In these economically trying times since the 2008 financial meltdown, the insurance industry has done a remarkable job of recovering and, in the process, rebuilding the retirement and investment confidence of a whole lot of gun-shy seniors and boomers.
Unfortunately, many women say they still feel left out of the retirement equation, neglected by the financial advisory community (and the larger industry as a whole, in some cases), even as their indisputable role in family financial planning continues to grow.
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Earlier this year, Allianz Life Insurance of North America issued its 2013 Women, Money and Power study, its third major survey on the attitudes and aspirations of female investors and pre-retirees, earning the company a cover story in USA Today. The results show that women – who comprise 50.8 percent of the U.S. population, according to 2010 census figures – are just as anxious about their retirement prospects as their male partners and contemporaries.
Disturbingly, almost half of those surveyed say they still innately fear that all of their retirement plans and government help will somehow disappear when they need it the most, leaving them scrambling to make ends meet when they should be enjoying their golden years.
And the survey respondents say they are still underserved by retirement planners, though their involvement in major retirement decisions has considerably increased since the first survey was conducted back in 2005.
Most importantly, the study shows that a new and important classification – the “woman of influence” – has emerged, as more women gain financial independence and are beginning to be more deeply involved in important family financial decisions. Changing demographics and marriage trends mean that more of these women are out there, seeking specifically female-oriented retirement guidance.
Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer insights with Allianz, says that the trend has seen women increasingly becoming the virtual Chief Financial Officer for their families. But those families aren’t like the Cleavers anymore: There are now more single and divorced women in the U.S. than there are married women, and blended families and even families supporting both their parents and their children at the same time (The Sandwich Generation) are now the norm.
“When we conducted the first survey in 2005, we were aware that a lot of financial advisors weren’t paying attention to the female in a couple relationship,” she says. “As a result, when the men died, the women often fired their advisor and tried to get one who recognized their needs. Our objective in this current survey is to make sure that financial advisors are more inclusive and more aware of women’s needs.”
To that end, Libbe says the past half-decade has also created some new financial challenges that advisors need to address, regardless of sex.
“I think that 2008 was a big wake-up call for a lot of women,” Libbe adds. “In the old days, many would simply delegate those retirement planning decisions, but the financial crisis made many women say ‘I need to know what’s going on … and I need to take control.’ As a result, many women feel more empowered and are taking more responsibility for their own financial affairs.”
The dark side to the study, which was conducted with 2,000 women across the country aged 25 to 75, is that a significant number of American women still fear being left as “bag ladies” in their senior years — alone, with no financial or family support, their retirement aspirations completely obliterated. Libbe says that 49 percent of respondents still harbored that fear, even with improvements in the national economy.
What’s more, even 46 percent of the “women of influence” identified by the study — those who take an active role in their own or their families’ investment decisions, have a strong and interactive knowledge of financial products and are generally interested in learning about financial matters — still harbor those fears of ending up broke and homeless. Libbe says that probably reflects more on the female psyche than the true realities of financial planning or the long-term solvency of Social Security.
“Women are worriers by nature — they’re the nucleus of the family, and they have all these worries to contend with, especially if they’re now caring for their own or their spouse’s elderly parents.”
To deal with those perhaps not-so-irrational fears, Libbe suggests that financial advisors help their clients see the bigger realities and benefits of a diversified retirement plan.
“In some sense, you’re never going to be able to change that fear, but if you help them feel more confident in their plans, and show them some real scenarios that include both the best and worst-case outcomes of their financial plans and resources, you can certainly improve the situation.”
Libbe notes that fear and retirement hit her on a personal level when she was between jobs after 2008 and needed serious financial coaching to help feel a bit more reassured about her future plans. A switch in advisors helped get her back in gear.
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