Where do most wealthy women go for investment advice? To their husbands. So says a study released by U.S. Trust Corp. this week. Sixty- five percent of well-off women contacted for U.S. Trust cited husbands as their most important source of financial advice.

Husbands outranked accountants, financial planners, investment managers, stockbrokers, insurance agents, and bankers, in that order.

U.S. Trust, which manages more than $53 billion of assets, retained Financial Market Research Inc., a New York firm, to contact 202 people whose household net worth ranked in the top 1% nationally.

Jeffrey S. Maurer, president of New York-based U.S. Trust, said he was "surprised" to learn that women are so reliant on their husbands for financial advice.

But Kathleen Brown, a BankAmerica Corp. executive vice president, said she has seen many women wait until a crisis before handling their financial affairs.

"They kind of find themselves at the worst times-divorce and widowhood- dealing with it," she said. "It's going to be very difficult, and quite possibly, some bad decisions will be made."

Ms. Brown is one of several women in finance running programs to educate women. In addition to BankAmerica, Chase Manhattan Corp., PNC Bank Corp., Summit Bancorp, U.S. Trust, and Merrill Lynch & Co. all aim marketing campaigns directly at women investors and business owners.

Women are responding to the pitches in droves. Five hundred and fifty women showed up for a three-hour seminar held recently by Bank of America in Sacramento, Calif.

And 660,000 women have requested copies of the 1996 edition of Merrill's "You and Your Money: A Financial Handbook for Women Investors" and similar brochures. The brokerage firm boasts that 12,000 women a year attend its 50 seminars.

Chase started holding meetings for women this year and has 50 planned for Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.

"We're not sitting here having a consciousness-raising meeting but talking about events in life that affect finances," said Rika Levin, vice president of special markets for Chase Manhattan Bank.

Ms. Levin says women differ from men in that they want to gather as much information as possible before making decisions about money. Christine Cooke, a Merrill vice president, and Kate Muldoon, a senior vice president at Princeton, N.J.-based Summit Bank, agreed.

"There is a lot of relationship-building before a woman is able to sit down and be comfortable talking about" her whole financial situation, said Ms. Muldoon.

"Men differ because a lot of times they decide 'this is what I want to do' on the spot."

Given women's conservative nature as investors-all the bankers interviewed for this article said women tend to stick with too many certificates of deposit-the seminars focus on the importance of diversification. Mr. Maurer added that men need help with that too.

"Men, in particular, are willing to equate investing in equities" with "buying three or four stocks you hear tips about," Mr. Maurer said. "That's not a rational approach."

While banks are bending over backward with their seminars to appeal to women, they still have a way to go with the general public.

In the U.S. Trust survey, men-like their wives-ranked bankers at the bottom when listing important financial advisers. Male respondents valued accountants, financial planners, investment managers, and attorneys far more than brokers, insurance agents, or bankers.

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