Bank Investment Consultant

In a male-dominated business, Margi Legowik stands out. Not just because she is a woman at the top of her game, but because she's been so successful working with female clients.

Four years into her tenure at Primevest's program at Columbia State Bank in Tacoma, the senior financial consultant has amassed $85 million of assets.

Ms. Legowik's career has benefited from what might be called an old girls' network. She is a member of the Soroptimist International of the Americas, founded in 1921 by 80 women in Alameda County, Calif.

"Soroptimist" is a made-up word meaning "best for women," and the group, which has 95,000 members globally, campaigns for and financially supports women's rights around the world. It's also a way to network.

In 1991, Ms. Legowik established a chapter of the organization in her hometown of Richland, Wash., while working in media relations for an atomic energy plant. In 1995, her husband, an adjutant general in the National Guard, was assigned to Fort Lewis near Tacoma. While he had to move immediately, Ms. Legowik stayed behind for a year to close up the house and plan for her new life.

She wanted a job that would be personally and financially rewarding to take with her to Tacoma. One of the Soroptimists, a manager at Piper Jaffray, offered her a shot at becoming a financial adviser.

Ms. Legowik trained at the local office of Piper Jaffray, earning her Series 7, 63, 65, life and long-term-care licenses in early 1996. She says she had to work harder than her male colleagues to compensate for built-in biases (her senior manager referred business to a male colleague over her). That, she says, only convinced her to intensify her effort. "There's not much you can do about it, so you make more calls."

Overall, she liked Piper Jaffray, where Addison "Tad" Piper fostered a family-business feeling that encouraged helping clients. When U.S. Bancorp bought Piper in 1998, "the dynamics changed," Ms. Legowik said.

She continued to grow her business and to network. In 2003 she met a private banker, through a local civic group, who told her about a position working with private banking clients at Columbia State Bank.

It was a dream job. Ms. Legowik had a modest book of $20 million, and here was a bank eager to refer high-net-worth individuals.

Columbia was making a foray into wealth management, the brainchild of Ms. Legowik's boss, Dean McSweeney. The program targets clients with net worth of $2 million and $250,000 of investable assets. Now 95% of Ms. Legowik's clients are referred by private bankers.

Women of influence have both shaped Ms. Legowik's career and furnished her with business. More than half of her 180 clients are women, mostly business owners and wives of wealthy male clients. Among them are a concert pianist, a wealthy divorcee whose ex is a football player, a married pair of doctors, and a real estate developer.

Her average client is about age 53, close to her own 59 years, and this helps strengthen the bond between them. "Women like other grown-up women," she said. "My age is a benefit."

Many of Ms. Legowik's female clients err on the side of caution in investing, so the bulk of their assets are in money market funds or CDs, with the balance in separately managed accounts. Persuading her clients to consider other investment options is a challenge, partly because they feel they have enough at risk in their business lives.

"That conservatism frustrated me at first since I'd come from the brokerage side" she said. "It took me a while to learn that bank clients need stability. Many are already invested outside in their companies or in real estate and want to take some risk out of their portfolios."

She held a recent client seminar in a jewelry store/art gallery and used the occasion to celebrate a client who had just won the National Women's Wine Competition. This was one of about six seminars and four or five customer appreciation events she does a year. She often includes private bankers as a way of thanking them for referrals.

Divorce and inheritance add to her clients' assets. "More than half of my female clients are divorced, and often they wind up with very nice settlements, which normally go to their nest egg," Ms. Legowik said. "When the money is inherited, they may be reluctant to change how Dad invested it. So you have to talk about what the money means, and in doing so, you find out some wonderful information about their lives, which helps to build a financial plan."

Given her conservative clients, it makes sense that around 10% of Ms. Legowik's business is in annuities; living benefits resonate with her clients. "They could retire on the market's worst day, and they'd have the VA's safety net," she said.

Of course, Ms. Legowik doesn't deal solely with women in planning meetings. But she says that if the husband knows more about investing, an adviser may mistakenly focus the conversation on him. "Women are often the real decision makers," she said.

While Ms. Legowik says retirement planning for men and women is "not an awful lot different," women view it holistically. They see their investments as part of a universal reality where one part affects all the others. Ms. Legowik says men react to hierarchy. They want an adviser who demonstrates superior knowledge, but they want to remain in control by choosing from options an adviser offers them.

Women respond more out of a sense of connection with the adviser and being listened to. Advisers are far more likely to retain a female client by focusing on the details of her personal situation, say, a new grandchild. "Women are working toward the whole picture, and every part of that, mental and physical, is connected," she said.

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