Ms. Money

TRAVERSE CITY – Women returning to the workplace to help make ends meet for their families are, in some cases, finding the income – and flexibility – they're seeking by helping others improve their financial situation.

"I would say in the last two to three years we've seen an increase in women coming into the financial services industry. We've seen a lot of what we call 'in-transition' women, or women who are coming out of the home and looking for careers," says Karen Roberts, who serves as national president of Women in Insurance & Financial Services, an Albany, N.Y.-based national association for women in the financial services industry.

"With the downturn," she says, "women are looking for a career with some flexibility and no ceiling cap – you can earn whatever you want, work as hard as you want. You'll get out of it what you put into it."

The recent increase of women in the financial sector is palpable, but Roberts says the ratio is still far off balance what many financial companies – and their clients – desire.

"Of the 250,000 financial advisors [in the United States], only 13 percent are women," says Roberts, adding that this is a much lower percentage compared to the number of females in other high-earning fields, such as law and medicine. "It's definitely increasing, but not at the rate that we'd like to see it. There's a big push to get more women in."

To that end, many major financial companies now have in place programs to recruit, train and support women interested in pursuing a career in the financial industry. Locally, Heather Boivin, an Edward Jones financial advisor in Traverse City, last fall took on the role of a female recruiting leader for the firm's women's initiative in Michigan.

"Our commitment is for Edward Jones to become the firm of choice for women," says Boivin, 38, of the company's Women's Initiative for New Growth Strategies, or WINGS.

Boivin is leading a group of Edward Jones financial advisors who work closely with women in Michigan and Ohio who are interested in a career with the global financial-services firm. At its core, the WINGS program is designed to create a sense of community among women financial advisors through volunteer programs and through formal and informal mentoring, she says.

Critical to the program are veteran women financial advisors who serve as "early success coaches," conducting weekly conference calls to help women new to the firm prepare for their licensing exams.

It's important to support women interested in a financial advisor career as well as to better mirror the clients served, Boivin says. Within Edward Jones, about 18 percent of its 12,000 financial advisors are women.

"Obviously that doesn't reflect society," she says, adding that local numbers are similar. "In some cases, people want to have that option (of having a female advisor). We want our clients to feel very, very comfortable, but unless we have more women and more minorities in that financial advisor position, people don't have that option."

Roberts, who owns a Florida financial firm and has been in the industry for more than 20 years, says she sees daily evidence that women want to work with other women.

"Women want to support women. They want to help each other," she says. "And the older women, the widowed women – they are a lot of times way more comfortable with women financial advisors."

Through her involvement with WINGS, Boivin keeps her eyes open for women who may benefit from learning more about a career with Edward Jones.

"Anytime I meet someone who seems to be energetic, really positive, a go-getter, I always want to bring it up if the opportunity arises," she says, adding that giving to others is integral to how Edward Jones operates as a company. "You need to pass that on to others when you're given a good opportunity."

Women generally known for their relationship-building skills, Boivin says, and these prove especially helpful for financial advisors.

"Financial advisors sit down with clients, get to know them, get to know what their financial needs are, and help them solve their issues, whether through investing – typically it's investing – or maybe through a whole range of ways. It could be a financial assessment; it might be through retirement calculation. It just may be they want to invest, and we help them pick the investments most appropriate for them."

Boivin wants women interested in a financial career to understand the support that waits, too, including education and training, and assistance getting established within a community. Edward Jones, for example, provides an office and support staff.

"People don't have to come to Jones with a vast knowledge of finance," Boivin says. "They have to come to Jones with people skills and the will to put in really hard work and to build your own business basically. It's like running your own independent business – but it has a huge backing from a very large company." BN