This month, we are publishing the third of our three top women advisor lists. As we noted in the January issue, the wealth management business is changing. Women control a greater percentage of the world’s wealth, and some of them want to work with women advisors. Women are also good at some of the relationship-building skills required of financial advisors today. And so, women are in demand in the business, and the independent space is no exception. IBDs are ramping up efforts to recruit women advisors, and keep existing ones happy. Many are launching training programs targeted towards women. So far, they’re doing a good job of helping them to succeed. Just check out the list below, assembled by Meridian-IQ, in which Registered Rep. parent company Penton Media is an investor. Advisors are ranked by assets under management, effective Nov. 1, 2011. Only those advisors for whom a majority of assets correspond to retail clients were eligible for the list. Meridian confirmed its data with the advisors’ IBDs.
(Click here to view the Top 63 IBD Women Advisors in 2011)
‘Don’t Let the Man Be the Plan’
Firm: Armstrong, Fleming & Moore, Inc./Commonwealth Financial Network
Location: Washington, D.C.
Years in the biz: 51
Years with firm: 29
Specialty: Individuals, single women, dual-income couples
In addition to co-authoring a book about widows called On Your Own: A Widow’s Passage to Emotional and Financial Well-Being, Alexandra Armstrong finds that the issues widows face are very personal to her. While not a widow herself, her own mother was widowed at age 48. Left with all of $20,000, she had to go to work for the first time. Julia Walsh, the woman who mentored Armstrong through much of her career in financial planning, was also widowed in her 40s and left with four children.
Armstrong knows what it’s like to lose a spouse, too; she is a divorcee. So it was natural for her to focus her advisory practice on single women and widows. Especially when it comes to widows, a lot of them are in a state of mourning, which makes it difficult to face the financial consequences of that loss.
In working with single women, Armstrong, eighth on our list of top IBD women financial advisors, tells clients that they can’t count on getting remarried. “Don’t let the man be the plan,” she says. She also reminds single women that the money has to last them until the end of their lives, and that they may not be able live the way they did before they were widowed or divorced. “Our job is to try to help them face financial reality, and deal with it so that they don’t run out of money.”
For client portfolios, Armstrong uses four asset allocation models, including conservative income, moderate income, moderate growth and growth, and she invests primarily in low-cost actively managed mutual funds.
Her approach doesn’t appeal only to women. When she started out at Ferris & Company, a regional New York Stock Exchange firm, in the 1960s, she recalls a male broker’s client saying to her, “‘I have no idea what I’ve invested in, and I’m embarrassed to ask the [financial advisor] I work with. But I can ask you, and you can explain it to me.’”
Armstrong started out as a secretary at Ferris, which is now part of RBC, and later become registered under the mentorship of Walsh. In the ‘60s, 25 percent of the brokers at Ferris were women, which was highly unusual at that time, Armstrong says. Women were bringing in the money, and those that made it to the top would hire other women and mentor them to be successful as brokers.
Armstrong was remarried 17 years ago to a lawyer who deals with non-profits, and they never run out of things to talk about at dinner. “As they say, it’s not a marriage; it’s a merger,” she says. —Diana Britton
I Did It My Way
Firm: LPL Financial/Ballou Plum Wealth Advisors
Location: Lafayette, Calif.
Years in the biz: 32
Years with firm: 14
Specialty: Women, family office
Independence and entrepreneurship are in Lynn Ballou’s blood. Her grandfather left Poland to escape World War I at age 14 and came to the U.S., where he went from pumping gas and selling tires to running his own gas station in Miami, Fla. Ballou grew up watching him build a business from the ground up, and she always knew she wanted to do the same.
She got her start working for Bayhill Financial in 1980, doing tax preparation and financial planning. But she had a different vision for how she wanted to do business, so in 1985, she struck out on her own, launching Ballou Financial Group. Three years later, she partnered with Marilyn Plum, dropped the tax business to focus solely on financial planning, and formed Ballou Plum Wealth Advisors. Both of them hold CFPs.
Ballou’s investment strategy differs for each client depending on whether they’re still accumulating assets or spending them down in retirement. Her firm uses LPL’s strategic asset management platform, the b/d’s fee-based investment platform, almost exclusively. Her client portfolios include a variety of mutual funds, bonds, some ETFs, some stocks, and REITs.
Ballou has built the firm’s AUM to about $200 million mainly through referrals. Many of her referrals come from clients’ insurance advisors, estate planning advisors and attorneys, all of whom she tends to bring into the planning process. “As a result, we get an equal number of referrals from centers of influence as we do from clients.”
But her biggest challenge has been learning to say ‘no’ to clients who aren’t appropriate for her practice.
“You get to the point where you get a lot of referral business, and you have to learn to cull,” she said. “You cannot say yes to everyone.”
That’s meant having to stick to a minimum of $1 million in investable assets for new clients. The firm’s sweet spot is clients with between $1 million to $10 million in assets, she says. “In the bay area, that’s comfortable, but that’s not amazing. It’s easy to have comfortable disappear with bad planning.”
Another focus for Ballou and Plum is women going through big life transitions, such as divorce, death of a spouse or retirement. About 75 percent of their clients are women; Ballou says she and her partner have a knack for making complex financial issues accessible.
Ballou even has a blog devoted to her clients; once a month, she features one of her clients. “It’s like a love letter to my clients, and it’s a way for clients to connect with each other and learn about each other.” —Diana Britton
Trust in a Bottle
Firm: KLB Financial, Financial Network
Years in biz: 20
AUM: $125 million
Specialty: socially responsible investing, widows
Two decades ago, Dana Brewer was a stay-at-home mom looking for good ways to manage her own family’s finances. Today she is co-owner of a financial advisory practice that manages $200 million in client assets.
A math major in college, Brewer left before graduating to get married and have kids, she says. But her training in math was enough to convince her that the stockbrokers she met just wanted to sell her something rather than give her good advice. So she went back to school to get a degree in finance, specializing in financial planning.
“I knew I didn’t want to be a stockbroker,” she says. “They turned my stomach for the most part. I knew in my gut that what they were telling me was questionable. They weren’t doing any discovery of what my goals were, or what I was trying to accomplish with my money.”
After graduating in 1992, she got her foot in the door at the firm she currently co-owns by responding to an ad for a part-time administrative assistant. In 1998, she went on to get her CFP and securities licenses and started meeting with clients. Two years later, she began buying into the business and then in 2004, one of the firm’s owners retired and she took part of his stake. Today, she and her team manage over 300 clients, and she is the lead advisor on most accounts. She also provides free practice management coaching to other financial advisors, something for which she has a real passion.
Brewer's practice is full of women. Seven of the nine individuals working there belong to the fairer sex, including her partner in the business. “We tend to appeal to women because we are women,” she says. Only about a third of the firm’s clients are single women. But the couples often come to them through referrals from women. The firm’s client asset minimum is a half million of investable assets though the average is closer to $750,000. She and her partner do all of their own investing, mostly in mutual funds, but they use some third party products.
As for the practice’s strengths, she says it’s simply that clients trust them. “We have a warm referral and in the course of an hour they relinquish trust to us; we build rapport and trust very quickly. If I could bottle or understand it I’d be able to market it a lot better. I think it’s because we care and it shows.” —Kristen French