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.
See also: 20 women in insurance you need to know
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.
Women as CFO
Central to the major changes found since earlier studies, Allianz’s 2013 report finds that women have decisively established themselves as the financial head of the household. Approximately 57 percent say they have more earning power than ever before in history, with six out of 10 declaring themselves the primary bread-earner in the family.
Fifty-four percent have subsequently dubbed themselves the CFO of their family, with 79 percent honestly admitting they can’t just leave the financial and retirement planning decisions up to their husbands, as was the case in the past. Sixty percent say they handle the family’s tax preparations and 59 percent say they’re the family member who teaches the children about money.
“Women don’t want to be left out of the conversation, and advisors need to make sure that they’re included in any family financial discussion,” Libbe notes. “But you also have to recognize that women have a unique approach to financial planning. In a volatile market, men might be inclined to ride it out, while women are more opposed to risk and might seek guaranteed solutions.”
The woman of influence
Times have changed and one in five women who responded to Allianz’s survey say they would include themselves in the women of influence category: A solid 90 percent of those financially savvy women say that becoming more financially knowledgeable has made a difference in their lives, and nearly half feel much more confident about seeking financial information directly and asking the tough questions themselves. Those who have done so also feel much more confident about their financial future, and have more faith (and better understanding) in the way that various retirement and investment tools work.
Libbe says the women of influence tend to make more money ($57,000 per year, on average), are more likely to have completed post-secondary education and are also more likely to be a business owner or even a VP at their company, versus the rest of the female population.
But women of influence aren’t all Type A business tycoons: Libbe says that regular stay-at-home moms can be just as interested — and involved — in important financial decisions.
“It’s inspiring to see a growing number of women fit this empowered profile, and we encourage women to evaluate their own relationship with their finances to determine where they stand and what steps they need to take to become more confident with financial and retirement planning,” she adds.
The modern family
While the study primarily focused on women’s financial needs and attitudes, it also pointed out some major demographic shifts that have permanently altered the description of family. These changes require significant retooling on the part of advisors and their service to their clients.
“We also delved into the emerging issue of same-sex relationships, and we found that many people, based on those relationships, need to be even more involved in retirement planning as they won’t legally get their partner’s benefits,” she says. “We realize we need to do more research on this phenomenon.”
Regardless of the gender of the parties involved — and also reflecting the much-increased number of single and divorced clients, not to mention clients with blended families — Libbe says it’s crucial that financial advisors have a very good, open and honest relationship with their clients. Is there a 30-year-old daughter who might end up living at home again with the parents? Will care be necessary for two sets of adult parents? These are answers you should know.
A tough transition
Knowledge is power and while it’s great to see that women are making strides in their own financial knowledge and involvement, Libbe says the problem remains that the financial services and retirement business hasn’t quite caught up or figured out how to address women’s needs.
“The industry is just not ready for them, yet. All that information remains too technical, and that’s largely because we’re a highly regulated industry. But I think we can do a better job of teaching and writing about the benefits of retirement planning. Financial advisors need to find a different service model for women at different life stages.”
Advisors would also be wise to consider some different approaches.
“Women like to learn in a social setting, so seminars can be very important. Women will also tend to go online before they visit and learn some of the basics — they want to be smart about it, and they’re also so used to being taken advantage of by everyone from car dealers to repairmen. They do their research.”
While other carriers and industry associations have conducted similar research, Libbe says Allianz specifically is using the teachings of its survey to better equip its representatives to understand the specific financial needs of women — including CE credits for coursework for advisors learning the best ways to be more effective in reaching women.