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Acanthus insights:Women not millennials are the next wealth management marketing challenge

Posted on 3 July 2016.

$41 trillion is the oft-quoted figure of expected wealth transfer from the baby boomers but the World Wealth Report[1] (WWR) reminds us that it’s not, despite what recent reports would have you believe, all about millennials as inheritors: “The first level of wealth transfer is not intergenerational but rather between spouses, some of whom may have had little engagement with the firm previously.”

Roughly 70% of the $41 trillion will ultimately end up in the hands of women according to a report by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI)[2] whilst 70% of women leave their adviser within a year of being widowed say reports. That figure will vary across adviser and client types but, many argue, the trend is up rather than down.

 The CTI also reminds us that “Women don’t merely control the purse: they are filling it.” Boston Consulting Group (BCG) projects that women will control 75% of discretionary spending around the world by 2028.  

Thus private client advisers will increasingly need to recognise women as wealth creators and decision makers, not just spouses and inheritors.

What women want

Acanthus Consulting marketing to women

It is of course spurious to suggest that women are an homogenous group and that once you crack some sort of code competitive advantage will follow, but there is an opportunity not only to get it right but also to avoid getting it very wrong. 

In its 2010 report “Levelling the playing field: upgrading the wealth management experience for women”, BCG found that more than half of the women surveyed felt wealth managers could significantly improve how they served them.

It also warned against superficial strategies and women labelled products.  For a salutary lesson on this try googling Ellen DeGeneres and the Bic For Her ballpoint pen and/or the Amazon reviews that accompany the product online.

What women want, BCG noted, is for “their advisers to understand who they are and what they want” which is, after all, what most professional advisers should be doing anyway?

Better insight is required

Yes indeed, but not uniformly partly because professional services firms do not invest as much as other sectors in client insight often reasoning that the front office/fee earners know their clients and firms can aggregate that feedback.  Formalised feedback, journey mapping and others tricks of the client experience trade haven’t made significant inroads into the private client world despite huge changes in recent years to demographics, attitudes and the customer referral journey caused by digitisation.


Relying on meaningful and usable insights trickling into the business from the front office adds to the risk that firms will rely on generalisations.  A 2015 State Street report[3] talked about the dangers of relying on “conventional wisdom” and “misperception” concluding that the “the danger of this myth is that it may actually be self-perpetuating and have a detrimental effect on advisors’ efforts to establish better relationships with this growing client segment.”

Gender smarts

A report by ING Direct[4] in Australia last year suggested it was “critical for women of all ages, particularly mature women, to be involved in new product research and development because financial products have historically been developed and distributed through a predominately male lens”  and theCTI talks about the importance of “gender smarts”.

Such gender smarts is challenging in firms where senior management teams lack diversity.  Women remain in a minority at senior levels in financial and professional services firms on the whole and as Oliver Wyman’s 2014 “Women in financial services[5]” report highlighted, this can lead to unconscious biases and assumptions arising. 

Measures to improve awareness of internal gender issues are becoming more common - see EY’s reverse mentoring featured in The Times[6] in April for example.  For client-facing staff, soft skills training and even empathy training is a route some firms have taken.

These are all good skills regardless of gender and other diversity dimensions  – leading to better disclosure, higher trust levels and greater client engagement which in turn improves outcomes and client advocacy rates which is good for everyone’s business.

Watch out the robos are coming

ING Direct’s report suggested that “Technology will play a critical role in building and delivering solutions which appeal to women and provide simplicity, transparency and value for money.” In wealth female-orientated “robo-advisers” are emerging (eg WorthFM and Ellevest) and while established firms or the wider private client industry may not be quaking in their boots just yet, nor is the risk peculiar to female clients, digitally-enabled “disruptors” can more readily adjust their propositions and client experience for commercially attractive “niches”.

Thus even firms that don’t perceive gender as an issue, who feel that their service is bespoke so client needs and wants are automatically catered for, might consider testing that assumption with female clients sooner rather than later.


This article first appeared on on 13 May 2016



[2] Source: “Harnessing the Power of the Purse,” 2014.  





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