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Women Helping Women

Women are underrepresented in the planning profession, but some are working to change that.

Veena A. Kutler and Annette F. Simon, 02/26/2009

This monthly series of articles describes the many steps and occasional missteps we have taken in building our financial advisory business, Garnet Group LLC. Currently, Garnet has eight staff members, more than 90 clients, more than $300 million in client net worth under advisement, and offices in Bethesda, Md., and Boston. Veena Kutler, CFA, and Annette Simon, CFP, are the managing principals in the Garnet office in Bethesda.

Our firm, Garnet Group, is a owned, managed, and staffed by women--all of our eight staff members are female. Beyond our own ranks, more than 90% of our clients are either women on their own or married couples. From our perspective, women are heavily involved in financial planning--but we are far from the norm for our industry.

Only 25% of all CFPs and 29% of NAPFA members are women. Knowing that financial planning is a challenging career that uses both left- and right-brain skills, which can allow for significant personal freedom and provide a good, steady income, we, and many other female advisors, are dismayed that more women are not entering the field. We're doing what we can to change the male-female imbalance in the profession.

NAPFA's Women's Initiative
Toward this end, Annette joined last year with two other NAPFA colleagues (Jean Sinclair and Cheryl Costa) to take the reins of the NAPFA Women's Initiative, a program developed to attract, support, and develop women as leaders within our profession. The NAPFA Women's Initiative was launched by Peggy Cabaniss several years ago when she retired from her role as NAPFA chairman.

Like us, Peggy was confused and saddened by the underrepresentation of women in our ranks. She convinced the NAPFA board to fund a trial initiative to open the lines of communication between women within NAPFA and to make room on the various conference agendas for women's networking sessions. Since its beginning three years ago, the Women's Initiative has hosted women's roundtables and presented panel discussions of some of the specific challenges and rewards women from across the country and all types of practices have found in our profession. These sessions at NAPFA's National and larger regional conferences have been universally well-attended and well-received--and have even included a few men who want to support the growth of women in the financial planning field.

Last year the NAPFA board approved and funded a continuation and expansion of the Women's Initiative--allowing us to bring in speakers and sponsor women-only networking events at the National and regional conferences. Already in 2008 at the West and Northeast/MidAtlantic conferences the Women's Initiative presented a very successful workshop for women advisors. 

At the 2009 NAPFA National Conference (June 3-June 6 in Washington, D.C.) the initiative will sponsor an educational session, open to all and presented by Deena Katz, who is an associate professor of financial planning at Texas Tech University and a longtime financial planning practitioner. In addition, there will be a women-only networking session featuring a presentation by Eleanor Blayney, who has had a fascinating and storied career in financial planning and is about to enter another new phase of it.

Eleanor Blayney
Blayney had been practicing as a planner in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C., area for about three years when she teamed up with Greg Sullivan, Jim Bruyette, and Peter Speros in 1991 to form Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros and Blayney. Sullivan and Bruyette came from the financial planning group at Ernst & Whinney, where they learned the ins-and-outs of serving high-net-worth clients. Speros was a professional football player before earning his CFP and becoming a financial advisor. SBSB's goal when it opened was to reach $100 million under management in five years. The firm exceeded that goal in three years and continued to grow rapidly, attaining $1.5 billion in client assets under management over the next 15 years.

The key to SBSB's success? A focus on teamwork and meticulous attention to client needs and experiences. As a managing director and partner at SBSB, Blayney was involved on many fronts, but her particular expertise was investment management, an area for which she became the go-to person in the firm.

Even before her success with SBSB, Blayney was always a hard worker, and has accumulated an impressive list of academic, professional and personal achievements. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Cambridge University and holds an MBA from the University of Chicago. A member of the Financial Planning Association, Blayney also served as on its Ethics Committee and as a member of the Planned Giving Committees of two Washington, D.C.-area organizations, the Wolf Trap Foundation and INOVA Hospital Systems. Blayney has been an adjunct faculty member for the College for Financial Planning in Denver and is a member of the Alpha Group, a national network of investment advisors. She also served on an advisory board to the TIAA-CREF Institute, on the CFP Board of Practice Standards, and the Associates Board for the Wolf Trap Foundation; and she serves on the boards of the National Women's Party and the National Hospice Foundation.PAGEBREAK

In 2003, SBSB was acquired by Harris Bank in Chicago. The bank was interested in expanding its wealth-advisory expertise and capitalizing on synergies. Following the acquisition, Blayney agreed to move to Chicago to help Harris establish and develop the wealth-management business there. While she enjoyed living in Chicago and the challenge of bringing the 'SBSB way' to Harris, Blayney decided after four years to retire and move back to the D.C. area. When asked if there were any surprises in her stretch with Harris, she told us that while the overall experience was positive, she had probably underestimated the differences in culture between the RIA and banking worlds.

After her retirement, Blayney took some time off and considered her next move. Ultimately, she felt it was the right time in her life to focus even more on giving back to her community. As a first step in this direction, Blayney accepted the newly created role of consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. In her new role, she reaches out to consumers on a variety of financial planning issues including how to survive the current economic environment. More recently, Blayney has also decided to dedicate her energies to a cause very close to her heart--helping women to help women.

Woman to Woman--Direction$ LLC
In order to achieve this goal, Blayney has founded Direction$ LLC, a network of women CFPs whose tagline is: because women ask for directions. Direction$' mission is "talking to women about money in and on their own terms."
Specifically, Direction$ is a financial planning curriculum, designed and delivered by experienced women CFPs to circles of women who are interested in taking charge of their financial lives. Learning takes place through conversations rather than one-way instruction or unprocessed advice. Direction$ is based on the conviction that financial planning for women needs to be different in both content and delivery. It's not enough to take the same old materials and stick them into a pink folder.

As Blayney points out,
Women are becoming a financial force to be reckoned with: in the next decade, they will control more of the world's wealth than men. Their longer life expectancies, and the female realities of interrupted careers, lesser pay for equal work, and greater risk aversion mean that women often face greater financial pressures than men, and this in turn necessitates different financial strategies and recommendations. PAGEBREAK

These recommendations need to be delivered in terms that make intuitive sense to women. Theirs is not a language of results or competition or winning and losing--these are terms and concepts that research has shown to be far more appealing and motivating to men. Most women prefer to focus on shared experience and qualitative benefits. All women hate to be patronized when it comes to talking about money.

We concur. We also agree that female clients respond well to a planner who focuses on education, long-term goals and objectives, and risk reduction. Moreover, in all of our experiences, female clients tend to be more interested in the relationship with the planner versus the hottest new stock, although appropriate returns are important. The differences between male and female clients go well beyond pink.

Eleanor pointed out that there are greater numbers of women than ever who are single through choice or circumstance, and who will need guidance now and as they age. We at Garnet have taken notice of this and have been struck, as well, by the power of the Hillary Clinton phenomenon--middle-aged women who want to take charge of their lives and are reaching out to other women to help them.

We're looking forward to the NAPFA Conference in June, where we will hear more from Blayney and from Deena Katz. And in the longer term, we look forward to more balance in a profession that offers so much for talented, ambitious women.

Veena A. Kutler, MBA, CFA, and Annette F. Simon, MBA, CFP, are founders and principals of Garnet Group, LLC -- www.garnetgroup.com, a fee-only wealth management firm with offices in Bethesda, MD and Boston MA. Both are NAPFA Registered Financial Advisors with more than 30 years of financial planning and portfolio management experience between them. Garnet serves the needs of high net worth individuals and families in the Boston and Washington, D.C. areas

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