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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Owner Carrie Turcotte poses in her office at Northshore Financial Strategies on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Carrie Turcotte opened Northshore Financial Strategies in 2010 knowing very well that some people wouldn't be comfortable with her style.

"I want a relationship, I don't want a transaction," says Turcotte, 37. "It's about building trust. Will they talk to me? Will they listen to my guidance? If not, I'm not the right fit for them."

Stefanie Crowe's approach to wealth management finds her meeting clients in coffee shops, working from her laptop and building connections between people who can learn from each other.

"I haven't set up shop in a way where people feel like they have to show their wealth," says Crowe, 50, who is director of Wealth, Knowledge and Happiness at Stone Bridge Asset Management. "People don't want to meet in a boardroom. It shuts them down."

Applying some imagination and a human touch to the world of financial planning creates wealth as well as multiplying it, and that's an exciting prospect, says Crowe, who spent more than two decades in corporate roles in banking before she joined Stone Bridge.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Stone Bridge Asset Management Director of Wealth, Knowledge and Happiness Stefanie Crowe, right, talks with client Merri Mai Williamson at Goodman's Coffee on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"I want to share what I've learned over the last 25 years with women in this space," Crowe says. "Rather than chasing the big clients, let's make the big clients. Let's empower people who have potential."

An informal, relationship-driven approach to money management doesn't attract exclusively female clients, but it does tend to make women feel more comfortable than they would in a traditional financial services environment, Turcotte says.

"I work with a lot of women, and a lot of high-net-worth women," she says. "But some of the best relationships aren't necessarily the highest in assets."

Her own experiences in the industry give her particularly good insights into the issues her female clients may face, she says.

"At most conferences I attend until the past few, someone would always ask me whose assistant I am or which home office I was from," Turcotte says.

When Crowe began focusing her energy on advising women and launching female entrepreneurs as a co-founder of the Jump Fund, "I was told women are 'too niche,'" she laughs. "One guy said, 'I would invest in the Jump Fund if it were a charity or a nonprofit.' We're blowing through some of those biases."

Most money managers overlook the needs of female clients, who control more than 30% of global wealth, according to a 2016 study by the Boston Consulting Group.

"Only 14% of our wealth-manager survey respondents said that they had conducted some degree of marketing (such as seminars, events, or forums) directed at current or prospective female clients in the past year, and only 2% said that they actually considered women to be a specific client segment and had adapted their service model accordingly," the study found.

"Roughly 65% of our female survey respondents who had switched wealth managers reported doing so because of unhappiness with customer service and feeling misunderstood."

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Growing up in the business

Though Turcotte is the third generation in her family to work in wealth management, she's the first woman. Her father and grandfather were in financial services, and they encouraged her to enter the field 14 years ago — but she knew she wanted to do the work her own way.

"Our industry is so drawn to strange and intimidating words, but what we do is not so elusive," Turcotte says. "I want to be transparent, so people who are thought of as 'difficult' are better fits. They question everything, and I want to answer questions."

That informality even extends to her approach to office chores on her team of six.

"We all take out the trash so we don't have to bring anyone in from outside to do it, and I buy lunch once a week," Turcotte says.

Crowe spent more than 20 years in corporate roles navigating trusts, estates, private banking loans and investments — and being mentored by multi-millionaire clients. She helped to launch and grow a bank that sold in 2015, then shifted her focus and the direction of her career.

"Part of my mission is to democratize finance," Crowe says. She works with at least one client who was told she "didn't meet minimums" for another firm.

"The industry values the people who serve the richest people," she says. "I want to work with people who want to have a rich life, not just be a rich person."

One client has leaned on Crowe for guidance as she rebuilds her plan to retire and hand over the reins of her business — plans that were derailed by the 2008 financial meltdown.

"I did not have anyone working with me when Stefanie and I decided to create a program for me and my employees," says Merri Mai Williamson, 56, the owner of Application Researchers and HR Master Consultants.

When the Great Recession hit, Williamson drained her savings bit by bit to keep her business afloat and avoid laying off employees. Having managed to preserve her first company and even launch a second, she turned her attention in 2017 to planning her own future.

"Stefanie and I started talking at the end of 2017, and by the first of 2018 I was socking money into an account on a monthly basis and whittling down debt," Williamson says. "We're also working with my employees — all of them have set up their retirement accounts, and I'm doing payroll deduction for 401(k) and a match for that."

Helping her clients recover from setbacks and talk honestly about their financial fears and misfortunes is a crucial element of her work, Crowe says.

"I tell my clients, 'You can't scare me. I've seen it all,'" Crowe says. "I do a lot of truth-telling, but it comes from a place of acceptance and not judgment."

Crowe's style has been instrumental in helping her make progress toward meeting her financial goals, Williamson says.

"I do not shy away from people who tell it like it is — I find that refreshing," she says. "I'm thankful I have Stefanie on my side."

The new face of financial management

More than 50% of women surveyed strongly agreed that they wanted their (wealth manager) to know them on a personalized level, and more than 40% strongly agreed that they would like to see marketing campaigns that featured people like themselves and that discussed challenges similar to those that they face.

Source: Boston Consulting Group, New Strategies for Nontraditional Client Segments

 

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