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Marketing

Marketing to women as a key to success, with Elisabeth Cullington and Janet Acheatel

22 MIN PODCAST

Many financial professionals these days are trying to reach women. Elisabeth Cullington and Janet Acheatel may have built the success model with Women and Wealth, a specialty practice that has helped grow HoyleCohen Wealth Management, their San Diego-based registered investment advisor firm, to more than $2 billion* in assets under management.

 

Hear host Leslie Geller lead the conversation as Acheatel and Cullington describe their “for women, by women” approach to helping clients tackle life transitions, such as selling a business, going through a divorce, retiring or being recently widowed. The team also shares their “clone the client” process for acquiring new business, along with specific steps you can take to acquire and work more effectively with women clients.

Marketing to women as a key to success, with Elisabeth Cullington and Janet Acheatel
 

Will McKenna: Hello, and welcome to the PracticeLab podcast, where we talk to top advisors about what makes them successful, so that you can apply those lessons to your own business.

 

I'm your host, Will McKenna, and in this episode we welcome Elisabeth Cullington and Janet Acheatel of HoyleCohen, a large RIA firm based in San Diego with about $2 billion in assets under management. Elisabeth and Janet run a practice within HoyleCohen called Women and Wealth, which they describe as a wealth advisory for women by women.

 

So, in this episode, you'll learn how to work with women clients who are experiencing life transitions, whether that's selling a business, going through a divorce, or recently widowed. You'll also hear about a process for acquiring new business that Elisabeth calls "clone the client." And if you're a male advisor, this episode is for you, too. Because you'll learn the specific steps you can take to acquire more women clients and work more effectively with them.

 

Today, my colleague, Leslie Geller, is leading the conversation. Leslie is a former tax and estate lawyer who's currently a wealth specialist in Capital Group's high net worth business. So Leslie, let me turn it over to you as we head into the PracticeLab.

 

Leslie Geller: I have here Elisabeth Cullington and Janet Acheatel from HoyleCohen. Welcome to the PracticeLab. Maybe you could start Elisabeth and just tell us a little bit about HoyleCohen as a firm, and then maybe you could each discuss your specific practice.

 

Elisabeth Cullington: HoyleCohen has been evolving for the last 12 to 16 years. When I first came on board and had them buy my practice, I think we had about $350 million under management and about 10 people. Today, we stand in four different locations, 50 people and over $2 billion dollars in assets. So it's been a firm of organic and as well as inorganic growth in areas of specialties, like the Women and Wealth practice that both Janet and I are so passionate about serving.

 

Leslie Geller: Janet, maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you ended up at HoyleCohen. I know that you had a very successful career as a portfolio manager at an institutional investment manager.  Why'd you make the decision to join HoyleCohen?

 

Janet Acheatel: Thank you, Leslie. I actually retired in my mid-50s, and thought I would just be maybe doing some day-trading for myself now and then. But shortly into my retirement, two very special men in my life passed away 10 days apart from each other. And I saw, firsthand, that their surviving spouses were really going through a transition that was extremely tough even for these very capable women. And it dawned on me that with all the background experience I had, I felt like I could help other women. And I just started volunteering, putting myself out there. And all of a sudden, people were sending their friends to me.

 

And along the way, Joe Cohen at HoyleCohen contacted me and said, “I've heard about you. I'd like to meet you.” He introduced me to Elisabeth. That was 10 years ago, and it's history from that point forward.

 

Leslie Geller: That's great. Elisabeth, could you tell us a little bit about the types of clients that you focus on with this Women and Wealth program? Just so we know who you're working with on a daily basis?

 

Elisabeth Cullington: The overarching theme of the practice is women who have been facing a life event. So that life event could be getting ready to sell their business and having no clue as to what value that they really need to make their life work, and actually working backwards to help them to answer that question. Or somebody that's been surprised by their spouse deciding that they want a divorce, and not being prepared and really even understanding the magnitude of their financial picture. And our job there is to actually paint the picture of their life post-divorce, with/without the house, them working/them not working, so that we can really see what it's going to look like afterwards. And that empowers them to understand what aspects that they actually need to negotiate to make their life work on a go-forward basis.

 

And then also widows. Widows are always surprised by all the decisions that they have to make and everything that they have to deal with at the death of their spouse. Typically, the spouse has been managing all of the assets and all of the finances, and they're just deer in the headlights. And so that would be our overarching goal of the type of women that tend to come to the practice and that we get referred to.

 

Leslie Geller: That's great. So, one of the characteristics that you pride yourselves on is your authenticity. And I'm talking to both of you here, because I know this is really important to both of you. Could you talk a little bit about that?  Just give us some of the specific examples of how this plays out in your real day-to-day business life, framed in the context of what you just told me about the type of clients that you focus on, you know, these women who are commonly in life transitions?

