Suzi Williams remembers 30 years ago when a male client would come in for retirement advice and other long-term goals, and if married and his wife came in too, she would sit quietly.
“Over the past decade, things have changed. More women are getting involved in the household’s finances,” said Williams, vice president of wealth management and a CUNA Brokerage Services Inc. financial adviser with the $496 million Solarity Credit Union in Yakima, Wash.
Now Williams asks married male clients to bring their wives. When they ask why, she’ll say, “What would happen to your wife if something happens to you.”
Solarity hosts quarterly seminars addressing topics such divorce or when a spouse dies. Solarity hosts investment workshops called Chicks Building Nest Eggs. Williams said initially the credit union was nervous about the name but they’ve been very popular.
Williams said more women are coming in for financial advice than ever before. Because they tend to live longer than their male partners, have shorter careers, and hold lower paying jobs, they need more bang for their buck, she explained. Solarity has $54 million in assets under management and $40 million in insurance, according to Williams.
“So often, we have to be more aggressive trying to play catch up,” Williams said.
At the $243 million San Diego Metropolitan Credit Union, many of the members are police officers and firefighters – fields that are still male-dominated. Career longevity is lower because husbands transition to other careers or are injured on the job, said Wendy Cundari, vice president of wealth management and a CBSI financial adviser.
“More women have more of a voice and their husbands invite them into the conversation whereas years ago, the men would say ‘I’ll handle this,’” Cundari said.
In addition to working with San Diego Metropolitan CU, Cundari also serves members of the $58 million North County Credit Union in San Diego. Between both credit unions and other clients, Cundari, oversees $50 million in assets.
After 20 years in the business, Cundari said women are looking to make a connection.
“It’s not that men don’t want to have a connection but I think with women, it’s not always centered on the financials. They want to talk more about their career path and their children,” Cundari said.
Creating programs exclusively for women in the investment space may not be the best approach. Jane Brockway, CBSI financial adviser and vice president of wealth management at the $278 million University of Illinois Employees Credit Union in Champaign, Ill., prefers a broader view. Managing a portfolio with over $70 million in assets for members ranging from a college dean to a building service worker at the University of Illinois fosters a variety of long-term needs, Brockway said.
For some credit unions, building awareness of their investment programs continues to be a challenge. Williams said investment service penetration among its members is less than 1% after 20 years. The credit union beefed up its presence through monthly newsletters and working with staff on referrals.
“Until you need a red car, you don’t pay attention to how many red cars are on the road,” Williams offered. “If their husband dies, they turn to their trusted financial institution.”
One way credit unions are helping to the visibility of investment programs and diversify the financial advisory industry is through CUNA Brokerage Services’ Women of Distinction program. The program recognizes the top performing female financial advisors within CBSI’s broker-dealer operation nationally and provides mentoring and scholarships to women.
Brockway, Cundari, Williams and Anna Kamp, CBSI financial adviser at the $1.4 billion Anheuser-Busch Employees’ Credit Union in St. Louis, were among 26 financial advisers that received recognition for their performance.
Kamp feels strongly that women should be courted and served differently than men when it comes to investment services.
“The factors that impact women are going to be different than men. We need to look at long-term care issues and prepare their assets accordingly,” Kamp said. “Even those who are married want to have a certain amount of financial independence.”
Kamp added, “I always stress to female clients...to have separate planning. A lot of them will forego retirement benefits to keep the house, if it’s a divorce. We try to help them take a different point of view.”