TORONTO Canadian financial adviser Frances Summerhill has always felt a special connection with female clients, but her focus on serving women is about more than just rapport: she sees growth opportunities in their increasing wealth.
"More women are starting businesses than men right now, more are graduating from university ... and there will be a wealth transfer as women outlive their spouses. So women are going to be in control of a lot of money," said Summerhill, a veteran financial planner at Scotia Capital Inc in Sudbury, Ontario, 400 km north of Toronto.
While many women have long voiced dissatisfaction with the service they receive in a male-dominated financial industry, a shift in household decision-making and an aging population mean they are the fastest-growing market for financial advisers.
A 2012 study by Bank of Montreal's Nesbitt Burns full-service brokerage found 82 percent of Canadian women are either the primary decision-maker of have equal responsibility for household financial decisions.
Only 30 percent felt the financial services industry is serving them well, and one third said they believed they have different wealth management needs than men and should get different advice.
"Women represent an incredible growth opportunity and business development opportunity, so advisers ignore that market at their peril," said Susan Misner, who co-founded goldengirlsfinance.com and co-authored the book "It's Your Money, Honey: A Girl's Guide to Saving, Investing and Building Wealth at Every Age and Life Stage", in 2012.
Misner, a 20-year veteran of the wealth management industry, said financial advisers long focused on the male client, even when talking to a couple, believing women were less interested.
"That's why statistics show that upon the death of a spouse, 80 percent of women will switch advisers," Misner said.
While the bulk of financial advisers are still men, the industry is changing as more female clients arrive.
Advocis, the Financial Advisors Association of Canada, said just 25 percent of its overall membership is female. But 38 percent of members who joined in 2012 were women and 38 percent of new advisers, in the industry less than five years, were women.
Winnipeg financial adviser Arlene Marsh has been in and out of the financial planning industry for 22 years, focusing on women clients. She said female investors can be more risk-averse, but they value a relationship and are eager to be educated.
"You can't use the quick-sell method with women, they have to trust and respect you," Marsh said. "Take some time to do some education. But women are longer-term thinkers, and easier to manage as clients because they look at the big picture.
"They are not the type to be in and out of the market, looking for the next best deal. They are looking for long-term solutions and if you can keep them on track they are exceptional long-term clients."
Scotiabank's Summerhill agrees. She said advisers should focus on strong planning and goal-setting and spend less time discussing returns and product sales.
But advising is about substance as well as style, because women face different financial obstacles, Summerhill said.
Women live longer than men, but mostly spend fewer years in the workforce. Their income can be interrupted as they care for family, and they tend to retire younger than men. They also tend to head more single-parent families than men.
"All of this means their financial plan needs to be approached differently," said Summerhill, noting that women often need to fund a longer retirement on less money.
With the obvious appetite for financial planning for women, advisers looking to build their business may ask: Can a man get traction as an expert in financial planning for women?
Absolutely, said Tom Venner, a financial adviser in Dundas, Ontario, southwest of Toronto. Venner, who became an adviser six years ago after a long career in medical research, said a lot of his early clients were single women and it became a specialty.
"I quickly began to see that there is a difference in that particular clientele, how you approach them, what they respond to better, what they expect from me."
While he doesn't recommend advisers focus solely on female clients, he said advisers should know how to serve women, particularly the need for extra retirement income and their vulnerability to the financial ravages of divorce.
"I'm here to provide advice for anybody, but I know that women might take a different approach to investing," he said.
"They understand security ... more than just gains and losses. The appreciate protection on the risk side. It's just a different language that you have to use."
(Reporting By Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Janet Guttsman; and Peter Galloway)