000 in household investable assets. The survey found that 40% rated the “ability of the adviser to take a holistic view” as most important, trumping both the “portfolio rate of return” and “the relationship” with the adviser

Holistic advice

Financial advisers who are interested in attracting and retaining professional women clients should take note of these preferences in their approach to these clients. As determined in the Wells Fargo survey results, the type of advice typically sought by professional women is holistic advice.

According to Mackay, it is very rare that female clients want transaction-only advice.

“It’s typically a partnership that they’re seeking to create with me, and working together for their financial security. The really important thing is that we partner with our clients, they recognise that we’re working together, and that they have valuable input to bring to the table,” she said.

“Also, working together in the other areas such as in their family, their career, and the other aspects of what they define as wealth.”

Mackay identified that this differs from the approach taken by professional men, which is generally more transactional.

“It’s transactionally focused right down to investing decisions because that’s where they find the exciting part, whereas typically professional women realise that it’s one aspect of a greater scheme,” she said.

Winning the hearts and minds of female clients

It is important for advisers — before they begin tailoring their approach to female clients — to understand the attributes that separate the sexes. According to US wealth psychologist Kathleen Burns Kingsbury in her 2013 book How to Give Financial Advice to Women: Attracting and Retaining High-Net-Worth Female Clients, there are five main differences that should be taken into consideration when it comes to working with female clients: communication, interpersonal, learning, neuroscience, and wealth (see Figure 2).

According to Mackay, one of the most effective additional services that a financial adviser can provide as a value-add — to attract and retain professional women as clients — is extending services to their family members.

“One of the things that a lot of our clients, particularly our female clients, really appreciate is that part of our service is to give general advice to their children,” she said.

 “Their concerns are really about the people that they care about — their parents and their children — so working with them to help their parents into appropriate accommodation and appropriate financial structures because they are generally the person in the family that gets called upon to help out.”

“Must-have” skills

Mackay highlighted that technical skills are essential and clients, both female and male, won’t be fooled if they sense that these skills are lacking

“Interpersonal skills and the ability to empathise are absolutely essential because professional women are seeking a partner. They’re not seeking someone to tell them what to do,” she said.

“They’re seeking someone to be their partner, to build and protect their wealth and to create confidence that they have financial security.

“The really important thing is being able to communicate in a way that they understand — the use of jargon and barriers is a real turnoff for a lot of professional women clients — because they’re smart and savvy. They’re good at their job. They don’t want someone to make them feel that they shouldn’t understand their own finances.”

Working with couples

Mackay noted that advisers should be conscious of the particular relationship dynamics when working with a couple.

“We always ask in the early days of the relationship with clients that they both come to the meetings. What we generally find is that over time, one person will take the lead, but it doesn’t mean that they’re taking the lead in only the decision-making,” she said.

“What we find sometimes is that they might take the lead in the management, but power of veto rests with the other — it’s that making sure you’re building the relationship with both members of a couple.

“If something happens to that person and they’re no longer around, you might not have a strong relationship with the female and, therefore, you might lose that relationship.”

Addressing the gender imbalance

At the end of 2015, the AFA determined that of all financial advisers in Australia, only 20% were women. Mackay shared her experience as a female in this very male-dominated industry.

“When I first started going to events with my father, it was ‘male, pale and stale’ and I was one of the only females in the room. I was certainly one of the youngest people in the room,” she said.

“I’m not so young anymore and not necessarily the youngest in the room, but it’s still overwhelmingly dominated by men. I think that’s a shame because females are great at working in the advice industry, but also clients are seeking them. If you’ve only got a choice of male advisers, then you can’t necessarily identify with a female client.

“If you’re only trying to attract a certain type of client, then that’s fine. But if you’re wanting to broaden your client base beyond what you represent, then you need to bring in people that can identify with that client base.

“There has been a huge push in our profession in recent years to encourage development of great female advisers. There are various industry awards recognising female financial advisers, which is brilliant because it inspires the next generation. In every business, that balance brings a different way of thinking.

“It’s that collaborative approach. It’s that partnership and your clients are seeing that you’re supporting diversity in your business because they’ve got daughters, they’ve got nieces, they’ve got sisters, and they want their families looked after just as well as they are.”

Mackay added that there’s no doubt that some professional women are seeking a female adviser and they are quite open about it.

“They’re seeking people that they can identify with. If someone is self-selecting and asking for a female adviser, no matter how good a male adviser is, he can’t be female. That is just the way of the world,” she said.

“That’s why if you’re building a practice with other advisers, encouraging the development of female advisers in your business is critical.”


In today’s society, women are working more, earning more and taking a more substantial role in the financial planning of their own and their families’ security.

For advisers, a sharper focus on this segment of the population and more careful tailoring of their business approach to professional women — requiring an understanding of their specific needs and willingness to approach the advice process in a way that works for them — will only be beneficial to their business over time.

Claire Mackay

About Claire Mackay

I am a financial planner, SMSF expert and company director. I thrive on providing independent, expert financial advice to my wonderful clients. I was recognised as Financial Planner of the Year 2015 and Investment Adviser of the Year 2014. My website is here

Leave a Reply