A new survey of female advisors finds some disconnects between certain perceptions and realities—and offers insights on ways to better attract and retain women in the advisory profession.
When asked what first attracted them to the advisor profession, nearly half of all survey respondents—43%—indicated that “helping people with finances” was their primary motivation—a finding even higher among early-career advisors (those with 1-4 years of experience), where more than half (56%) cited that sentiment. “Compensation” was a distant second for these early-career advisors—just 15% cited that as a lead motivator, according to “Success Factors for Female Financial Advisors,” a new report published by OneAmerica as part of its OneAmerica Female Retirement Professionals Program.
Helping people wasn’t just a point of attraction; when seasoned advisors (15+ years of experience) were asked the top three reasons why they remain in the industry, that was the most frequent response, with 79% of respondents including it in their top three.
Advisors with five or more years of experience reported that the greatest hurdles to success when they began their careers were:
- knowledge & training;
- work/life balance;
- new sales;
- limited number of women in the industry; and
- firm culture & leadership.
The survey found that these early-career hurdles were relatively consistent for advisors across channels—except that wirehouse advisors didn’t cite “knowledge & training” as an early career hurdle.
That said, and across all channels, “work/life balance”—a top 2 hurdle for early-career advisors—became increasingly important as advisors’ careers progressed, moving from the second to the top spot. At the same time, “knowledge & training” saw what was described as a “dramatic drop-off,” falling from the top hurdle to the ninth over the course of career.
The survey’s authors were able to coalesce their findings around four distinct areas of focus: confidence, community, connection, and culture. Here’s what they found.
The survey[i] found that more than 7 in 10 advisors with 15+ years of experience reported that it took between 4 to 10 years to feel confident in their skills and ability to help clients. The survey’s authors note that as confidence plays an especially important role in the success of early-career advisors—it’s a key factor to keep in mind in combatting attrition—and perhaps not coincidentally the survey found that up to 70% of advisors leave the profession in their first three years (estimated by Kitces.com), before they have reached the point where confidence builds. Illustrating the potential impact of structured training programs, experienced wirehouse advisors’ reported confidence skewed earlier (36% reported feeling confident in years 1-3) compared with advisors with an RIA affiliation, which skewed later).
Survey data also revealed that, for many female advisors, finding community within the industry is critical—especially as it relates to the aforementioned “gaining knowledge” and growing confidence. In fact, asked the most effective ways to build knowledge and confidence, respondents ranked “networking” first, followed by “mentorship.” Just 38% of respondents reported “sales training” as high impact in building knowledge and confidence, compared to the nearly 60% reporting “networking” as high impact. Many respondents also indicated that the opportunity to build this community of female advisors is particularly valuable—but can be hard to come by due to the lower number of female advisors in the industry.
The importance of personal connection emerged in other areas as well; 84% of respondents indicated that “client referrals” were either a “cornerstone of their practice” or had a “significant impact” on their business growth. “Networking” (71%) and “building out a center of influence” (58%) weren’t far behind. The survey authors noted a connection between the emphasis on personal connections and the opportunity to help others. Interestingly enough, free-form survey responses from several respondents pointed out that common perceptions of the industry—as one focused only on math and compensation—hide the true nature of the profession—helping others.
When asked what elements of firm culture best enable success, respondents collectively ranked “continuous learning & development” at the top of the list, followed by “empowerment” and “work/life balance.” While those findings were relatively consistent across advisors with varying levels of experience, the survey’s authors found some interesting differences as well. They noted that “empowerment” was significantly less important to advisors in their first four years of experience, when compared with all other tenure levels. In contrast, “team collaboration” was ranked as a top 2 factor for these early career advisors, but ranked toward the bottom among other groups.
The survey concludes that understanding the common motivations, hurdles and enablers of success will allow individual advisors and firms alike to shape environments where female advisors can thrive.
[i] During May and June of 2022, OneAmerica surveyed over 200 female advisors in the retirement and financial services industry, looking to both identify key themes as they relate to female financial professionals and capture insights on a variety of industry-focused topics. It was conducted as part of the OneAmerica Female Retirement Professionals Program, which officially launched in April 2021.