 

Janet Acheatel: Yeah, no question about it, because it shows them that you're not about balance sheets. You're really about creating balance in her life. And that's what's really important to her. So it's not a return on investment, but a return to living the life that she loves living. And to frame the work that you're doing on her behalf in those terms just builds that trust and relationship that we know women who have that with their advisors tend to be very long-term clients, and also refer others to you. All good stuff when you're building a business.

 

Leslie Geller: The way you frame your Women and Wealth practice in your marketing materials on your website is part of HoyleCohen, but a very deliberate and separate effort. Why did you decide to do it this way? And how is it different from the general practice or general approach of HoyleCohen?

 

Janet Acheatel: Part of it was us being a little naive. We thought, 10 years ago, when we were building our business plan, that if we built a women's practice, all we have to do is go out and tell people about it, and they would flock to us. Honestly, it was more work than that. So we know that women want to be treated equally, but it doesn't mean it's the same. So, our approach is different.

 

We know generally that women feel underserved. They feel undervalued. They don't know who to trust. So we spend a lot of time upfront developing the connection with them. And again, that comes back to being willing to listen. What does this woman want? What keeps her up at night? What worries her? Those are the kind of questions that we'll spend a lot of time on right upfront on. You know, you've got to be willing to put that effort into developing that relationship, that connection, that level of trust.

 

Elisabeth Cullington: We were early to the game, like Janet said, in a naive way, thinking that if we build it, they will come. I think our industry was more fascinated with what we were doing than the individuals that we were seeking. They just wanted somebody to take care of their pain and make it easier for them. And so, once we figured that out, we shifted our gears and really just started to educate people out in the marketplace. And I think grew out of that the reputation that we have today. But it's taken awhile, and it's ongoing. And the new advisors that are coming on board are coming on board because they want to serve women, and they want to make a difference in these women's lives. They're not interested in just doing the business. And I would say if there are advisors who are listening to this that are genuinely interested in this business, that there is a huge opportunity. Because the amount of money that's going to be transferring hands from 2020 to 2030, I believe is over $30 trillion worth of money. And those people who are on the bandwagon early to develop the practice, understand how they're going to educate the public, and educate their clients and really take a genuine interest in this particular market of women has a huge opportunity to really make a difference in a lot of people's lives.

 

Will McKenna: Making a difference in people's lives is what it's all about. OK, just in case you thought this episode was only for female advisors, now we're going to shift gears and talk about what male advisors can do to attract women clients, and work more effectively with women investors. We will also dig into Elisabeth's process for cloning her best clients by interviewing them and asking the right kind of questions that can lead to referrals.

 

So, let's turn it back to Leslie for the rest of the program.

 

Leslie Geller: I know from my many conversations with advisors that it's not just women advisors that are looking for ways to deepen or expand their engagement with women clients. Based on your experience, what are two or three things that any advisor looking to deepen their engagement with current women clients—bring on more women clients—what are the two or three things they should focus on?

 

Janet Acheatel: The research tells us that gender isn't important. Single women and married women, 90% say gender is not important when it comes to their financial advisor. And yet, the research also tells us that 70% of widows will change their advisor within a year of their husband passing away, even for long-term relationships with their advisor. So there are definitely some unique challenges. Really, what it comes down to is not gender, but competency, honesty, and trustworthiness. And like I said earlier, that connection. And that's where a lot of advisors are going wrong, they're not making the connection with women when they're still a couple. They're oftentimes focused on the male side of the couple. If the woman's quiet in the meeting, they just assume that maybe she doesn't want to engage. Well, maybe she needs to be asked.

 

It's things like always asking to have both the husband and wife attend the meetings, respond to her calls. Oftentimes, the email goes back to the husband, if the wife calls, or the phone goes back to the husband. Include her on all emails. Don't tell her that she doesn't need to worry. That's not what she wants to hear. Sit across from her so that you can make eye contact with her. And most important, hear her story. Ask those questions that we talked about earlier. What keeps you up at night? What would the perfect retirement look like for you?

 

Leslie Geller: You have described for me this great business development tactic that you're working on. And I think it's really just probably a formalization of things you already do. But you call it "clone the client." So, will you describe it for us and tell us where the idea came from?

 

Elisabeth Cullington: Actually, I would be giving credit to a young lady by the name of Robyn Crane, who was an advisor in the field for years and really wanted to make a shift in how she did business. And so, she's now helping women advisors build their businesses. We actually hired her because she had said something to me in a meeting that really kind of prompted the need for some clarity. And so out of that came the exercise of basically cloning the client.

