Renee Hanson, CFP, CDFA, recalls going to an industry conference and attending a panel discussion called, “How to talk with women clients.” As she looked at the stage, she realized every single panel participant was a man. So Hanson, a six-year MDRT member from Phoenix, Arizona, sat with a table of women listening to men telling them how women liked to be talked to. One thing she was sure of after listening to the panel discussion — this isn’t how women liked to be talked to.
It’s a subject Hanson, whose practice’s specialty is women in transition, knows well and has studied at length. In her experience, women like to be educated and informed about what financial decisions will mean to them. Hanson believes they prefer direct eye contact, and may require more of it to feel like you’re listening to them.
As defined in Hanson’s financial practice, a transition is a divorce, death of a spouse or starting a new job. Mental health experts cite these as some of life’s most traumatic events. “The decisions we make during transition often are irreversible. It can leave both financial damage and emotional baggage for years,” Hanson said.
Women going through transition feel vulnerable and need advice, but too often people try to help by jumping in to take over and fix everything. Hanson has seen that, in the long run, this actually disempowers women. These are some of Hanson’s techniques for guiding women through difficult times while also empowering them.
In the midst of painful legal negotiations, when emotions can flare, Hanson tries to focus on taking a rational approach. “It’s important to understand the facts and the platform from which you’re negotiating and provide the appropriate information to the attorney so that they can do the job for the client,” she said.
Finances are often front and center of what’s negotiated, which can include retirement accounts and the family home. Women may feel they should maintain the home for their children’s stability. As a result, women ask for the home in lieu of a financial asset such as a retirement account, Hanson said. That may not be to their advantage, though.
For example, if the house is worth $100,000 and so is the 401(k), it’s not equitable for the woman to get the house and the man the 401(k). A house can require paying substantial taxes, as well as maintenance upkeep such as a new roof, landscaping, a hot-water heater and myriad repairs.
Meanwhile, a 401(k) grows and generates revenue. A house’s equity may grow, but it generally “does not generate a level of revenue to sustain a quality of life,” Hanson said. An advisor can help her client by educating them about this and looking at the marital financial assets from all angles, not just the emotional.
The average age for a widow is 59, and people going through this often feel overwhelmed. “The best approach is to be empathetic without being condescending,” Hanson said. “Don’t pretend to know how anyone feels. Ask them, and don’t judge them for it.” Some women feel derailed and saddened, while others are quite relieved, she said.
“Work through their questions and concerns, digging deep to understand. The biggest issue may very well be that they haven’t written a check in 20 years or that they don’t know who to call to get the lawn mowed,” Hanson said.
The decisions we make during transition often times are irreversible.
To help clients through this, Hanson focuses on changing their mindset. She tells her clients, “I will work with you to get through this transition. If we need the lawn mowed, we’ll find someone to get that done. If you need to get your bills paid, I will work with you on handling that. But today, focus on you, and tell me the three biggest issues we need to resolve this very moment. Then we will tick away at all the other ones and all the new ones that arrive.”
You partner with them, educate them and give them confidence in their ability to move forward tomorrow and every day after that, Hanson said.
Hanson frequently sees adult children, and in particular sons, running to rescue a widow. While they may initially need more emotional support and more time to make decisions, women will eventually gain their footing again. “Most widows — most women — don’t need to be rescued,” she said. “This is a temporary transition. Women are going to be just fine on the other side.”
Many women make less money than men with the same job titles, and they tend not to negotiate when getting hired while most men do, Hanson said.
Hanson assists clients through the negotiation process after there’s a job offer. For example, Hanson may advise a client to say, “Thank you for the offer for my consideration. I will meet with my advisor to evaluate the details of the offer as it aligns with my financial planning. I’ll respond by the deadline and look forward to our next discussion.”
This gives Hanson time to discuss with her client what she may be able to negotiate for, such as salary, vacation time, signing bonuses or stock options. “We don’t ever want to do anything that’s disruptive or is not a negotiation opportunity. If she really wants the job, the last thing we want to do is mess that up,” she said.
“Working with women is similar to working with men. We’re human, we’re smart, we’re intelligent. We can do all the things that men can do in the decision-making process, but we do follow a different process,” Hanson said. “It’s not better, it’s just different.”