When John Diehl asked his wife if she'd rather work with a male or female financial advisor, she replied, "The one who'd do the best job."
A simple enough answer, and yet the question of if investors should work with male or female advisors is one Diehl, who is the senior vice president of Strategic Markets for Hartford Funds in Wayne, Pennsylvania, has come back to repeatedly in his 30 years in the financial services industry.
The real intricacies are in what constitutes "the best job," Diehl says.
We expect any financial advisor we work with to manage our money with competence and care, "but beyond that are other factors which contribute to our overall satisfaction, and they largely relate to the client experience," he says.
And the client experience is largely dictated by if we're dealing with a man or woman advisor.
How men and women financial advisors differ. Men and women have different financial needs and approaches to money, says Kimberly Foss, the founder and president of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, California.
While men often focus on potential returns and risk attributes, women "tend to think more broadly about their finances and especially about how their decisions may affect the people and causes they care about."
In her practice as a financial advisor at Edward Jones, Dallas-based Dionne Dailey's female clients often want to know "will we be OK financially?". Men want to know this, too, but they ask it in terms of "will we have enough money?"
"There's an emotional element to 'will we be OK' versus the more tactical, tangible approach of 'will we have enough money?'" Dailey says.
Like their clients, advisors differ in how they approach clients' financial needs.
"As a woman, I walk the Earth in different shoes than a man does," Dailey says. "That's going to color how I see things and because of that I may ask different questions than my male counterparts." That doesn't make a woman's approach to your financial situation any better or worse than a man's; just different.
A financial advisor's perspective could also shape how he or she presents potential solutions to you. There's a "debate about the benefits versus characteristics of investment solutions," Dailey says.
One advisor may focus on the benefits and how the investment will impact you, whereas another advisor will highlight the investment's characteristics through what it does on a fundamental level.
This begs the question: How do you find a financial advisor who speaks your preferred language?
Should you work with a man or woman advisor? Unfortunately, the answer isn't as simple as picking a man or woman out of a hat. While women may be more inclined to highlight benefits and speak in terms of "being OK," men can do so, too. Likewise, plenty of women are analytic thinkers who prefer to discuss characteristics over benefits.
"There's no such thing as a 'girl's financial plan," Foss says. Women are no more "one size fits all" than men.
"If women can find [the traits they value] more readily in a female advisor, then they should make [gender] a priority," she says. Otherwise, gender really shouldn't be the primary concern when trying to find the best advisor.
More important than gender. Investors shouldn't prioritize their advisor's gender because gender isn't a determining factor of skill, competence or your future satisfaction with the relationship, Diehl says.
According to research from MIT AgeLab in conjunction with Hartford Funds, the top two characteristics clients hope for in their advisor are personalization, or the ability to personalize a financial strategy to a given situation, and empathy.
We all want to feel understood, especially when talking about money. An advisor should take the time to understand why we feel the way we do about saving, investing and money in general, Diehl says. In short, we want "someone who gets me."
The real strength in gender, then, may be an advisor's ability to put herself in her clients' shoes, Dailey says. A man would have to work harder at relating to the experiences of a female client and vice versa. But as any male-female best friend pair will tell you, sometimes it's the opposite gender who gets you best.
How to find the best advisor for you. Finding the right financial advisor starts with the firm they work for, Dailey says. You want a firm that has enough investment options to meet your long- and short-term goals.
Then consider that advisor's business model and the type of clients they work best with, Diehl says. Look for someone who has experience helping people like you: clients of similar backgrounds, financial and familial situation, perhaps even people who work in your same industry.
The best way to find this special someone often word of mouth, he says. Leverage your social network by asking your peers whose financial services they use.
For the best results, meet with at least three to four potential advisors of both genders. There may be aspects of the relationship you didn't realize were important to you until you meet an advisor who highlights them, Dailey says.
It should take no longer than a speed dating session to determine if the relationship is right for you. And if the process feels like dating, it should. You're (hopefully) about to embark on a lifelong relationship with this person. So you'd better make sure they're the right man or woman for the job.