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Paula’s Success Story: Smart Woman, Smart Business

Financial services career plays to women’s strengths.

In the 1970s and ’80s, as the gender workforce gap began to close, women flocked to the financial services industry. One such woman was Paula Dorion-Gray, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional from Crystal Lake, Ill. At age 30, she found herself the divorced mother of three small children. Without a college education, Paula’s career options were limited, so she took the first job she could, a salaried assistant position in a financial planning office. Over time, Paula began working on earning her licenses, eventually gaining some of her own clients, but always while working for someone else. By 1999, with her children all grown, she chose to give up her secure job and pursue her own client base. Around that same time, Paula reconnected with a professional acquaintance and was fortunate enough to acquire her practice. Considering this purchase the best thing she has ever done, Paula never looked back and has grown her business into the $300 million practice it is today.

After 31 years in the industry though, Paula began to look for new challenges in her business and felt it was time to reinvent herself. She looked at how many women clients she had and noticed that women still seem to be less savvy on financial matters than their male counterparts.

“My women clients were looking for someone who could explain finance to them in a language they could understand,” Paula said. “They didn’t want to be talked down to, and they didn’t want someone to just pat them on the back and tell them everything would be taken care of. They wanted to learn.

Paula said she realized, looking back, that this has been evident throughout her entire career. “Even in mixed company rooms for client meetings, women would rarely raise their hands with questions,” Paula said. “They were embarrassed to not know the answer to something or were worried their question would be a stupid one.”

Paula believes though, that in many ways, women are better at budgeting money than men, and she began to pursue ways to more efficiently educate women on financial matters. Paula points out that 75 percent of women will be widowed at an average age of 56, mentioning that while they may not do so today, they will someday be in complete control of their finances.

To support this need, Paula created the Smart Woman Seminar Series, which is designed for woman of all ages who want to become more financially aware and empowered. Paula has packaged her seminars with a focus and emphasis on women working at the corporate level. She has given presentations, both in person and via webinars, to all-female audiences in large corporations. By bringing financial information exclusively to women in an environment in which they are comfortable, Paula believes they are more receptive to the learning process and more open to asking questions and discussing ideas.

“Women need to be given the tools to feel comfortable and knowledgeable,” Paula said. “They typically have less time to manage and plan for their futures, even though their lives will be longer than their male counterparts. They are doing the same amount of work they always have, plus they are working and living longer. They need to have this understanding of finances to be successful should they become widowed or divorced.”

Women currently control more than 50 percent of all wealth in the United States, according to the Federal Reserve. That number is projected to grow to two-thirds by 2020.

“Women are increasingly becoming the dominate decision makers and breadwinners,” said Janine Wertheim, president of Securities America Advisors. “Women are receiving college degrees at twice the rate as men, and they have a great deal of influence over finances regardless of whether they deal with them directly or not.

Paula and Janine agree that as the number of women who are in control of their finances grows, so should the number of women in the financial services industry, and as more women advisors are readily available in the industry, more clients will be willing to work with a woman advisor. “There is a very small percentage of clients that specifically wants to work with women advisors,” Paula said. “I think the industry is designed for women, and I am still shocked when I go to industry events and there aren’t very many women. Not unlike many businesses it is very difficult to get started, and many women may not be in the position to allow for the time it takes to succeed. For me it comes easy, because I believe in what I do. Women are typically educators and nurturers, which make them perfect for this industry. I just can’t believe more women aren’t doing this.”

A 2011 Boston Consulting Group Survey found that 73 percent of women investors said they are “most dissatisfied” with the financial services industry as compared to other industries, claiming their “gender is a key factor in the disrespect and condescension they have often experienced and the poor advice they have received in the industry.” Still, only 11 percent of women investors preferred to work with a woman advisor, as compared to 85 percent who had no preference between working with a man or a woman. With so many women investors indifferent on the gender of their financial advisor, Janine feels this means women advisors should have an equal opportunity to work with both men and women investors.

“In my experience, men sometimes have a hard time opening up to other men about personal information that is important to financial planning such as dreams, goals and family issues,” Janine said. “Women typically feel more comfortable engaging in these types of conversations and as a result tend to have an easier time getting men to open up and share their personal thoughts and discuss sensitive family matters.”

In 2011, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that women comprised 38.7 percent of securities, commodities, funds, trusts and other financial investments industries. A survey of Securities America’s women advisors found 44 percent specialize in the women’s market, and have developed unique client experience processes for their women clients versus their male clients. The survey also found the biggest challenges to attracting women clients were getting them to commit the time to working with a financial advisor, followed by building their trust in an area they don’t feel comfortable with.

“Because women are such a small portion of financial advisors nationwide, it is important for us to come together to help more women propel their success,” Janine said. To encourage this, she began hosting the annual Super Women’s Summit at Securities America’s National Conference. This event is an opportunity for women advisors to network and discuss their secrets for business success. When Paula served as the event’s speaker, she shared her journey to success, including information on her Smart Woman Seminar Series.

“Paula is super confident and has a great presence, which is the trait of many successful advisors regardless of gender,” Janine said. “Women tend to be more humble when it comes to sharing their strengths, but they don’t need to be. Paula has quadrupled her business and is very dynamic in our industry. Her career is a wonderful model for other women advisors to follow.”