Women who are in the middle of a transition — whether it be a divorce, the death of a spouse, or the inheritance of a large sum of money — often need specialized financial advice, but many of them may not know where to go, says Kimberly Howard, founder and owner of  KJH Financial Services in Needham, Mass.

That is one reason this group of clients is a specialty for this solo practitioner who also serves pre-retirees and younger, dual-income couples.

For women facing a changing financial future the biggest issue is learning about all the different options for spending, saving and investing, Howard says. “Traditionally, women come in without a lot of money education,” she says, and many of them do not know people who can provide advice or referrals.

As an example, she says, recently a client came to her, who was divorced but had inherited a large amount of money. The client had gone to her sister and some friends for advice on what to do with the inheritance, but many of them say they didn’t know, because their husbands handled the money decisions. Howard said this split of responsibilities is common among the people deals with, she says — in married couples, especially older ones, the husbands are more responsible for financial decisions and the wives are out of the loop. That means that not only do these women lack financial knowledge when they are widowed or divorced, but so do the friends they would turn to for advice.

Howard thinks many women are less versed in financial matters because of cultural issues. “Women in general don’t talk about money,” she says. “Men are more geared by society to talk about it more.”

However, when women become widows or divorcées they are often forced to take a more active role in managing their finances. Many of these women want to find an adviser that they can relate to, and who can talk them through their decisions, she says.

Younger, dual-income couples, can be different, Howard says. In many cases both halves of the couple are knowledgeable about money but they come to a financial adviser for another opinion, a third party who can be a sounding board and help them make the right choices. These clients may have less investable assets than pre-retirees or older couples — in the $250,000 range, rather than the $750,000 to $3 million that Howard’s other clients generally have — because they are in the earlier stages of their career. For these clients the work is “a combination of long-term planning and immediate planning,” she said, because they need to both think about their retirement goals but also plan for other expenses, like college tuitions for children, or the purchase of a home.

In addition to her retainer clients, Howard also does work on a project basis, conducting a financial snapshot for someone just to help them see the big picture of their financial life.

Her pre-retiree clients are often business executives, and Howard says for these clients, employee benefits are a huge part of the equation as they approach retirement age. “The higher up they go in the food chain, the more complicated their benefits become,” she says. In some cases, she says, she will get on the phone to talk to a human resources person at the client’s employer to fully understand the benefits package.

Howard finds clients through referrals but says, more and more, the Internet is becoming a big source of new and prospective clients for her. Younger clients, who may be working long hours at a job, are more likely to turn to the Internet when they are seeking help from a financial adviser. In addition, the divorced and widowed women that Howard serves can also turn to the Web if they find their friends and family unable to provide referrals. To reach these clients, Howard has written articles and blog posts for a number of websites including Morningstar.

She said that having a large Web presence allows potential clients to get a feel for a financial adviser’s approach, and being published by well-known sites adds credibility — a key for clients who are just beginning to take charge of their own financial life.

Lee Gjertsen writes for Financial Planning, a SourceMedia publication.

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