Why Financial Advisors Are Missing the Boat

When Brittany Geneva's father died in 2014, he left her a "decent sum of money" so she could get her investment portfolio off to a solid start. A millennial female who works as a communications professional in New York, Geneva is just the sort of millennial woman any financial advisor would love to have as a client.

"I was excited to have someone walk me through the investment process because my understanding of investing was extremely superficial," she says. "In all honesty, I needed someone to hold my hand through the process and provide me with lots of information so I could make a smart decision."

Yet her complimentary meeting with an advisor did not go well.

[See: 11 Great Investing Tips for Women.]

"The frustration was that my advisor did not give me the hand-holding I needed," Geneva says. "He would assume I knew things that I didn't know and not do the best job of explaining it in a way I could understand."

Most likely, it's true that many advisors don't understand millennial women. Everywhere, the statistics and evidence point to this salient truth: The financial advisor community, and male advisors in particular, are often clueless as to how to approach this clientele, let alone fathom how much their businesses could grow with even a modest, smart effort to reach them.

"Women have historically been overlooked by the investment community, and the industry is finally starting to recognize this," says Cheryl Nash, president of investment services at Fiserv. "The National Center for Women and Retirement Research reports that as many as nine out of 10 women will be solely responsible for their finances at some point in their lives."

As for the start of adulthood, "millennial women feel they aren't empowered or aware that they can begin investing," Nash says. Citing statistics from a Fiserv survey on borrowing and wealth management, it's all about communication.

Nash says 60 percent of financial decision makers prefer getting investment advice through human contact, and that "women, 64 percent, are more likely than men to have this preference. I think women more often than men want to speak to someone."

Ah, but that begs a question as old as gender relations itself: Are the men even listening? Many would insist that indeed, they are -- and perhaps they, too, aren't being heard.

"We don't believe we've overlooked millennial women," says Kit Sundararaman, principal at Edward Jones Client Insights and Strategy. "In fact, we've spent significant resources in an effort to better understand the needs of this group."

[Read: 5 Key Investment Strategies for Women.]

Sundararaman says about 14 percent of Edward Jones clients are millennials, "and we believe that earning the business of more millennial clients is critical to our firm's future." To that end, the firm's financial advisors are striving to communicate in millennial-friendly ways, "including web conferring capabilities, texting and our online portal."

But at some point in the dialogue, be it digital or personal, millennial women need to be recognized for their unique orientation to financial planning, says Erin Durkin, director of financial planning at EP Wealth Advisors.

"I think now, more and more women educating themselves on not just investments, but overall planning strategies," Durkin says. "This isn't just paying the bills and transferring money where it needs to go. It's understanding what their family bills are, why they fund accounts a certain way, and beginning to question if they should be doing more."

In fact, October's release of the Chase Generational Money Talks survey indicates that "women, more than ever, are acting as the household CFO." The survey shows that "71 percent of millennial women agree they know how to make complex financial decisions, compared to 62 percent of Generation X and 56 percent of baby boomer women."

And yet, a good many female millennials still get stuck.

"Women tend to be less confident with investing," Durkin says, "and therefore don't always feel comfortable asking for advice because often they don't know what to ask."

Which brings us back to Geneva, who speaks on behalf of two young professional female friends.

"They're also looking for advisors and have a hard time finding someone who is trusted and who understands their needs," she says. "I think we simply want to feel like someone cares as much as we do about investing our money."

Yet seeing millennial disconnect strictly through a gender-based lens may have its limits -- at least according to one investment professional.

"I don't have the impression millennial women are overlooked as a group by the investment community," says Libby Muldowney, a financial advisor with Savant Capital Management in Rockford, Illinois. "I don't see millennial men getting any targeted attention women are not. I perceive this as the other way around: that millennials as a whole are overlooking us as advisors."

[Read: Lessons From 7 Women Who Broke Wall Street's Glass Ceiling.]

"The opportunity now is less about being an astute demographer or anthropologist with savvy insights into generational change or gender," says Brian Portnoy, director of investment education at Virtus Investment Partners, headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut. "It's much more about articulating a very clear value proposition as wealth advisor."

A former longtime staff writer, editor and columnist at the Chicago Tribune, Lou Carlozo writes about investment for U.S. News & World Report, and personal finance for Money Under 30 and GOBankingRates. He is based in Chicago. Connect with him at linkedin.com/in/loucarlozo.