An independent advisor I know focuses on working with successful women, like her, and hosts an informal study group for successful women. A couple of years back, she mentioned that after such a meeting, one of her wealthiest clients revealed that her biggest fear was running out of money and becoming destitute. The advisor said she just couldn’t understand it: Poverty for that woman was less likely than Kim Kardashian winning a best actress Oscar.
I suggested that it was a clear case of the “bag lady syndrome”: that a high percentage of women, including successful or wealthy women, are secretly (or not so secretly) terrified of ending up penniless. My advisor friend called horse-hockey — not only did she not share that fear, she didn’t know any women who did. So I challenged her to bring it up at her next women’s group meeting. She did, and as she incredulously reported back, every one of the two dozen women in attendance admitted to having the bag lady syndrome.
Today, there are more successful, wealthy women in America than at any time in our history. As Eleanor Blayney, in her work in Directions For Women, has pointed out, this growing trend offers huge opportunities for female financial advisors, but it’s a trend — and an opportunity — that male financial advisors can’t ignore, either. Yet capitalizing on this growing opportunity poses a much greater challenge for male advisors than for their female counterparts. “Women relate to money very differently than men do,” Blayney wrote in her book “Women’s Worth.” If male advisors don’t understand this, and if they approach female clients the same way they do male clients, they won’t attract many female clients or be very good advisors to the ones they do.
To understand women as clients, male advisors need to realize that women have a perspective on money that’s very different from their own. It’s a perspective most men will never fully understand, but I believe that we can understand it better. One way we can gain some insight is to listen to knowledgeable women when they articulate their perspectives on money. I recently came across an excellent example in a new book, “The Money Queen’s Guide: For Women Who Want to Build Wealth and Banish Fear,” by Cary Carbonaro, a practicing financial planner and a managing director of United Capital Financial Advisors.
Now before you get started: Yes, this is a book for financial consumers, not professionals. But it’s also a personal finance book written by a woman for women. Believe me when I say it could only have been written by a woman. This book’s insights into how women relate to money and how they can better relate to money can only come from someone who understands both at a core level. But for male advisors who want to better understand female clients (or for female advisors, like my friend mentioned above), this book is a very good place to start.
Carbonaro got my attention right from the start, stating that she and her clients don’t have the bag lady syndrome, “they have the designer bag lady syndrome.” But, probably like many of you, I have to admit that I was a bit put off by the title: “Money Queen” is a moniker that would seem a bit more fitting for, say, Janet Yellen, Mary Jo White or Abby Johnson. But we have to remember that the book isn’t for men or advisors, so whether the title resonates with either demographic isn’t really important.
What is important are the differences between how men and women relate to money. As Carbonaro persuasively points out, the differences between men’s and women’s attitudes about money are more than different perspectives: They are based in different cultural realities. In my experience, most men believe (rightly or wrongly) that we can always earn a living: If the job we have doesn’t work out, we’ll get another one; if our industry shrinks, we’ll find one that is growing; if we aren’t making enough money, we’ll work harder, etc.
Women don’t often share this sense of optimism (hence the bag lady syndrome), Carbobaro writes, and for good reasons. While job opportunities in most industries are better for women than ever before, our society hasn’t yet reached full equality in the workplace. To succeed, many women still feel the need to work harder, outperform and “get along” better than their male counterparts.