Rich Women Increasingly Calling the Shots, Wealth Heads Say

(Bloomberg) -- Rich women mean big business for some of the world’s largest wealth managers.

Women control about $14 trillion in assets in the U.S., which is comparable to the gross domestic products of China and India combined -- and they’re under-served by financial advisers, said Andy Sieg, president of Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch Wealth Management unit. The industry needs to hone its services to reflect the growing power of female clients, said Shelley O’Connor, co-head of wealth management at Morgan Stanley.

“It’s so important that firms listen to what women want,” while also increasing diversity among their advisers and branch managers, O’Connor said at a conference Thursday in Naples, Florida. “The success of wealth management in the years ahead depends on making sure we all look like the clients and communities we serve.”

Women are becoming more educated, outliving their spouses and inheriting money from their parents, Sieg said in an interview. Those demographic shifts are becoming more pronounced, giving women greater authority in financial decisions, he said. Representatives from UBS Group AG, Raymond James & Associates, Ameriprise Financial Inc. and Charles Schwab Corp. also spoke about gender and ethnic diversity to an audience of about 250 wealth managers.

“Increasingly, the female member of a couple is the shot-caller,” said Sieg, whose business brought in a record 17,625 new client relationships in the first quarter. “Arguably it’s the most powerful trend in our industry.”

Bank of America is holding a series of “Women, Life & Money” events across 10 markets this year and next featuring authors and other speakers. The company is also conducting research on the financial needs of its increasingly diverse client base, said Jen Auerbach, head of strategic growth markets at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

“This is a commercial imperative,” Auerbach said in an interview. “The gender of wealth in our country has fundamentally changed, and the complexion of wealth in our country is going to continue to change. It is only going to accelerate.”

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