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Women: ‘The Largest Emerging Market in the World’

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In the financial advisory community, much of the discussion about women has centered on the differences between the sexes when it comes to investing, wealth accumulation and mortality. Women live longer, earn less and tend to be more risk averse than men. But that focus is too limited, writes Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, in the latest GreenMoney EJournal.

“Women increasingly make up significant percentages of the total work force” in the global economy, writes Hobson. “And the share of global wealth and earnings controlled by women is rising at a rapid rate. All of these factors make women the largest emerging market in the world.”

The global income of women is estimated at over $13 trillion, and that sum is expected to rise to $18 billion by 2017, according to Ernst & Young.  By 2028, the Boston Consulting Group reports, women will control close to 75% of discretionary spending worldwide, but in the U.S. they already do. Seventy-five percent of women feel responsible for everyday household spending, according to Pershing’s 2015 report “Women: Investing with a Purpose.”

On the wealth front, women in households with at least $250,000 in bankable assets and in the top quarter of high-income households control about a third of the wealth. That percentage could increase over the next two generations as women are projected to take in 70% of inherited wealth, writes Hobson.

All these statistics have implications for financial advisors, and they are beginning to move the conversation from “stark gender comparisons toward discussions that focus on how the investing world must adapt and embrace women in their own right,” writes Hobson.

Here are the trends Hobson expects:

More female financial advisors. As of the end of April, there were 6,611 female certified financial planners, accounting for just over 23% of all CFP professionals. But looking more broadly, the percentage is a lot lower. Since CFP-certified planners account for just under a quarter of all financial advisors, women account for just 5.3% of the business. The CFP Board of Standards began a Women’s Initiative two years ago to recruit more female financial planners, but it has not been fully implemented yet, and the impact so far has been limited. That could change as the financial advisory industry expands. It’s among the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS expects 60,000 more advisors will join the profession between 2012 and 2022 as an aging population with longer life expectancies needs more financial advice. That would be a 27% increase, more than twice the average 11% expected for all occupations.

A greater focus on socially responsible investing. “Women are known to link their values with their investments,” and “as women invest more wealth, we are likely to see a much greater demand for socially responsible investment vehicles,” writes Hobson. Her firm manages several funds that shun investments in tobacco, nuclear power and or handgun stocks and favor companies that are environmentally friendly and have diverse workplaces.

Hobson cites several surveys showing that female high-net-worth investors and female financial advisors favor investments that have social, political or environmental impacts. She expects large financial advisory firms will focus more on socially responsible investing and hire more women for the effort, which will also help them attract more female clients. BlackRock, Barclays and Bank of America have already begun to do both, writes Hobson.

More women in senior executive positions and on boards of publically traded companies. That change is good for business. A much referenced Catalyst study found that companies with women comprising 19% to 44% of the board had returns on invested capital that were 26% greater than returns of companies with no female directors.

Despite these expectations and hopes, Hobson notes that women in the U.S. continue to earn 15%-20% less on average than men, account for just 19% of Fortune 500 board members and hold an “unacceptably low” number of executive management positions in corporate America.

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