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Leveling the Playing Field

Upgrading the Wealth Management Experience for Women
July 29, 2010 by Peter Damisch, Monish Kumar, Anna Zakrzewski, and Natalia Zhiglinskaya

As wealth management clients, women are both significant and undervalued. They control about 27 percent of the world’s wealth (meaning that they decide where the assets are invested), yet more than half of the women we surveyed feel that wealth managers could do a better job of meeting the needs of female clients—and nearly a quarter think that wealth managers could significantly improve how they serve women.

The survey, conducted in early 2010, was prompted by our annual global-wealth research, which showed a disparity between the significant number of women clients and the level of service they typically receive. The survey had about 500 respondents, each with at least $250,000 in bankable assets. It was complemented by more than 70 interviews with private-banking specialists and wealthy women around the world.

Many wealth managers either overlook women as a discrete and important group or else use superficial strategies to reach them. In fact, some of the most common approaches are worse than ineffective—they can alienate the very clients they’re meant to attract, particularly if they revolve around “women-labeled” products, pitches, or promotions that come across as patronizing or contrived. Wealth managers need a more nuanced approach.

Women told us, in no uncertain terms, that they want a level playing field—they want the same attention, advice, and terms and deals that men get—with advisors providing clear and objective recommendations based on their goals and risk profiles. At the same time, however, more than 70 percent of the respondents said that wealth managers should tailor their services for women. This may seem contradictory, but the desire for a tailored approach is really a sign that women have distinct needs and expectations as clients, and that private banks have more work to do when it comes to the most important axiom in wealth management: know your client. Put simply, women want their advisors to understand who they are and what they want.

Leveling the playing field presents a significant opportunity for wealth managers, many of which are fighting harder than ever to win back or retain clients. By recognizing both the importance of women and the reasons why so many are disappointed with the industry, wealth managers can attract new clients and strengthen loyalty. And they can do so by fine-tuning, rather than reinventing, their approach to serving women clients.