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The Industry Must Attract, Not Recruit, Female Advisors

As women continue to be a market segment to be reckoned with, many financial organizations are looking for ways to develop their field force to make it more reflective of the communities they serve. In this interview, NAIFA member Susan Combs shares some helpful hints for attracting more women to the financial services industry.

NAIFA: What can the financial services industry do to increase the number of female advisors?

Susan Combs: The industry I’m in is still on average about 14 percent women. I believe that this is largely due to the compensation structure and the training model. It is very scary to be in an “eat-what-you-kill” model. Insurance sales are typically 100 percent commission based. I have noticed that the companies that offer a training “base salary” to employees until they are established have been more successful than others in attracting women to their workforce.

I also believe that changing the training model to include the development of niche markets and working in teams is hugely successful for attracting women. The old school mentality is to “sell to your natural market.” This is also known as “sell to your friends and family.” This approach is very uncomfortable for many women. By helping them develop niche markets in possibly their previous industries or on a passion they have, they are better set up for success. 

NAIFA: What is the No. 1 thing to keep in mind when recruiting female advisors?

Combs: The first issue is that you need to attract women, not recruit them. Women are very social creatures and we always want to have deeper conversations. So, flip your interview process. It is often the sales manager’s inclination to talk all about the numbers. But keep in mind that women are concerned about their numbers only if they lead to leaving a legacy. 

So help her leave that footprint behind. Go to the bottom of her resume and look at the section that lists her interests and volunteer work. I know that you must be politically correct and not ask about her about family, marital status, etc., but keep in mind that this will help tell her story. Ask her about a specific role she has had in an organization for which she has volunteered. If she is passionate about it, you can make her passionate about your organization, as well.

When women are looking to change careers or move to a new employer, they look at the time they will spend with that employer. There are 168 hours in a week and you are asking someone to spend basically a third of those hours helping to develop your company. So if she’s going to be giving you that much of herself, she needs to know what’s in it for her. This is where the strategy comes in.

Women typically want three things in a work environment: 

  • To make a difference.
  • Security.
  • To be developed.

Making A Difference

Help women develop a niche market in an industry that they are passionate about. Or develop a philanthropic arm of your agency to give back and have them serve on that committee.

For example, at my company, we identify a charity of the year that we are going to support, and all of the employees submit ideas. Then we discuss and select one idea. I also play football, hockey and softball for a charitable sports league. There are so many things you can do with this.


Many women want to feel they are in an industry that isn’t going to disappear and that they can provide a good living for themselves and their families. They also want to make sure that they have secured their future. 

With all my employees, we have a financial planner come in and talk to each one of them on an annual basis to give them an opportunity to ask questions and to see if there is something they should be doing differently to protect their legacy.

Desire To Be Developed

Membership in organizations such as Women in Insurance and Financial Services and NAIFA is a great way to make a woman feel you have invested in her. Pay for that membership.

If you can provide these three things to a female advisor, not only will you become a hero to her, she will also become a champion for you. According to the Gender Intelligence Group Study, when something good or bad happens to a woman, she tells, on average, 32 individuals (and I’m not talking about posting on Facebook — she actually tells someone). So it is important to engage her and demonstrate that you are willing to develop a “strategy,” and not just have an “event."

Ayo Mseka is editor-in-chief of Advisor Today, the official publication of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. Contact her at [email protected] .

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