Perhaps talking about women and finances during Women’s History Month is too on the nose, but it’s important to continue the conversation around women and money. We are all familiar with the gender pay gap (that women earn 82 cents against $1.00 for men).1 But we also know that women, on average, take more breaks from full-time work, are hit harder in divorce, hold more cash, and invest more conservatively than men—all of which present challenges to building wealth.
As a Certified Financial Planner®(CFP) professional myself, I am often inundated with personal finance articles targeting women, citing facts about the gender pay gap, percentage of female breadwinners, and women’s longevity. When my firm asked for my help to start a women’s initiative, I was skeptical. Was this just a marketing tactic wrapped up in a message of female empowerment or could we really move the needle?
The story of women and money is mixed. Eighty-five percent of women say they manage day-to-day expenses and short-term financial needs of their families. And yet, this number drops down to 23 percent when we talk about women and long-term financial decisions around investing, insurance, retirement, and planning. Fifty-eight percent of women said that they defer big financial decisions to their male partners/spouses.2
Why is there such a big discrepancy? And what can women do to close this gap? One of the ways you can do this is to work with a financial advisor. The challenge is in finding one because the financial industry still hasn’t figured out a way to help women with their money problems. The media and even some financial companies tend to talk about women being a niche market. Women are not a niche! It’s lazy to lump all women into one homogenous group, and as a woman and a CFP®, I work to fight against these stereotypes.
Here are some things we know that women look for and value in an advisor: authenticity, trust, communication, collaboration, a relationship. Women don’t want or need “special treatment.” They seek a trusted partner who they can talk to about money and their life—intimate topics that they might discuss only with family or close friends. An advisor can help you make sense of all the information that’s out there and in your life, help reduce complexity, increase confidence about your own decisions, and save you time. A great advisor looks at your whole life and considers your whole self (we use the term holistic planning to describe this), not just one slice of your finances (like investments only). A great advisor can help coach you through money issues (that you may have carried on from childhood or other situations) and tackle your money concerns by connecting on an emotional level first, rather than tackling financial fears with data alone.
Sometimes these skills come more naturally to female advisors, so some women prefer and seek out female advisors. As a woman and a female advisor, I may be biased in agreeing with this statement. We held an internal event awhile back where all the women of Mercer Advisors came together. We sat together in a circle and I saw these wonderful faces reflected back at me. My eyes met to acknowledge the new mom pumping between sessions, the advisor who acts as primary caretaker for her diabetic mother, the single mom trying to afford college, the executive who lost her spouse. I have to say though that we “walk the talk” at Mercer Advisors and our numbers will back that up. Women make up just shy of 50 percent of the firm’s client-facing staff, more than double the industry average.
Whether you seek out a woman or male advisor, the most important thing is to find someone who will listen and connect with you. You have a voice when it comes to your financial story. Are you ready to start?
1 Semega, Jessica, “Payday, Poverty, and Women,” U.S. Census Bureau, 9/10/19. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/09/payday-poverty-and-women.html
2 “UBS study of women investors reveals the “divide and conquer” approach to managing finances is a multi-generational problem,” 3/6/19 https://www.ubs.com/global/en/media/display-page-ndp/en-20190306-study-reveals-multi-generational-problem.html