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Fidelity Finds 50% Jump in Women Investing Outside of Retirement Accounts

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What You Need to Know

  • While two-thirds of women say they invest outside of retirement accounts and emergency funds, many keep significant savings in cash or bank accounts.
  • Although half the women said they have become more interested in investing, only 41% purported to be comfortable with their investing knowledge.
  • Yet self-directed female investors outperform their male counterparts, according to Fidelity's analysis of 5.2 million accounts.

Two-thirds of women in a new study say they now invest savings they have outside of retirement accounts and emergency funds in the stock market, a 50% increase from 2018, Fidelity Investments reported Friday.

At the same time, many women may still be keeping significant savings in cash or bank accounts, earning minimal interest and therefore missing out on thousands of dollars in potential earnings, the study found. 

CMI Research conducted a survey in July among 1,200 American women and 1,200 American men, all 21 or older with a personal income of at least $50,000 who are actively contributing to a workplace retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b). Fidelity was not identified as the sponsor of this study.

Increasingly Proactive

Fidelity said it was already seeing a notable uptick in 2018 in women getting more hands-on with their finances, and that momentum has continued as the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. 

In fact, it said, the events of the past 18 months catalyzed even more women to make their finances a priority, through building up emergency savings, creating or updating financial plans, and making the move from saver to investor.

Still, a great deal of opportunity remains for those who are not yet investing, as well as for those who may still be keeping significant savings on the sidelines. Taking proactive steps may bode well for the future, Fidelity said.

An analysis of the investing behavior of its retail customers, comparing the annualized return of assets of 5.2 million self-directed retail accounts from January 2011 to December 2020, showed that on average, women not only realized positive returns on their investments, but also outperformed their male counterparts by 40 basis points.

Over the last year, Fidelity said, it has seen an increasing commitment to saving and investing for the future among its own customers as well:

  • Women opening new retail investing accounts increased 43% year-over-year as of June 30.
  • An average 9.2% of women are contributing to workplace savings accounts, based on Fidelity analysis of 23,600 corporate DC plans and 19.8 million participants as of June 30.
  • Women taking advantage of Fidelity guidance increased 37% between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020.

Fidelity expects this momentum to continue, as 9 in 10 women say they plan to take additional steps to get more engaged in the next 12 months. But women will need additional support and education to help reframe how they think about investing, it said. 

Although half of the women in the study said they have become more interested in investing since the start of the pandemic and 42% said they now have more to invest, only 41% purported to be comfortable with their investing knowledge. 

In fact, if given $25,000 to invest, less than half would know what steps to take to do so.

Furthermore, 70% of women said they would need to learn more about picking individual stocks before they could get started, and 77% said if they had an advisor to help them invest, they would feel more confident about their financial future. 

Opportunity vs. Opportunity Cost

While more women are recognizing the power of investing and taking steps to help their money grow, many may still be missing out on thousands of dollars in potential earnings.

In Fidelity’s 2021 study, 47% of women reported having $20,000 or more in savings, 31% had $50,000 or more and 18% had $100,000 or more. The growth potential for these funds can be enormous over time. 

Consider Fidelity’s hypothetical examples of how investing these amounts can potentially grow over the course of 10 years:

  • $5,000: basic savings, $30 vs. conservative investment mix, $3,199.
  • $20,000: $120 vs. $12,795.
  • $50,000: $301 vs. $31,989.
  • $100,000: $602 vs. $63,978.

Money has always been a leading stressor for women, with the ability to save enough for future goals such as retirement high on women’s list of concerns, according to Fidelity. 

Thirty-four percent of women surveyed admitted that worry about their finances keeps them up at night at least once a month. However, with the vast majority of women intending to take action with their money in the next year and the increased focus on investing, better sleep may be in their future, Fidelity said.

“We’re seeing a notable shift in women wanting to learn more not just about how to start investing, but how to dig deeper — how to evaluate and select different types of investments to align with specific goals and how to manage an existing portfolio to ensure you’re invested appropriately and on track,” Lorna Kapusta, head of women investors and customer engagement at Fidelity, said in a statement. 

“We see time and again when women do get more engaged and ensure their money is invested to achieve what’s important to them, their stress levels go down. When women know their money is working as hard as they do — that’s goodness and helps them feel better about their future.”