09/29/2011 05:01 am ET | Updated Nov 28, 2011

Here Come the Super-Rich Girls

Wealth managers are targeting rich and super-rich women, but how should they aim to win
wealthy clients across the gender divide? Dina Medland finds out

The rise of the female rich and super-rich has taken the wealth management
industry by surprise. When Boston Consulting Group surveyed so-called high-net-worth (HNW) women with at least US$500,000 in investable assets, it found that they control $20.2 trillion or 27 per cent of global assets under management. But, while their increased wealth has made them a tantalising segment for wealth managers, there seems to be no great consensus in the industry on how to target them.

"It's only in the last three to four years that we've seen a move away from a pretty crude approach - targeting women through divorce lawyers, for example," says Cath Dovey, managing partner at Scorpio Partnership, a wealth management consultancy. "Now some private banks are starting to look at behavioural finance, differences in attitudes between men and women, and whether to target women as a separate segment. Among senior women in the industry there is a 50/50 divide between those who think you should be tailor marketing to women and those who find it patronising."

There isn't enough serious in-depth research yet into any particular proposition that women, as opposed to men, may value, says Ms Dovey.

Private bank Coutts & Co has been trying to attract more female clients over the years and has worked its way through a range of initiatives from covering its head office in fuchsia pink to organising special events to attract women. Kate Turner, head of Coutts private banking, says: "We tried to offer hunting, shooting and fishing events, and invited women to come fly-fishing and bring a prospect. There were 40 women standing around a lake in the New Forest. There was a lot of female chat and the fish all went to the bottom.

"So we decided to take our courage into our hands and do what our male colleagues thought was stereotyped, and invited women to a spa event in the day - and it was a big success." Coutts also now runs education sessions for women about financial planning, but the content is not dissimilar to the sessions run for men. The range of wealth the bank serves is also considerable from around £1 million of investable assets to ultrahigh-net-worth (UHNW) clients with a minimum of £10 million in liquid assets and an excess of £30 million in overall assets.

At AlphaOne Partners, the privately held independent investment firm, most clients fall into the billionaire category. "We don't decorate our rooms in pink to attract women," says Nicolas Sarkis, its founder and chief executive. "You need to distinguish between women who have inherited money and the limited number of women who have made their own money and are very powerful in business."

The rising number of women entrepreneurs everywhere has been another factor attracting wealth management firms. But the reasons why women choose to start a business are not necessarily the same as those given by men and may have more to do with lifestyle than wealth. Then there are international differences; attitudes to wealth vary depending on whether the female client is in Riyadh or Texas. To complicate the picture further, Mr Sarkis says women are generally far better investors than men. This suggests that they are likely to be a great deal more demanding of their wealth managers.

According to the BCG research, 73 per cent of HNW women are unsatisfied with their wealth managers, with the $5-million to $50-million segment having the highest levels of dissatisfaction. At Standard Chartered Private Bank, Jacqui Brabazon, group head of segment management, says: "We are of the view that HNW women are not too different from men in earning-power, net worth, what success means to them and what their wealth goals are. The focus [needs to be] on delivery and differentiation, not simply lumping women together in one category. What is more important is to respond to the client and not the gender."

Meanwhile, as they become empowered through education and opportunity, women are forming their own networks. Businesswoman and award-winning designer Lisa Tse founded The Sorority, a private women's club, in London last year, and income or monetary wealth is not the main criteria for membership. "We want to make women feel they can be successful without focusing on wealth alone," says Ms Tse.

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