Brooke’s Note: We didn’t plan this but it’s a perfect followup to yesterday’s article that mentions the exact scenario of male advisor not looking at female client…what they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School, perhaps because the presume you have that much common sense. See: How a suddenly wealthy, young Bay Area widow found her RIA after months of fruitless efforts.

The young couple, determined to start planning their financial future, spent 45 minutes interviewing a financial advisor referred by a friend. As the couple walked away, the wife looked at her husband and said, “He never once looked at me.”

Years later, Sallie Krawcheck stood on the podium in front of hundreds of Smith Barney financial advisors and completed her personal story — she was the young wife in the story — by sharing the words, “BIG MISTAKE.” See: Sallie Krawcheck talks tough — and with disarming openness — online about the glass ceiling and lip gloss.

Sallie’s situation continues to be a challenge for many women today.

My own mother spent years sitting beside my father as he and their female financial advisor discussed their portfolio. Finally, at age 70, she called me and said, “I want another financial advisor to manage my money, our current advisor never talks to me and just to your father.”

This was one of the few times my mother was willing to defy my father’s wishes and make a change not to his liking. This is indicative of the level of internal frustration women feel but won’t tell you. Today, my mother has her assets with a male advisor who treats her with the dignity and respect she wants and deserves. See: One Santa Fe woman’s female-centric approach to advice is attracting clients to her iconoclastic RIA.

Obligatory pre-printed card

Allison, a good friend and neighbor, is a joint owner with her husband of a sizable estate. She openly shared with me that she was rarely if ever approached by their advisor. Her only contact was the “obligatory pre-printed holiday card” he sent every year, a cheap reminder of her “valuable relationship.”

After I introduced her to another advisor with whom I had coached, she came to my house and just raved about the experience. Now divorced, Allison has transferred her $6 million to a new advisor who took the time and effort to visit her home, get to know her and help her become educated and comfortable with her investment decisions. See: Dorie Rosenband’s tough questions about being a woman broker led her to become an RIA.

Serious attrition

These true stories are simply a sampling of the experiences I hear from so many women, reminding us that women won’t tell their financial advisor that they are not happy, they just leave. This poses a significant threat to the future success of every financial advisor. See: How to market to women: Don’t.

Women are becoming a significant force in the financial arena. According to “The Female Economy” (Harvard Business Review, September 2009) “By the end of the decade women will control over $22 trillion, 25% more than today’s national debt.”

While women have always been the ultimate recipients of inheritances, today they are earning more wealth and becoming more engaged in managing their wealth than ever before. The Prudential Study of Affluent Women 2010 found “85% of women say they are involved in making financial decisions for the household, but they are not happy.”

In a study done in 2009, the Boston Consulting Group shares: “An unhappy woman will leave her former advisor less than three years after losing a spouse to either death or divorce.” Considering the divorce rate and women’s longevity, this can add up to some heavy attrition. See: She’s the boss: Keeping assets means keeping the power of the family matriarch fully in focus.

Willing to commit

To succeed as a financial advisor you must embrace the women’s market and make them your greatest asset. Women are searching for advisors who have a sincere desire to help them become more financially secure and savvy. When women recognize a desire to commit to their issues they will become your most loyal clients and raving fans. They will gladly introduce you to all the women they know; All you have to do is ask, listen and learn.

This is the difference between the hunter and gatherer mentalities. Referrals are one of the greatest benefits of working with women. Most women love to share information with others so everyone wins as a result. When your desire to address women’s issues becomes known, your gender becomes insignificant. See: Eavesdropping on the Women Advisors Forum: Rainmakers share their secrets. Hint: They revolve around finding a niche.

Letting women take the wheel

So where do you start? For male advisors this may seem a bit more daunting than for female advisors, but even female advisors, after being weaned in the male-oriented world of finance, can lose touch with women’s issues. Whether you are a male or female advisor, the answers you need are right there in your backyard.

Your female clients can help you become more effective at engaging the female client; you simply have to ask. You can reach out one by one or create a group setting (focus group) which can be even more effective at gleaning valuable information and potentially new prospective clients. Simply ask the right open-ended questions and women will immediately begin sharing their thoughts and ideas with you as well as with each other (this peer interaction is important). See: What three consumer-investors told CEOs at the Tiburon conference in New York.

Eventually the women will drive the conversation. You will leave this meeting with a plethora of insights and ideas, valuable information that you can apply to your business. The women will leave inspired by your commitment and with a desire to help you succeed and inspired to share your new focus with other women they know.

That’s when the magic begins; it’s really that simple.

XX-rated focus group

Here are eight focus-group questions that can give you insight into female clients:

1. What has been your experience working with a financial advisor? Who has worked with a financial advisor? What did you like about your advisor? What did you NOT like about your advisor? Who has had a similar experience?

2. What prevents women from becoming more engaged with their financial affairs? What would encourage women to become more involved? How can an advisor make the process more appealing to women?

3. What are the three biggest financial concerns you have right now? How are those issues being addressed right now? (Be sure and write these down, they are important)

4. If you had all the money in the world and could only spend it in three ways, how would you spend it? (This is what is considered their “purpose” for their money, not necessarily a “goal.”)

5. When working with a financial advisor, what is the most important factor and WHY? (Be sure and challenge them on this, asking others who would agree or disagree.)

6. If I held a series of events for women, what are some topics you would find of interest? (You may need to provide some suggestions to help them along.)

7. What kind of environment would be ideal for these events?

8. If you could suggest just one thing that I should do to create a more female friendly environment, what would it be?

Their new project

The key to your success with this event is to remember that it’s about the women, not you. Your job is to ask important questions, encourage participation and absorb their thoughts and feedback. With this simple lunch, you can quickly build a team of new allies. These women will leave determined to help you succeed in your mission to connect with and engage more women with their financial lives. And don’t be surprised if they ask you to hold this kind of event again; you have already begun creating that sense of community that women love. As they continue bonding with each other, you become their new joint project.

Adri Miller-Heckman is a seasoned coach, keynote speaker and author helping financial advisors accelerate business growth. Adri combines her personal experience as a financial advisor with her knowledge and skills as a former national training officer with Smith Barney to create a new process to help advisors tap into the women’s market. Following her position as director of national sales for Women & Co., a division of Citigroup Inc., Adri launched her own private coaching and consulting practice. Adri is the author of “Keys to the Ladies Room” as well as “Seminars for the Financial Advisor,” and has appeared on Fox CT News and NBC News, and in the Chicago Tribune. Adri hosts The Keys to the Ladies Room live workshops where she provides every advisor with the insight and tools he or she needs to attract more women and generate more referrals. Adri is president of Adri Miller Consulting and has presented at companies such as Smith Barney, Merrill Lynch, WRP Investments and Robert W. Baird & Co., and has trained thousands of advisors around the world.