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10 Investing Tips From Successful Women

Lou Carlozo

For all its versatility as a search engine, Google might as well be Mr. Google when it comes to finding women in the investment industry.

"If you do a Google image search for a financial advisor, you will mainly see pictures of men -- older, white men," says Jocelyn D. Wright, assistant professor of women studies at The American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. "Our industry has a real image problem. It needs to highlight the work of women in the business so more and more people -- practitioners and consumers alike -- know that women do exist and are successful."

Yet the problems of women in the financial world don't stop there. Put a woman in front of a male financial advisor -- especially in the presence of her spouse -- and there's a strong chance she'll become the proverbial third wheel, rolling along while men chart the course.

"Women are empowered in so many ways today, but unfortunately, finance is not among the top categories," says Sally Brandon, vice president of client services at Rebalance IRA in Palo Alto, California. "When it comes to financial literacy, women need to get out of the back seat and into the driver's seat -- or at least the passenger seat."

So how do women make meaningful progress as investors and financial stewards? Female investment experts supply 10 observations and tips to help women assert their rightful place in the marketplace landscape:

It's OK to be anxious and unschooled, but find someone who gets it. K. Esther Szabo knows all about the place where life's hardest knocks and financial setbacks meet. Thwarted from college by her parents' bankruptcy and widowed at 49, it took her years to assume her mantle as CEO of Gates Pass Advisors in Los Altos, California. "As a female advisor, I allow my clients to be listened to about their anxiety without framing it like a failing," she says. "Discussing nonfinancial goals and passions allows my clients the opportunity to shine in the areas that they're experts in: their work, relationships, children, pets, their passions."

Women can win the numbers game. Women have some inherent advantages in terms of how they approach investing, says Meg Luo, associate professor of finance at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "I don't think the investment world is intimidating to women, but it is intimidating to any people who are not good at numbers. Research has shown that women are more risk-averse when it comes to trading, while men typically trade more often and lose more also. So women, on average, when they trade, are not inferior to men in terms oWatf performance," she says.

It's a 2-to-1 gap. While women can outsmart men because of their investment approach, that doesn't mean they're nearly as willing to take the leap. In a recent report, Minneapolis-based Thrivent Financial found that 18 percent of women invest in stocks, versus 40 percent of men. And 14 percent of women have a financial advisor, versus 29 percent of men. "When it comes to investing in stocks and bonds, the comfort level just isn't there for women the way it is for men," says Vera Gibbons, a financial analyst and journalist who partnered with Thrivent on the study. "This has been the case for some time now."

Look for someone who speaks your language. Male advisors can certainly work with female clients, but they're at a disadvantage if advisors are largely data-driven, jargon-driven or low on the empathy meter. "We speak the same language and find that we can connect with our female clients more easily and quickly," says April Wilson, vice president at Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co.'s Pacific Capital Resource Group. "A lot of times we have the same interests, challenges and concerns as other women do, and we can be a resource to each other. We know the importance of listening and explaining things in a manner they can understand."

Open up. Women often don't talk about investing -- with their spouses or anyone else -- because they lack confidence. Kathleen McQuiggan, senior vice president of global women's strategies for Pax World Management in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recalls attending a personal finance presentation led by a prominent journalist. "She started by asking the room full of very successful, accomplished women professionals, 'How many of you are rich?' and not a single woman raised her hand. I think most women today believe their lives are very rich, but they don't feel comfortable talking openly about their money," she says.

Watch out for your own gender bias. You don't have to be a man to dismiss a female financial advisor as less knowledgeable, even if that person has the goods to help your investment portfolio take off. "As a female FA, it is not always easy to prove I'm just as capable of handling the financial affairs of a client as my male counterparts," says Sara Gelsheimer, a senior financial planning associate at Plancorp in St. Louis. "It takes some clients a little more time to realize I can answer their financial questions, not just make copies or schedule meetings."

Move the money focus. Women often show outstanding core competencies with money, but it's largely in the area of family budgeting, especially where kids of domestic priorities are concerned. "Women tend to put everyone before themselves," says Barb Pietrangelo, a financial planner with Prudential Advisors in Ada, Michigan. "They need to be financially set themselves before the help others. Once they are set, then they can help. Some women help family so much that they put themselves in difficult situations. Then there is no one to take care of them," she says.

Watch out for marginalizing language. This could be bad news for advisors as much as it is the women they serve, says Jill Jacques, vice president of North Highland, an Atlanta-based consulting firm. "Too often, advisors refer to 'my client and his wife' instead of 'my clients.' That is why 70 percent of women leave their advisor after their husband dies. Some advisor traits are generational and institutional, but as the world has evolved toward more equality, financial firms and advisors need to accelerate their evolution," she says.

Think teamwork. Just as a balanced marriage can change the way the investing picture gets painted, a team attitude can also translate to the other side of the table. "Teams with both female and male advisors work very well together, as they tend to complement each other," says Carin Pai, head of equity strategy at New York-headquartered Fiduciary Trust Company International. "At our firm, we host many events that cater to women and encourage participation to educate them. We try to make it simple by just suggesting what questions they need to ask themselves or their spouses."

Make sure to redefine "long term." Financially speaking, women have pressing and unique challenges as they approach retirement. "Women are concerned about outliving their income, since they are living longer and have a higher likelihood of being single during their retirement," says Bellaria Jimenez, managing partner with MetLife Solutions Group in Iselin, New Jersey. She cites statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services that show nearly half of women live alone by age 75 -- and by age 85, twice as many women as men live by themselves.

Regardless of how fast things change today, "It all starts with our girls," says Zaneilia Harris, author of "Finance 'n Stilettos" and president of Harris and Harris Wealth Management Group in Maryland. "We need to begin educating them about investing early. Expose them to the opportunities investing brings. When a mother knows how to take care of herself financially, she will innately pass that trait on to her children."

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