A stately looking woman made a reservation for a Wednesday night seminar I held downtown. Her name was Jane. She came alone, sitting up front nearest to me in the meeting room. After acknowledging her, and other ladies joining us, I got started about five minutes later.
At first glance, Jane appeared to be what I might call “unusually” attentive. By that I mean she seemed to be clinging to every word. And then, for a few moments, she would drift off, thinking and recalling, before returning to real time. I had wondered what she was thinking about. Later, when I spoke to her privately, I found out.
The more things change, the more they cannot stay the same
Jane is like many middle-aged and elderly women I have come to know. Many have become clients. Jane’s money was with their family advisor, the one that both she and her husband, Joseph, had been with for many years prior to his passing. When I met Jane she was noticeably disenchanted with “her husband’s advisor,” and didn’t hesitate to tell me about it.
I will preface this recollection by saying this was an isolated incident as told to me by a non-client at the time. It is not indicative of our industry in general.
Jane and Joseph’s advisor decided to retire after Jane was widowed and needed to “pass her off” to someone else. This immediately triggered her dissatisfaction. As time went on, Jane was initiating calls for client meetings. When she and the male advisor met, he ‘knew nothing’ about her, even after a few meetings. Their relationship was never personalized.
In fact, the advisor would simply bring up a report on the computer and nothing was ever shared with her in writing. The advisor didn’t know, or even ask, about her family situation either. Jane was paying a lot of fees, didn’t understand why she owned what she owned, and failed to receive the same level of service she and Joseph received. That this could ever happen is horrifying to me.
Compassion, education, and integrity go a long way
When I look at Jane, I see my dear grandmother, widowed at an early age, never remarried and raising her family by herself. She made all the financial decisions and always took care of everybody else first. She was a very special lady.
I grew up on a farm in a middle-class hard-working family. When I started college, I wanted to get into finance. So, I was an unpaid intern at an investment firm and also had a part-time job at a country club waiting tables. One day, I overheard some of the members talking about their money. Noni had recently passed away, and we were in the process of dividing up her estate. That’s when I realized she had no investments. When I asked my Mom why she said it was because she didn’t know who to call and who to trust. By my grandmother not investing, I can only imagine the impact it must have had on my family. Perhaps we would have had less financial hardship if she had only known who to work with, whom to trust, and how the process worked.
I think that drives me today – being that trusted contact – making sure women like Jane are in roles where they can learn confidently, become educated on their investments and make proper decisions. Anything less is too intimidating.
My real passion is working with women
I often think of other women who are not in a position to manage their money, and then, suddenly, they are. Most don’t know where to begin. They don’t understand it and, as a result, it prevents them from taking the next step. I prepare my clients for the day their spouse dies. I have to. It’s common in our business for widows to leave their financial advisors one to three years after their husbands die. I want to retain my clients, so I work a little harder to give them the attention they deserve.
Jane is my client. She worries about what most newly widowed women worry about – running out of money, not being a burden to their children, and being able to maintain the lifestyle she’s used to. When I first explained how we work, I also prepared a written plan tailored to her and addressing her specific needs. She receives more personalized attention today than she ever had in the past. Jane has brought new business to the firm. She has also referred other people to me in similar situations.
When some women come to me, it is way too late in the process. They didn’t have the proper relationship with their advisor, hadn’t been given the proper advice, and had been withdrawing too much money. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do at that point, other than to minimize risk if she’s in an aggressive model. She needs income, and she might be in risky investments to make money. But in reality, it’s doing the exact opposite.
My clients are smart, suddenly single women as a result of death and divorce. They’re good at what they do, but they are often too busy taking care of everyone else; therefore they haven’t the time or acquired knowledge to devote to their own finances or newfound responsibility, which leaves them overwhelmed or confused. So I make it an easier process for them to feel more confident and supported, and by cultivating a safe and comfortable atmosphere with an empowering environment here at Hefren.
I encourage my clients to recognize the strength of women’s leadership, in our local community and in our outstanding reputation at Hefren-Tillotson. Our Chairman and CEO, Kim Tillotson Fleming, is the perfect role model, and face of the company that people see all the time. She stands out as a true leader with a clear vision, which is important to women in general, and to financial advisors like me.