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Are Women (Finally) Taking the Reins?

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At FJY Financial, men and women hold equity and the top compensation slots in equal numbers.

“It’s 50-50,” reports Majorie Fox, a senior financial advisor and founding partner in firm, based in Reston, Va., which has more than $400 million in AUM.

Fox and another female senior advisor are joint owners of the firm, along with two male senior advisors. Among the firm’s other employees, women are the overwhelming majority. Only one man is among eight nonowner staff members at FJY. “We clearly have been welcoming to women,” says Fox, a 30-year industry veteran who started the firm in 2006.

Fox recognizes, however, that this is not only the case at many other financial services firms, particularly at the wirehouses and large institutions, but also at the independents.

While men and women are employed in equal numbers at financial service industry firms, women are not rewarded proportionally in equity, management clout and compensation, according to a survey of 351 firms by the consulting group FA Insight.

The survey, which asked about hiring and compensation patterns, also showed that 28% of the women employed at firms have ownership.


The industry is poised for change, however, say Fox and other women owners. Better compensation and advancement opportunities are on their way.

For one thing, technological developments, including the growth of robo advisors, have prompted clients to put more value on planning services (which women are perceived as excelling at delivering) and less on portfolio management (which typically qualifies as a male-dominated domain).

In turn, women owners predict firms will respond by elevating female employees. They also expect firms to offer greater financial rewards to female advisors who are better in providing the planning services clients seek.

“There is a lot of interest in promoting women within the industry, and a lot of discussion about the lack of women’s participation in senior advisory roles and management,” says Dan Inveen, a FA Insight principal and director of research, who conducted the survey.

Until recently, facts and data have been hard to find about women’s compensation and their roles at independent advisory firms, Inveen says.

“We were probably overdue to start asking about these questions,” he says. Since no parallel historical data are available, Inveen cites only a “hunch” that the opportunities for women have improved.

While a gender gap in compensation may have been even greater in previous decades, the survey showed one still exists. Specifically, while women represent half the workforce among responding firms, “most of the women are dominant in administrative and support positions and they are much less prominent in advisory or technical roles,” Inveen says.


In addition, women’s share of management roles is not proportional — not even close to 50%. Even when they do get to manage, women tend to occupy what Inveen calls the more tangential roles, such as “director of marketing,” and not ones that net
top pay.

FJY is a rare exception, Inveen says. At that firm, women have ownership, seniority and some of the highest compensation.

“We haven’t lived some of the issues that the rest of the industry has,” Fox says. She knows her firm represents an exception, because she formerly worked at others where the ratios were much different.

“I came from a firm where I wasn’t one of the boys,” she recalls. But she predicts a brighter future. “I’m not being Pollyannaish,” she says, adding that planning skills are becoming more important to clients and women’s unique touch in that area will soon be recognized — and rewarded — by their firms. 

Evelyn Zohlen, founder and owner of Inspired Financial in Huntington Beach, Calif., agrees, though she recognizes that it may take time. Women often enter the field after other careers. “We were doing something else successfully before we got here and we are not compensated for prior life experience and our actual value,” she says.

Inspired Financial, which has $125  million in AUM, employs a five-member team; three are women.

The industry has historically undervalued women’s contributions, Zohlen says. It is a mistake, not only in terms of equitability, but also in light of what she refers to as the “skirt-lifting” consequences of robo advising’s growth.

Robo advising has begun to expose the fair market value difference between investment advice alone and advice coupled with financial planning services, she says. As that difference becomes more apparent, women will gain the edge in the industry and gain better compensation and management status.

“We will be better compensated in the future,” Zohlen predicts. She adds that the “qualitative” components
of client relationships are rising in significance. Those softer skills are “really going to distinguish” women advisors and lead to their advancement, she says.


In the advisory world for 23 years, Kelly Rigas has worked for wirehouses and has owned her own firm. She prefers the latter.

In 2012, she founded KR Wealth Management in Dallas, which has more than $100 million under management and three employees, all women. At the wirehouses where she’s worked, Rigas recalls that keeping her compensation at the same level as her male colleagues, even the less productive ones, required constant communication with her managers so she could underscore her value.

As a woman in the industry, Rigas has concluded that she is better off owning her firm, thereby controlling her destiny and her compensation.

“Inherently, women are better at this,” Rigas says. “I have repeatedly heard from my new clients about their former male advisors being patronizing. I understand my job is to make sure my clients understand what we are doing.”

For women entering the financial services industry, the independent sphere offers enviable opportunities, including flexibility in work hours that can help mothers raise their
children, Rigas says.

If women want to boost their compensation, Rigas recommends they focus on client retention. Keeping clients is more than just offering solid investment results.

“Clients stay with an advisor they like even when the market is down,” says Deena Katz, co-chairwoman of Evensky & Katz/Foldes Financial Wealth Management. That trend bodes well for female advisors, Katz says.

Her firm manages over $1.5 billion in assets; with offices in Miami and in Lubbock, Texas, it employs 28 people, 12 of whom are women. At Evensky & Katz/Foldes, women account for 29% of the managers, 23% of the owners and 33% of the senior advisors.

The proportionately smaller representation of women in the management, ownership and senior roles “is not because we discriminate,” Katz says. “It’s because we cannot find women in this industry at that level. We have a hard time attracting them.”

That was even more true nearly a decade ago, when she began selling equity in her firm to senior advisors, Katz says. At that time, most senior advisors were men.

But because clients no longer use portfolio performance as the only way to judge an advisor, “women will be more involved in the womb-to-tomb issues” about which clients now want help from their advisor, Katz says.

“The industry is moving toward a much more holistic view of financial life. That will be better opportunities for compensation for women. But we are very much in transition,” she says.


At industry conferences, it’s easy to detect women’s scant representation in highly compensated senior advisory and management roles, says Cheryl Holland, who leads Abacus Planning Group in Columbia, S.C.

“Look around and you see it’s mostly men,” she says. Abacus has more than $850 million in assets, and 26 staff members, including 18 women, two of whom are shareholders.

Holland, one of those shareholders, wants to help other women succeed. She’s hired women and helped them develop the skills to assume more senior and better compensated positions. “I don’t see it as a burden or an obligation, but as an honor,”
she says.

She especially relishes opportunities to talk to women about what the career offers not only in terms of compensation, but also flexibility. Once women understand those gains, they perform better on the job, she believes. “Something about motherhood ups your game,” she says.

Holland’s female advisors bring perspectives to client meetings that would be missing if only male advisors were present.

“When we are putting together a team for a client, we are always careful to have a mixed team because very few people can jump the gender fence,” she says. “There are some exceptions. But it’s a rare skill.”

There is one roadblock, however, she says. It’s women’s risk aversion. “Becoming a shareholder and an owner is stepping out into the unknown and taking a risk,” she says.                                 

Miriam Rozen, a Financial Planning contributing writer, is a staff reporter at Texas Lawyer in Dallas. Follow her on Twitter at @MiriamRozen.

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