How Women Can Get What They Want (and Need) from a Financial Adviser

Improving women’s experiences with financial professionals starts with honest conversations and some smart questions. And picking the right pro – one who knows how to listen – is critical.

A mom works on her laptop with her toddler looking at a tablet next to her.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The personal finance industry has improved its female-focused inclusion in recent years, but there is still work to be done. Whether it be one-on-one meetings where goals and priorities are not truly addressed or where a woman feels left out of the conversation, women report feeling as though they’re not receiving the same guidance they want and need from an adviser.

Nevertheless, demand is there. Findings from Fidelity Investments2021 Women and Investing Study revealed that 77% of women believe if they had a financial adviser to help them invest, they’d be more confident about their financial picture.

My experience in wealth planning makes clear that every client, regardless of gender, has different wants and needs. I find clients are most comfortable contributing to conversations when all parties commit to discussing services, goals, priorities and dreams surrounding the client’s financial picture.

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

For those seeking to nurture or improve relationships with female clients — and vice versa — keep these points in mind.

Qualities women tend to look for in advisers

Female clients are not a monolith, and no two women are the same, but studies demonstrate trends women look for in advisers. According to Fidelity Investments’ Investor Insight 2020 study, women choose an adviser based on their reputation, expertise and personal characteristics. I like to shorten this to a “know, like and trust” relationship.

What do they know about their adviser? What do they like? What do they trust? Is there a personal connection in addition to a business relationship? Reputation and expertise play a significant role, but if a woman does not feel a connection with an adviser, the relationship will likely not be fruitful. In comparison, men tend to choose an adviser based on specific assets and services offered. Statistically, women are not more likely to choose female advisers over male advisers, but rather individuals who satisfy the key “know, like and trust” factors.

Needs and services

Women want their investments and planning strategies to tie in with their values. An adviser may explain the best asset allocation or give advice on how the client’s portfolio should be structured, but unless they address how and why the complete financial plan is beneficial to and a reflection of her values, she may feel misunderstood or ignored in advising.

Getting to the root of the client’s values also opens the door for opportunities to educate them about their financial picture. For example, if a mother shares her priorities related to her children, she may be more interested in knowing how the investments and planning strategies benefit her family and children, as opposed to historical investment performance.

Many women want additional services to help navigate family dynamic issues, particularly regarding care for loved ones. Clients are often in situations where they’re caring for aging parents while simultaneously raising their own children. According to a recent Bank of America study on women and financial wellness, 58% of women who leave the workforce do so because of caregiving responsibilities. Working with an adviser to strategize care for a loved one will help mitigate financial and emotional stressors clients face.

Women also cite career coaching and salary/income coaching as services they find lacking with their advisers. For people who are still working, receiving feedback about how they can advance in their career or negotiate a salary to earn more money goes a long way in empowering them to advocate for their personal, professional and financial needs. Having this conversation and the others discussed here help build trust between the adviser and client.

Questions women should ask advisers early on

As described above, men and women differ in the qualities they seek in an adviser. Because of this difference, men and women often ask different questions when interviewing potential candidates. Women often focus on relationship-based questions while men ask more service-based questions. Below are several helpful questions women (and men) can ask to gauge their relationship with an adviser and the types of services and resources they can expect to receive. These questions might differ based on whether a client is looking to choose a new adviser or continue with an existing one.

If a client is looking to choose a new adviser, she might ask various questions related to expertise, scope of service and the adviser-client relationship, such as:

  • Who is your typical client?
  • What is the demographic you typically work with?
  • How are you compensated?
  • What does an engagement with you look like?
  • What services do you provide? Will those services extend to my family?
  • Do you ever partner with other professionals with different areas of expertise?
  • How will you hold me accountable to my goals?

These questions lay the foundation for developing a road map for success, and help clients gain a clear understanding of what their goals are and how strategic partnership with an adviser will provide accountability for those goals.

Questions advisers should ask all their clients

From the beginning of their engagement, advisers should start by setting goals and getting to know their client. For existing relationships, it’s important to revisit these questions periodically:

  • What’s important to you?
  • What does investing do for your family?
  • What are the goals for your family?
  • What legacy do you want to leave for your children or grandchildren?
  • How can I help you be accountable and achieve the goals we set forth?

By prioritizing these introductory questions from the start, advisers can establish a stronger foundation of trust and understanding with their clients.

Addressing both spouses in advising

Advising couples has greatly evolved. Fidelity Investments recently reported that over 70% of millennial women now invest outside their workplace retirement plans. That percentage just five years ago was only about half that figure. It’s essential that advisers work to engage both spouses to create a comfortable and inclusive environment.

In many married couples, husbands often take the reins in investment conversations with advisers, but this dynamic is changing. Women are increasingly becoming the family breadwinners, and women control nearly 90% of household budgeting decisions. Women also statistically outlive their male partners and, therefore, are likely to be responsible for their financial health longer into their retirement years. Engaging both spouses encourages a balanced level of input and allows the adviser to develop a more comprehensive planning strategy with the couple — one that honors all parties’ wants, needs and values.

Looking ahead

The industry has made strides toward more equitable conversations about women and finance, but there’s still much work to be done to foster environments that acknowledge and respond to women’s priorities and include them in decisions that ultimately impact their success and livelihood.

As advisers begin asking impactful questions and addressing both spouses when advising couples, women will be more equipped with the knowledge, tools and resources they need to ensure holistic financial planning is a meaningful, highly valued experience.


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Ali Swart, CFP®, MBA
Managing Director – Wealth Planning, Waldron Private Wealth

Ali Swart is responsible for strategic leadership and management of Waldron’s Wealth Planning Team, focusing on providing a world class financial planning and client experience. In addition to her management and leadership responsibilities, Ali simplifies the wealth complexities for a select group of multigenerational ultra-high net worth families. Ali also leads Waldron’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion endeavors, co-hosts the Wealth Simplified podcast, and has a passion for increasing financial literacy and awareness.