While she was attending Harvard Business School, Dune Thorne thought it curious that an elite university, while teaching the next generation of financial experts how to manage millions of dollars of other people's money, offered no classes on personal finance.
Thorne, now managing director at Silver Bridge Advisors, an independent wealth manager in Boston, also was struck by the fact that, though 40% of her business school was women, men far outnumbered women in her investment management classes.
"Where are women's values around money formed then?" Thorne, who graduated from Harvard Business School in 2003, said in a recent phone interview. If they aren't learning about managing personal investments in the classroom or from their families, "how do they manage investment and money decisions?"
Thorne decided to undertake independent studies on women and investing, as well as angel investing. She learned a lot about how women think: They want the same investment products as men, but they approach investment decisions in different ways, for instance. And they are more inclined to get advice from people they have a personal relationship with, such as fathers or grandfathers. Many of the people women trusted for investment advice were men, and many of these people had no investment experience, she said. "They may have deep trust or respect," she said, "but are they really able to give good investment or money advice?"
By contrast, men tend to rely on experts who are known or recognized in the investment field.
Thorne also came to learn that women are collaborative or relationship-based learners, and that they prefer to learn in a group setting rather than a one-on-one setting. Where men will read a book or go to a website, women generally will be more apt to join an investment club.
"Women want to hear other women's stories and how others are making decisions," Thorne said. They can hear those stories at "A Woman's Perspective," a financial literacy series for affluent women that Thorne started two years ago. The sessions are held every other month from September through May in Boston, and cover topics such as investments, family communications, wealth transfer, risk management and philanthropy.
Before she joined Silver Bridge in May 2007, Thorne was director of investments for Circle Financial Group, an investment and wealth management think tank of high-net-worth women. Thorne managed more than $3 billion of assets for the group. Thorne has taken what she learned at Circle Financial to her role at Silver Bridge. "We really focus on education first. We help the client be really actively engaged in the decision-making process. We are not just managing their money, but helping them to make decisions about their money," she said.
"If women aren't educating themselves and understanding how to think about using what they have to the best of their abilities, they are not grasping that power," she said. "We are helping empower women to understand their financial goals — whether it is education for their children or being key philanthropists — and put a plan in place to reach those goals."
Something else Thorne has seen a lot of with clients at Silver Bridge is that women focus not just on their assets and how they will use them in their lifetime, but on future generations as well.
"Women are thinking long-term and big-picture," she said. "They want to educate the next generation around the responsibilities of wealth because they don't want their children to be in their 40s, 50s or 60s and not know about money. Women are trying to change the patterns earlier."
One reason for Thorne's success is that she has had good role models. The first wave of women who broke the glass ceiling on Wall Street were her mentors at Circle Financial Group. These women — Ann Kaplan, who chairs Circle Financial Group; Maria Chrin, founder and managing partner of Circle Wealth Management; and Jacki Zehner, the youngest woman, and first female trader, at Goldman Sachs, and a founding partner of Circle Financial Group — are now in the second phase of their careers and are thinking about managing their own wealth.
"Women are saying, 'Wow, I need to be at the table making financial decisions,' " Thorne said. "And these women's perspectives need to be incorporated."