 

This is a hot topic for us, because we've finally gotten some clarity around taking our absolute best clients — every time that you see their name on your phone, you can't wait to talk with them type of a feeling. You know that you're able to bring value to the table every time and/or in the relationship from the very beginning to the end. Understand who those people are, and you want to go out to your clientele, and actually go through and interview the people that fit that type of client that you would just love to work with. And you ask them questions, things like, you know, you've been a client of ours for several years. I'm curious as to what value do you believe that we bring to the table? Well, what could we do different? How could we improve on the value? What are we missing? What other things would you like to have from us? And I was referred to you by your CPA. I don't know how else to find people like you. Where would I have found you in other forums, if I weren't introduced to you by your CPA?

 

These are all types of things that kind of get clarity to, hey, help me help other people just like you, define them and understand their pain points, and being able to articulate that in a very concise way so that we can start making a difference to other people.

 

Leslie Geller: That's a great answer. And just before we move on, Elisabeth, I want to hone in on something you mentioned about building your practice by bringing in younger advisors. There's a big push in our industry to bring in young talent, especially women. How do you guys go about that? I imagine your practice is very attractive to young women advisors or women looking to get into the industry. But what do you do to make yourself stand out from the crowd?

 

Elisabeth Cullington: That's a good question. How do we stand out from the crowd? Well, one of the things that permeates the entire culture here is diversity. And we are a firm that takes pride in wanting diversity in our organization. You know, when I came on board in 2008, most of the women were in support roles. And today, most of the advisors are women. Looking back, if I were starting in the career today, I would absolutely say, thank the women that have trailblazed this industry and opened up the doors and given you the equal opportunity. There is no glass ceiling here. And when we carry that out into the public, people are just automatically attracted to that. So it helps to make us a little bit more distinct in the marketplace. And then once they start taking a look at our website, they realize that we actually have a separate practice that is geared specifically for women, and that's what attracts them the most.

 

Leslie Geller: I love that, Janet, anything to add on bringing in young talent and how you guys do it?

 

Janet Acheatel: Yeah, we love it because they challenge us. Twenty-year-olds think about their careers differently than what Elisabeth and I did in our 20s and 30s and growing up. They want a lot more balance in their life. So there are some great things that are happening. But it's hard work, you know, starting out with any career. So I say, you know, expect it to be hard, but work with people you enjoy. And we're finding that the people that we've been able to bring in, a lot of them have come from the universities. San Diego State University has a great financial planning certification and degree program. And so we're getting really talented, passionate young people to come in, start as interns, and then we can determine if they're a good fit and hire them from there. And it's been wonderful for our group.

 

Leslie Geller: And then last one, Elisabeth, let's start with you: What advice would you give to an advisor that is just starting out?

 

Elisabeth Cullington: Grab ahold of a mentor or two and really spend the time to let them teach you and have them help you. People in this industry, it's my opinion that you need time in the seat. You know, in our field, we have secondary advisors in every client relationship. And one of the things that I had done and still do is, when we get done with a client meeting, we'll do a debrief. A debrief on what did you see in that situation, where the husband looked to the wife to answer the question? What did you see when this happened? What was your perspective on this? Because I wanted to see if they were in tune to what was going on between the dynamic and starting to get that part of their brain trained to understand.

 

Leslie Geller: And Janet, same question for you. What advice would you give to an advisor just starting out?

 

Janet Acheatel: I would say that if you choose to make women investors a part of your growth strategy,  it'll require that you set aside stereotypes. Focus on individual needs of each woman, and men, of course. And become an outstanding listener and teacher. Because mastering those skills is what makes a great investment advisor, regardless of your gender, and no matter what your client's gender is.

 

Leslie Geller: You guys have been so wonderful about communicating so many really tangible and actionable ideas for everybody listening — both male and female advisors with clients of all types. So, thank you for being on the PracticeLab podcast. Again, it's Elisabeth Cullington and Janet Acheatel. We're all done.

 

Will McKenna: OK, so that wraps up this episode of the PracticeLab podcast. Special thanks to Elisabeth Cullington and Janet Acheatel for coming on the show, and to Leslie Geller for hosting it. Thanks also to my colleague Tyler Furyk for connecting us with HoyleCohen. If you liked what you heard today, please hit the subscribe button and consider leaving a rating and review. PracticeLab is sponsored by Capital Group. You can find all our episodes and more by visiting practicelab.com. I hope you found this episode as interesting as I did, and I look forward to joining you on the next episode of the PracticeLab podcast.

