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Women and Money: What Advisors Need to Understand

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It’s been almost 100 years since women got the right to vote in the U.S., where they now  control 51% of the nation’s private wealth, yet they feel less confident managing money and worry more about retirement and market downturns than men.

A study by U.S. Bank of 3,000 women and men across the U.S., split almost equally between the sexes, found that fewer women than men feel financially prepared (23% vs. 34%), consider themselves financially savvy (19% vs. 33%) or feel confident about their ability to manage their finances (47% vs. 61%).

Yet fewer women than men worry about making ends meet (16% vs. 22%) or struggle to pay their bills (12% vs. 19%), which suggests they may be more competent managing their money than they believe. The differences were even more pronounced between men and women under 35: 47% of women were worried about making ends meet compared with 56% of men, and 38% of women reported they struggle to pay their bills versus 53% of men.

The U.S. Bank study was based on an online survey of male and female investors with minimum investable assets of about $25,000, but 65% had investable assets of $100,000 to $1 million. Their ages ranged from under 35 to over 55, and 80% of them were over 35. They were all clients of the bank.

Women have a different relationship to life and to money than men, according to the survey. They value security and well-being more — 46% of women vs. 35% say this is what they enjoy most about money — and are more likely than men to worry about having enough saved for retirement — 49% vs. 32%. A little more than a third of all respondents — 39% of women and 36% of men — said they worried about a major market decline.

“Women are worriers,” says Gunjan Kedia, vice chair of wealth management and investment services at U.S. Bank, who presented the findings of the survey at a luncheon earlier this week.  

That’s not surprising given that women live longer than men and get paid less than men, about 80 cents on the dollar, though the gap can be less for women and men doing the same job.

Women and Advisors

Despite those worries and confidence issues, fewer women use financial advisors than men when they are younger than 35 — 72% vs. 83% — but that comparison reverses when they are over 55: 72% use advisors vs. 63% of men, according to the U.S. Bank survey. These percentages are quite high and may reflect the fact that respondents to the survey were limited to the bank’s clients. 

The most popular reason both men and women didn’t use a financial advisor was a belief that they could manage their finances themselves (33% of the women and 42% of the men cited this).

Would having more female advisors help women engage one? The survey tested the hypothesis that women would prefer a female advisor, but found that wasn’t true. 

“We didn’t find women asking for women advisors,” Kedia said. “Maybe they don’t ask because there are few women advisors so it’s not something they think they can demand.”

The survey found instead that both women and men heavily weigh “confidence-based criteria” when choosing a financial advisor, such as academic degrees, experiences and how much the advisor appears to understand their life goals. Only men under 35 requested an advisor like them, a man under 35, Kedia said.

Asked about how the financial advisory industry could close the confidence gap between men and women, Kedia said advisors need to have eye contact with women when meeting them as part of a couple with their husband, use less investment jargon and avoid “mansplaining.”

She suggested that advisors be “more human, less technical” when meeting with female clients. With that in mind, U.S. Bank’s investment team is in the process of rewriting the way the bank communicates its investment theses and guidance, using training videos for advisors on these issues and encouraging advisors to meet one-on-one with female clients without men present.

Women want to talk about their kids and whether their husbands are taking too much risk with their investments, Kedia explained.

It all adds up to “an awareness issue” for advisors, Kedia said.

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