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First, in the spirit of full disclosure, we will point out that we are both women. One of us has been married. We have many friends who are married as well. So, we have anecdotal evidence to corroborate the research we have done on the subject of “Selling to the Wife.” Second, we know this isn’t rocket science! Some of our ideas may seem simplistic, but we hope that some of our insights and tips will help you better serve your married clients.

Let’s start with a few statistics about women and their influence over household spending. Women control or influence 67 percent of household investment decisions and make 83 percent of overall family purchasing decisions, according to a study by SSgA Global Marketing Group. More specifically, women control 80 percent of health care spending decisions, 68 percent of all car purchases, 92 percent of vacation spending decisions, 94 percent of spending on home furnishings and 89 percent of banking decisions. These spending decisions are worth an estimated $5 trillion a year.

And there is more!  Businesses owned by women account for 40 percent of all privately held firms in the U.S. These businesses generated $1.9 trillion in sales in 2008. Finally, baby boomer women comprise the wealthiest demographic segment that is most in need of retirement planning assistance. These women expect to inherit assets from their parents. They also will outlive their husbands by an average of 15 years, according to SSgA. These statistics underscore our point that improving how you work with women – and particularly wives – can improve your bottom line dramatically. 

Here is a somewhat surprising statistic from the SSgA research: 70 percent of widows leave their current advisor within a year after their husband’s death. Why? Because they believe that their advisor (actually read: “the husband’s advisor”) is not responsive to their needs and doesn’t “hear” them. We can speak from experience on this statistic. One of us was divorced recently. After her divorce, the very first thing she did was fire her investment advisor. This was because the advisor had never forged a relationship with her while she was married and she didn’t trust him in the wake of her divorce. In addition, she told all of her friends about her experience. As a result, her sister and friends who were this advisor’s clients fired him as well. We are sure he has learned a very painful lesson from that experience. 

Two thirds of women don’t trust financial service professionals, according to a 2008 State Farm survey. The Boston Consulting Group surveyed 12,000 women from 21 countries, and discovered that financial services is the industry that generates more dissatisfaction from women than any other industry, on both a service level and a product level. Why? As Billy Joel so eloquently put it: “It’s a matter of trust.” 

Women, contrary to some advisors’ beliefs, do not want spa days or wine and cheese gatherings from their advisors. They want an advisor who they can trust and who understands their tendency to tie wealth to specific family goals. Women are emotional buyers, and that should never be construed as a “bad” thing. Women factor more than just rates of return into the mix of money management. 

Behavioral/Value Tendencies By Gender

As you can see from the illustration above, women (especially those who are wives and mothers) value security when it comes to money/wealth management, while men value success. To engage the wife successfully in the family dynamic, you must do more than meet the husband’s need for success (read: great returns). You also must address the wife’s need for security, which is not a numbers game but a values game.

Here are four guiding principles we hope will help you:

  1. Engage the wife. If you don’t engage the wife, you run the risk of losing the account, maybe not now but certainly in the event of a divorce or the husband’s death. Whenever possible, meetings and conference calls should include both spouses. Emails and correspondence always should be addressed to both spouses. When meeting or speaking with a married couple, leave twice as much time as you usually do for questions, and repeat the question asked so that the wife knows you really are listening. 
  2. Maintain a relationship with the wife. This relationship should be separate in some ways from the relationship you have with the husband. If you are focusing only on investment returns and playing golf with the husband, you are missing the boat. Maintaining a relationship with the wife can be as simple and painless as sending articles that may be of interest to her but not her husband. (When you do this, remember the first principle and still copy the husband.) This is really rule No.1 in any sales relationship: know your client. Remember that, with a married couple, you have two clients, not one. 
  3. Keep everything value-based. Focus not only on returns (the husband’s hot button) but also focus on achieving goals: education, caring for elderly parents, a child’s wedding, the birth of a grandchild, retirement, etc. Some advisors have found it helpful to have the wife and the husband each list their goals separately.
  4. Create a shared sense of belonging. Women are collaborative. They are naturally inquisitive and they really like to be educated. They want to feel that, not only do they have a “seat at the table,” but that they are active participants in the conversation around the table. Storytelling is particularly useful as a way of making a point or illustrating a concept. 

Finally, connect without being condescending. We know you would never say, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.” But saying “Don’t worry about it – your husband understands what we are doing” is just as bad. Saying “We can work through this together” and asking “What can I provide you to help you make a decision for your family?” will go a long way toward instilling trust in the wife.

It bears repeating that with 50 percent or more of marriages ending in divorce, and with wives being more likely to outlive their husbands, the failure to engage the wife in money management decisions can cost you one, if not two, clients. Alternatively, engage the wife and you can end up with not only her next husband as a client but her relatives and friends as clients, too. Women love to give referrals!

Liz Michel, JD, has built a reputation creating successful marketing programs for life insurance transactions. She has held senior positions with large, national brokerages including Crump and National Financial Partners. Liz is also a member of AALU. You may contact her at [email protected].

Cathy Neifeld, JD, General Counsel and Chief Development Officer for AgencyONE, is a specialist in the arena of premium financing and complex insurance transactions. She is also a member of Forum 400, and AALU. Contact Cathy at [email protected].

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