An inaugural event for female financial advisors, “Investing in You,” organized by the Advisor Group, reinforced the importance of women to the financial industry at a time when the very essence of their womanhood — empathy — is the new market mantra for attracting and retaining clients.

The keynote panel focused on how successful women advisors built their books while managing clients, family, firm and personal expectations.

Diane McCurdy, president of McCurdy Financial Planning, reiterated women advisors must work to their greatest strength — good communication skills. “Men aren’t the best communicators at all times. Where women speak 40,000 words a day, men use just 8000.”

Her strategy to success: When you’re having a bad day, get on the phone with your clients immediately. “At the depths of pessimism are points of greatest financial opportunity.”

Last Christmas, when the bears mauled the markets, McCurdy says she was on the phone constantly, calling clients, placating fears. She didn’t shy away even from clients who lost a meaty portion of their pie, sharing what she knew, and admitting what she didn’t. “At one point, I was calling one particular client every 15 minutes.”

Come New Year, and her book was bulging with referrals from clients who appreciated her for staying in touch when times got tough.

When dealing with harried clients, the one question, McCurdy says, that calms them down is: “Are you looking at the last highest statement?” More often than not, they are.

Hiring right

And when it comes to internal teams, McCurdy suggests treating staff like you’d treat your clients. “We don’t always communicate so well with our staff.”

She experienced a lot of false starts when hiring her team, sometimes trying to morph the job profile to fit the employee, rather than find the right fit for the job. “You hire on skill set, fire on attitude. The right attitude is very important.” She highly recommends Craigslist for good candidates. That’s where she found her last two.

When Susan Latremoille, wealth advisor and first vice-president of Richardson Partners Financial Limited, first began hiring, she used ad hoc and word-of-mouth referrals. She has now become more strategic, sometimes even using Kolbe assessment indexes to profile team members, and help them play to their strengths.

She too is a big believer in the strength of good teams. Her all-woman, six-member team has mastered the art of delineating responsibilities. Her clients feel comfortable approaching different team members for different things.

Cynthia Kett, principal of Stewart & Kett Financial Advisors, agrees the blend is spoiled if even one team member doesn’t gel well. “The key difference between people you hire and those you don’t hire is how they treat your clients.”

Bright prospects

And when it comes to networking, building teams, and seeking clients, Kett says it’s best not to seek after 20 different people in a group. “Just focus on two or three you find interesting, and get to know them well.”

For those shy at prospecting and networking, Kett suggests focusing “on the other person rather than yourself.”

Another way to network and grow in this profession is to belong to various professional and women’s organizations, notes Kett. She even suggests networking with professionals who’re not in the same business, but whose client base is similar to yours. “Collaborate to service each other’s clients better and you’ll forge strong relationships.”

All three acknowledge the significance of good mentors. And McCurdy says they can be found anywhere — in your profession or outside it. Even clients can become mentors, in that they raise questions and you end up finding answers together.

In retrospect

We all make mistakes on our way to the top. Latremoille’s biggest one was to accept clients indiscriminately. “I needed to set asset levels earlier on, to put in place minimums a lot earlier and raise them faster.”

If McCurdy could do something differently, it would be maintaining better work-life balance. “I wish I had delegated sooner, faster.”

Kett says she was cautious not to take on just any clients who came through the door. As a result she has a healthy book of business today. Her motto is to live life without regrets, and interweave firm, family, friends and clients into the larger scheme of things, to achieve a healthy balance.