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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

Advising Women

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Results of a new survey of entrepreneurial, professional, and executive women include surprises about how many women actually work with advisors, where and how women get financial information, how many lack a financial plan, and how seldom they use debt.

CPA Bruce Balsam, director of the Income Tax Services group, and a partner at Elliot Horowitz & Company, LLP, an accounting firm based in New York, says the majority of his clients are women. Talking with his clients and other women at association meetings that he regularly attends, he “saw a pattern of recurring questions, and thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look.” Thus, the study, “Women’s Financial Profile–Old Challenges and New Directions 2006,” was born. The study says that 75% of the women surveyed “make their own financial decisions” and “do not regularly seek input from significant others or advisors.” That said, most (70%), have a retirement plan; 83% have a relatively low level of credit card debt, keeping it under 10% of their income; and 58% believe they “will be financially sound and secure” within 10 years.

Balsam says there are some fundamental issues for women and why they often don’t use advisors: trust, control and respect. If an advisor–a man or a woman–”respects the person on the other side of the table and treats them in a professional manner, they’ll win their trust, ” says Balsam, but he adds, “ very frequently clients come to me and say: ‘You know, I wanted to start a business, and the advisor I was using said to me, “What, are you out of your mind? Stay with your job.” ‘ I don’t take that point of view. You have a goal, a desire, something you want to do to make you happy–let’s work it through and see if you can get there. I’ll educate you on what the pitfalls might be and make a suggestion on what direction to go.”

“If an advisor can get attached to a group and develop a relationship with the group they can build trust,” suggests Balsam. The advisor could offer to meet with the group once a month, a quarter, or a year, and help “take the mystery out of it, suggest publications to read that are not necessarily from their firm,” because that may seem self-serving. “If they help with the education, help build a foundation, the trust and the ability to share in decisions will come–I think you can build a very successful relationship, and therefore a very successful practice” that way.

As for control, Balsam says “decision sharing” with the right advisor can be very helpful. Advisors can let women know that they don’t necessarily have to put their whole pool of money to work all at once with a particular advisor, they could take a portion of it, put that to work, and go from there.

Balsam says that getting the right information should be a part of the financial plan. He suggests that women who want to know more should attend seminars, college continuing education classes, professional associations, or consider “forming a group and inviting speakers that can help provide that [financial] education.” What about the Internet or other media? Balsam says it’s confusing. “There’s so much of it out there, [they] don’t know which piece to rely on.”

Another unexpected finding was the relative lack of debt for the women surveyed. “There was a very low amount of credit-card debt which was a surprise, given what has been in the media, where credit card debt is usually [depicted as] excessive.” Since some of the women Balsam surveyed are entrepreneurs, “I would think that that the entrepreneur category–especially those closest to just starting their businesses–would have significant debt,” he says, but many of them are in service businesses rather than more capital-intensive startups. In selecting their entrepreneurial activities, “they picked an activity where they don’t require a lot of debt.” Balsam concludes, however, that perhaps they are scared of debt. “In business, and personal life, debt is a tool that they should learn how to use,” he argues. “There are appropriate times to incur debt, and I think it’s an important part of a financial plan.” He adds that once women develop an understanding of debt, they can use an advisor’s help to select the right debt for a particular situation, and “can get a very good result.”

Balsam would tell women to build a team of advisors, including a CPA, lawyer, advisor, or planner: “It doesn’t have to be a full team immediately, you can find one person, and build in the next, and the next.” Get your information organized so that you can sit down and talk with advisors, he counsels, get educated, have a goal, and make a plan–with the advisors–to reach that goal.


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