 

Women and wealth

 

Cullington and Acheatel joined forces about 10 years ago. Cullington had been with HoyleCohen since 2008, when the firm acquired her practice. At the time, HoyleCohen was a $350 million firm. Acheatel was a retired institutional portfolio manager when she was drawn back into the workforce to join Cullington and the practice, driven by a mission to help surviving spouses and other women going through tough transitions.

 

“The overarching theme of the practice is women who have been facing a life event,” says Cullington. That life event could be getting ready to sell a business, planning to retire, going through a divorce, or becoming a widow. Women in these situations may benefit from working with an advisor who can clarify “the magnitude of their financial picture” and help them understand what plans they need to make. Cullington and Acheatel strive to paint the picture of what life will look like after this life-changing event. “And that empowers them to understand what aspects that they actually need to negotiate to make their life work on a go-forward basis,” says Cullington.

The power of authenticity

 

The firm has a reputation for authenticity, which comes from listening to clients, seeing things from their perspectives, and understanding what they care about. “It's not a return on investment, but a return to living the life that she loves living,” says Acheatel. “And to frame the work that you're doing on her behalf in those terms just builds that trust and relationship. And we know women who have that with their advisors tend to be very long-term clients, and also refer others to you. All good stuff when you're building a business.”

 

“We know generally that women feel underserved. They feel undervalued. They don't know who to trust,” says Acheatel. “So, we spend a lot of time upfront, developing the connection with them. And again, that comes back to being willing to listen. What does this woman want? What keeps her up at night? What worries her? Those are the kind of questions that we'll spend a lot of time on right upfront on.”

Working with women

 

“We were early to the game” working with women, says Cullington. But there is a huge opportunity for other advisors to develop similar specialties. “Because the amount of money that's going to be transferring hands from 2020 to 2030, I believe, is over $30 trillion worth of money. And those people who are on the bandwagon early to develop the practice, understand how they're going to educate the public, and educate their clients and really take a genuine interest in this particular market of women [have] a huge opportunity to really make a difference in a lot of people's lives.”

 

Acheatel points out that among single women and married women, 90% say gender is not important when it comes to their financial advisor. “And yet, the research also tells us that 70% of widows will change their advisor within a year of their husband passing away, even for long-term relationships with their advisor,” she says. “So there are definitely some unique challenges.”

 

One challenge is advisors not making the connection with the woman when she is still part of the couple. Often, it’s easier to focus on the alpha male. “If the woman's quiet in the meeting, they just assume that maybe she doesn't want to engage. Well, maybe she needs to be asked,” Acheatel says. “You know, you've got to be willing to put that effort into developing that relationship, that connection, that level of trust.” She also recommends that advisors dealing with women would do well to:

  •  Ask to have both the husband and wife attend client meetings
  • Respond to her calls and include her on the email
  • Don’t tell her she doesn’t need to worry; tell her what she needs to hear
  • Make eye contact
  • Listen to her story and ask questions

Clone the client

 

The ladies have dubbed their growth strategy “clone the client,” and the process starts with identifying their absolute best clients — the people they enjoy working with. Understand who those people are, and then interview those clients to learn what drew them to your practice. Cullington suggests asking, “I'm curious as to what value do you believe that we bring to the table? Well, what could we do different? How could we improve on the value? What are we missing? I don't know how else to find people like you. Where would I have found you in other forums?”

Diversity leaders

 

Aside from the separate practice uniquely focused on women, the firm distinguishes itself with a focus on diversity that permeates the culture. “When I came on board in 2008, most of the women were in support roles. Today, most of the advisors are women … there is no glass ceiling here. And when we carry that out into the public, people are just automatically attracted to that. It helps to make us a little bit more distinct in the marketplace,” says Cullington.

 

The firm also nurtures young talent. “We love it because they challenge us,” Acheatel says. “Twenty-year-olds think about their careers differently than what Elisabeth and I did in our 20s and 30s and growing up. They want a lot more balance in their life.” They are finding great people from local universities like San Diego State, which has a financial planning certification and degree program. “We're getting really talented, passionate young people to come in, start as interns, and then we can determine if they're a good fit and hire them from there. And it's been wonderful for our group.”

 

They have two pieces of advice for anyone starting out in the industry today. First, says Cullington, “grab ahold of a mentor or two and really spend the time to let them teach you and have them help you.”

 

Next, says Acheatel, make women a part of your practice. “It'll require that you set aside stereotypes. Focus on individual needs of each woman, and men, of course. And become an outstanding listener and teacher,” she says. “Mastering those skills is what makes a great investment advisor, regardless of your gender, and no matter what your client's gender is.”

*As of November 2020.

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