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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

Financial Advisors Get ‘Horrible’ Grade From Working Women

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Women are increasingly taking on more responsibility for their families and finances, but many feel uncomfortable with this role, according to a study of female breadwinners released Tuesday by the Family Wealth Advisors Council, a national network of independent, fee-only wealth management firms.

They are also looking for sound financial advice — and many feel they are not getting it.

“The women overall gave their advisor an average of  ‘5’ on a satisfaction scale of 1 to 10,” Heather Ettinger, a co-author of the study, said in the statement. “That’s a horrible grade.”

The FWAC Breadwinner Study comprised 1,074 women who were personally invited to participate by an FWAC member or a professional working closely with a member firm.

FWAC defined “breadwinners” as women who contributed at least 25% of household income. Of the 1,074 women surveyed, 95% fit this definition. Seventy-three percent were primary breadwinners, contributing at least half of household income, including 32% who were sole breadwinners.

Respondents spanned the income spectrum, with 44% earning more than $151,000 a year. Sixty-eight percent said their total household net worth was at least $500,000.

Forty percent of the women surveyed reported that they felt pressure from family and friends to downplay their role as an earner, and 28% of married or committed women said their parents would disapprove of them being the primary breadwinner.

“Women are increasingly controlling more of the nation’s wealth, and the rise of the breadwinner woman is causing seismic shifts in our families, our communities and our marketplace,” Eileen O’Connor, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“And although pressure could cause women to ‘lean back’ from major financial decisions, the opposite is happening in that they are ‘leaning in,’ making sound financial advice even more important.”

O’Connor said the tension women felt was often more intense for those who had become the primary breadwinner out of necessity.

“The Great Recession exacerbated things, as many men either couldn’t get back into the work force or couldn’t get back at the same level,” she said. “That just added to the stress for the woman.”

The report from FWAC, whose members collectively manage more than $3 billion in assets, noted that women were the primary breadwinner in four of 10 American families, and 95% of women would be their family’s principal financial decision maker at some point in their lives.

At present, the report said, breadwinner women were responsible for at least three-quarters of all financial-planning responsibilities in their households.

Moreover, they took on as much as 90% of the responsibility for charitable giving, paying for college, retirement planning and overall saving.

Participants were drawn from 38 states and the District of Columbia, and several from Singapore, China and Australia. Although they reflected a wide age range, most of the participants were in their 40s and 50s, and half had children.

Needed: Financial Strategies and Workplace Flexibility

The study found that even with their increasing responsibilities, many female breadwinners lacked confidence in their own wealth management skills and were widely dissatisfied with their financial advisors.

Ettinger said that dissatisfaction “reflects the huge service delivery gap that exists for financial education and a ‘safe’ environment for women breadwinners.”

Sixty-two percent of those currently working with a financial advisor said they were not as knowledgeable about their finances as they would like to be, and 19% said they were not at all knowledgeable.

The study noted that breadwinner women wanted many services from their financial advisors, such as coordinating with other advisors and creating strategies for charitable giving and higher education, which they frequently did not receive. The study also found the workplace wanting. Forty-six percent of respondents said their employers did not offer the flexibility they needed to juggle their various responsibilities — for their career, finances, children and aging parents.

Eighty-five percent of respondents acknowledged that their companies had technology that enabled them to work remotely. Still, they said employers had to make significant progress in gender-blind compensation, flexible work schedules and on-site child care, as well as in offering a stipend for personal financial planning.

Single Breadwinners

The report also emphasized that the loss of a spouse, whether through divorce or death, was a deeply traumatic experience and caused shifts in financial needs and status.

It said many women would find themselves in the primary decision-maker role at some point in their lives, given that 80% of men die married and 80% of women die single.

The study said that all single working women could benefit from sound financial advice, but had different needs according to their situations.

Widows may worry about financial security, especially if they did not participate with their partners in financial management or planning, and so will want safe investments.

Divorced women appear to support both themselves and frequently members of their extended families, and often do not receive much support from their former husbands.

According to the study, divorced women felt the least supported in the workplace, and widowed breadwinners felt the most support. Divorced women were least trusting or knowledgeable of advisors and the value they could offer.

About 70% of the widowed women in the study changed their financial advisor within a year of their spouse’s death because they did not have relationship with the previous one.

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