YOUR PRACTICE-Financial advisers changing approaches for women

CHICAGO Fri Jan 17, 2014 9:30am EST

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CHICAGO Jan 17 (Reuters) - Financial adviser Khloe Karova counsels her mostly female clients on a lot more than investments: career strategy, salary negotiations, budgeting - even life goals. She has been known to make house calls to keep them on track, questioning big-ticket purchases such as cars that haven't been accounted for ahead of time.

"I have women across many different generations and backgrounds," says Karova, a Chicago-based adviser with $25 million under management. "I solve problems through the lens of finances."

Karova's holistic approach toward her clients, most of whom are accumulating their wealth, is just one of the ways financial advisers are offering more comprehensive services to cater to the distinct needs of women, among the fast-growing groups of investors.

The emphasis on women comes at a time when women in the U.S. outlive men by an average of six years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means women whose husbands die before them suddenly might have to take control of their family's finances.

It might sound cliché, but to resonate with the growing ranks of financially independent women, advisers need to find ways to better connect with them. They have different demands and preferences than male clients.

A PERSONAL CONNECTION

First and foremost in an advisory relationship, female investors look for good listeners, followed by problem solvers and technical investment experts, according to research conducted by Hannah Shaw Grove, an expert on private wealth management who has surveyed high-net-worth investors.

They also cite bad personal chemistry as a deal breaker, which makes the first meeting - when emotional bonds typically are formed - crucial, advisers say.

"Our goal is to let them talk more than we do," says Patricia Farrar-Rivas, the San Francisco-based managing partner of Veris Wealth Partners, a national wealth management firm with roughly $650 million of regulatory assets under management. "They want dialogue. They want to be listened to and treated with respect."

Women often come to the table with more questions than their male counterparts do and frequently prepare for the initial meeting, says Farrar-Rivas. By the time a woman meets an adviser for the first time, she has likely done research online and talked to friends and acquaintances about the firm, its strategy and potential investment choices.

Her firm tries to be competitive by working with women on a "full financial picture" as part of the overall service. It also presents potential investments based on the client's specific interests, such as community building or education.

A FINANCIAL EDUCATION

Kimberly Foss, a financial adviser in the Sacramento, California, area, says many female clients - especially those newly widowed or divorced - rely on her to fill in the gaps in basic financial education.

She is careful not to patronize, noting that some clients have told her they came to her from their prior advisers for that very reason.

"(Women) don't want to be lectured to," says Foss, whose boutique firm manages $200 million for high-net-worth clients, but they still crave information about investing basics and financial markets.

EMPATHY

Just being a woman and having similar life experiences can foster a connection. In Morristown, New Jersey, Jennifer Murray has focused on working with female investors since she started her practice in 2006, two years after becoming a widow in her early 40s. She didn't intend her firm - Stonebridge Financial Advisors - to develop a predominantly female clientele, but it worked out that way.

"Because of my own experience  I was getting referrals from friends and colleagues of women who were recently widowed," says Murray, whose firm has $47 million under management.

She decided not to fight what was clearly an advantage - that her clientele takes comfort in knowing their adviser has weathered similar financial challenges. They often want to connect on a personal level, asking questions about how Murray handled specific situations after becoming a widow.

Many of her clients need to work on basic budgeting issues; she has them complete an expense worksheet for fixed and variable income and sometimes distributes their investment earnings in the form of a monthly paycheck.

In recent years, she has found ways to market directly to women, such as creating a company website that offers advice for specific life events and resources such as books and other websites tailored to single women.

"When they go to my website, they go, 'Oh, my gosh, this is me," she says.

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