When Sallie Krawcheck speaks, people listen. Former president of the Global Wealth & Investment Management division of Bank of America and No. 7 on Forbes' 2005 list of the world's top 100 most powerful women, Sallie certainly isn't shy about having an opinion and openly expressing herself -- a trait that definitely makes her stand out from her peers.
She is different from others who have held similar positions at leading Wall Street firms. What is it that makes her such an anomaly among others in leadership positions in financial services? Here's a clue: Sallie is a woman. Furthermore, she is a woman among many, many men who have been and continue to be in leading executive roles at some of the top brokerages and wirehouses in the United States.
Neither Sallie nor I encounter much of a line in the ladies room at our industry conferences. The wealth management space is still an "old" world, slow to change and largely dominated and populated by middle-aged white guys talking to other middle age white guys," as Sallie recently noted in her remarks at Envestnet's Advisor Summit Conference. She described her talk as "intentional (ly) somewhat controversial as to make the (1000+) attendees somewhat uncomfortable."
It doesn't take much to make a group like that uncomfortable. So what topics that would make a roomful of male financial advisors/professionals uncomfortable? "Breaking news" topics like Women: Not A Niche and Social Media Is Here To Stay. Let me address each one of these issues separately.
First, women are not a niche. I can barely type these words without shaking my head in disbelief. I will go very, very slow here: Women are people who are quite different from one another. There are more dissimilarities than similarities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women account for 51 percent of the U.S. population. How can 51 percent of the population be a "niche"? This is obviously the "brainchild" of men. And who are these men? Men in financial services are left-brained quants (permit me to generalize here) who may be brilliant at performing data analysis but are "awkward" in business development and relationship building, and lack the training and skill set to develop and execute a marketing plan that leads to client acquisition. It is my working theory that the male species created this "women as a niche" concept in order to be with women -- call me crazy?
To further illustrate my frustration at the perpetuation of this perception, let's flip it around: As a marketing professional, I will now advise my wealth management clients to target "men as a niche market." With most advisors, especially baby-boomers, virtually ignoring the women and spending their efforts engaging with the male half of heterosexual couples, it's no wonder that upwards of 70 percent of widows change advisors within the first year of their husband's death, according to a study by Fidelity Investments in 2012.
When will the tide turn and RIAs and others figure out that women are people too? Hard to tell, but my hunch is it's going to happen pretty quickly -- and that most of the men aren't going to know what hit them.
Which brings me to the other point Sallie noted in her talk at the Envestnet summit: social media, and the fact that it's here to say.
For me, that's kind of a "duh" statement. I've spent the past five years telling anyone and everyone who will listen that social media isn't something you use to tell people what you had for breakfast or what the cat brought up for lunch. Yes, it's here to stay. And used right it is the most powerful, interactive platform to tell hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of people who you are, what you do, and why you do it better than the next guy (or girl).
Yet this is still somehow "breaking news" to Wall Street. I've quoted tons of stats on this, but the fact is that Next-Gen is ingrained with social media -- they don't know what life is without it. It's part of their DNA. And guess what? These Next-Gen "kids" are quickly growing up and inheriting tons of wealth. Rest assured no matter how savvy or successful the advisor, if their not talking on a social / digital level with these people, they aren't going to get the business.
In other words, avoiding social media, which Wall Street continues to do like the plague, is like pretending cars don't exist and people still get around with a horse and buggy. Social media is here to stay, says Sallie. "If you are not on it (social media), it's a real problem." While no Sallie Krawcheck, I think it's more than that: it's not about being on it, but being in it -- comfortable, immersed and engaged with clients and prospects in smart and honest ways that tell them what you are doing with people's money, and why what you're doing is better than the other guy (or girll).
So kudos to Sallie for making "a room full of white, middle-aged men" think about the future and the inevitable. Whether they end up listening to someone like Sallie or me -- gals from the "niche" - is anyone's guess. My guess is if they do, they'll be the ones still around in five years.