Imagine that securing your financial future was as simple as punching an address into your GPS – just plug in your destination and your geo-positioning semi-autonomously responds to emergency roadblocks and detours while recalculating a route that still gets you to retirement. Wouldn’t that be great?

Unfortunately, the road to retirement requires a bit more active involvement than a global positioning system, and women have definitely gotten in gear. In fact, according to Prudential Financial’s 10th annual study, “Financial Experience and Behaviors Among Women,” a record 95 percent of females in the United States are financial decision-makers. In addition, eighty-four percent of married women are either solely or jointly responsible for financial decisions, with about a quarter of them identifying themselves as the primary financial decision maker in their household.

Over the last decade, women shifted from merely taking notice of their finances to actively participating in the financial decisions that affect their day-to-day life. Women are more aware, engaged, and actively involved in financial matters than ever before. However, they’re still not planning for their retirement goals – not good news, since retirement is such a woman’s issue.

It’s no secret that women navigate a slightly different financial obstacle course. On average, women earn less, spend less time in the workforce, have lower Social Security benefits, and are less likely to have retirement plans than men.

But, perhaps equally as important, women live longer – and longevity has significant implications. Not only do women need to save more to last through a longer retirement, but they also need to consider the effect that living longer has on health care costs. According to a recent study from the Center for Retirement Research, “Does Staying Health Reduce Your Lifetime Health Care Costs?” health care costs for a healthy married couple can be $105,000 higher over their remaining lifetime than an unhealthy couple.

While women recognize that they need to do more work to assure a successful and comfortable retirement, too few actually have a roadmap to achieve their long-term financial and retirement goals.

Optimistic after the financial crisis

The financial crisis compounded the issues presented by longer life spans and the fact that women are still not saving for their retirement. Despite the economic crisis road bump, women are optimistic about the country’s economic recovery; about one-third of women believe that they are on track to meet their long-term financial goals or are well-positioned to catch up, but acknowledge that they may need to postpone retirement.

The economic crisis has also heightened women’s recognition that they need to develop a financial plan that will meet their long-term financial goals – yet, just one-third of women have a financial plan in place. Among the youngest women, aged 25-34, that number drops to only one in 10, according to the Prudential study.

When discussing their barriers to developing a detailed financial plan, women cite a lack of time, the pull to meet shorter-term financial obligations, lack of knowledge, for many, an unmet desire for assistance and help.

Seeking advice: The trusted advisor

About 90 percent of women who are looking for “a lot of help” need guidance on how to choose financial products that meet their needs.

Despite a deepening understanding of such products as mutual funds, annuities, and long term care insurance over the last decade, women’s knowledge of these important retirement vehicles continues to be limited. Yet they are not alone: More than 65 percent of Americans in general want and need to talk to financial professionals for more complex products, including those that provide guaranteed retirement income, which are critical for any long-term financial plan.

With more than six in 10 women relying on family and friends for advice, females are turning to their own personal networks rather than financial professionals for investment information. This can be a risky maneuver since, in most cases, family and friends share the same level of financial and product knowledge.

Forty-three percent of women who feel on track with their retirement planning have an advisor. Those who use financial advisors are more likely to feel that they are financially on track than those who go it alone, yet relatively few women are very comfortable letting a financial professional map their course. Many cite trust as the main roadblock – nearly three-quarters of women want an advisor, but can’t find someone they trust.

Education is critical

Providing the financial education and advice to help women achieve their goals should be a priority for all of us. Women, financial firms, advisors, and the media all have a role to play. Women need to develop their greater involvement in financial decision-making into a concrete plan for their future. Financial firms and advisors have to redouble their efforts to build trust, and be prepared to address such sensitive family issues as the need for assisted living care. Financial firms and advisors need to provide educational materials that meet women’s specific needs. And finally, the media needs to highlight women’s financial challenges and needs and continue to work on providing financial education for women.

Retirement continues to be a woman’s issue – and since so many are driving the financial decisions in their households, it’s critical to ensure they have the information they need. While we can’t automate the road to retirement just yet, a concerted effort to ramp up financial education could help more women coast into their golden years.

Donald Mallavia is vice president and national sales manager for Prudential Annuities. He can be reached at 973-802-4446 or donald.mallavia@prudential.com.