Peggy Cabaniss

(WOMENSENEWS)–Independent financial planner Melanie Harada, 43, was craving more flexibility to become her own boss in the hopes of spending more time with her two children and ill father.

She left the 70-hour weeks at JP Morgan Chase Bank in New York, where she had worked for 17 years in investment banking, and started her own company in 2001.

“I let go of the golden handcuffs of the corporate world and used my skills in finances to become a financial advisor,” says Harada, who is based outside New York in Parsippany, N.J., and works part of the time out of her home, part of the time in an office away from her residence and then spends the rest of her days visiting clients.

Many of her clients are married couples but she says she also sees numerous single women who say they feel more comfortable seeking advice from another woman.

“I now see that women are more at ease going over their finances with another woman and are not afraid or embarrassed to say if they don’t understand something,” says Harada. “Women feel that they can’t say ‘I don’t get it’ when it comes to discussing their portfolio with a male financial planner.”

Although there are no reliable statistics to prove them out, many people in the industry say they have seen more and more women like Harada striking out on their own as financial planners later in their careers and who are attracting female clients.

More Women in Finance

More women, in general, are working in the financial world in one capacity or another, says Peggy Cabaniss, chair of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors who has her own financial advisory business in Lafayette, Calif. She adds that 60 percent of her own clients are women.

Cabaniss says about 25 percent of her association’s members are female and they’re realizing that they can use their years of professional contacts as a basis for launching their own businesses, either to escape the pressures of the corporate scene or start fresh following a downsizing. This number follows the general percentage of women who work in the financial world overall.

The average life expectancy at birth today for a woman is 79 years, compared with 72 years for a man, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging. Also, women tend to marry older men, which means that 7 out of 10 baby-boomer women are expected to outlive their husbands. With longer life expectancies, women will have a longer timeline for working.

“Baby-boomer women know they will live longer and having their own business later in life gives them the chance to keep working without a boss looking over them,” says Oklahoma City-based Terry Neese, president of Women Impacting Public Policy. “And, the financial world offers opportunities for women entrepreneurs to make a name for themselves, since it had traditionally been so male-dominated.”

“There are more women than ever before going out on their own in this field,” agrees Houston financial planner Lynne James, who is just under 60 and started her firm eight years ago. “It’s a growing industry and we are now looking to work longer and be vital; I know that I’m not planning to retire at all.”

Women Taking More Charge

About 70 percent of James’ clients are women who, she says, are increasingly responsible for managing a family’s money and wealth. “This is especially true today as more women are running households and realize that they need a long-term financial plan for themselves and their children. Historically, women left their retirement and overall financial security to their husbands and sometimes found themselves in trouble later in life. That is changing more and more.”

Financial planners can offer a lot of services, including advising you on your investment strategies, assisting with retirement planning, helping create a budget and providing guidance on saving for a child’s college education.

They also can manage your assets for a fee that is usually based on a percentage of your assets. Planners always recommend seeking financial advice for those as young as right out of college, but note that major milestones in life tend to prompt an initial visit to a planner, such as starting a better paying job, obtaining a large inheritance, getting married or having a baby.

Income-tax deadline day of April 15 can also spur a search.

Women in search of a financial adviser may want to make a female adviser one of their selection criteria but Cabannis says this is only one factor. She recommends interviewing three or four planners and talking to reliable friends and colleagues with similar financial planning concerns. Accountants, lawyers and bank officers can offer good references.

Taking Advice From an Expert

A financial adviser should have at least five years of experience between a related financial field and the actual advising work. Ask the planner about her former employment and look for designations from at least one professional association, Cabaniss said.

A skilled financial adviser should be able to advise a woman on her entire portfolio, from savings for college to creating a monthly budget to retirement planning.

More likely to be neutral in what they suggest are independent planners and those who work for accounting firms, Cabaniss said. That’s because, unlike planners affiliated with larger financial services companies, they work only by fees and not by sales commissions so they aren’t trying to sell a particular type of financial product.

Fee-only planners either charge hourly–$100 to $200 on average–or one amount for a comprehensive plan that costs between $2,000 and $5,000. Some of them also will manage assets for an additional fee that varies and is sometimes based on a percentage of investment gains.

Reputable planners should bring in the assistance of other professionals, such as lawyers, insurance agents, trust companies and accountants, either ones that you have relationships with or ones that they recommend, says Ron Roge, president of R.W. Roge and Co. Inc., a financial planning firm in Centereach, N.Y.

Roge also says it is wise to call your local Better Business Bureau to make sure the advisor has not had any complaints filed against her.

“Finding the right planner is so important to your financial future and needs to be done with great care,” James says.

Laura Koss-Feder is a freelance business and features writer who covers small businesses and career/workplace topics. She has written for The New York Times, Business Week, Time, Money, Investor’s Business Daily, Newsday, Entrepreneur, and Self.

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For more information:

“Older Women Start Businesses, Defy Nay-Sayers”

National Association of Personal Financial Advisors:

WISER: Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement: