MEN and WOMEN check boxes with red check mark in the MEN box. The concept of gender discrimination in promotion.
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Financial advisors can reduce the effects of subconscious gender bias when working with clients by using a structured process in “know your client” interviews, according to a research paper by Chicago-based Morningstar Inc.

The paper, Gender bias in asset-allocation advice: How eliminating possible sources could point to a solution, examines the various steps advisors go through before making asset allocation recommendations. It suggests that the initial meeting with a client could be the point at which gender bias enters the picture.

The study broke down the process into four main steps: an initial conversation with a prospective client, during which preliminary advice is communicated; a period of additional information gathering; the use of software or the advisor’s own investing experience to generate an initial recommendation; and the review and communication of the advice to the client.

The researchers looked at the way advisors made asset-allocation recommendations when given hypothetical profiles of investors (some with male names, some with female names, and some without reference to gender). This part of the research found that advice was generally the same regardless of gender.

However, previous studies have shown that gender bias does exist in the financial services—women sometimes feel that their advisors fail to understand them or make assumptions about their risk tolerances, the study authors said. This could be because, as a previous study by Mullainathan et al. concluded, women were “asked about their personal and financial information less often than men.”

With that in mind, this Morningstar study recommends that advisors use the same set of questions as they get to know their prospective clients, and “formalize” their informal meetings or chats with prospects.

“Offering all investors a standardized first meeting—ensuring that everyone gets the same level of attention—can prevent female investors from feeling misunderstood and receiving subpar advice based on insufficient information,” the report states.