The following content is an excerpt from my book, Flourish Financially: Values, Transitions, and Big Conversations. If you enjoy what you read below, you can purchase your own copy here.
Sallie Krawcheck is one of the most successful women in the wealth management industry, having held prominent leadership positions with large Wall Street firms. She often speaks about giving women the resources and encouragement to manage their finances, along with many other important themes that address pay inequality and lack of diversity in corporate leadership. She is an incredibly successful, intelligent woman, and I felt grateful for having the opportunity to not only listen to her speak but to also sit at her lunch table.
During her keynote speech, which was about women and their planning needs, Sallie asked the audience, comprised of financial professionals, “What’s a woman’s greatest asset?” Immediately, several members of the audience murmured, “A man.”
Sallie was actually asking about a woman’s ability to create earning power and save for the future, and about the opportunities she has to maximize the possibility of building a successful long-term plan with an effective wealth management relationship, yet the audience immediately deferred to “a man” as a woman’s greatest asset. I thought, Oh my gosh! This is really sad.
As sad as it is, though, this response speaks to two large issues within financial services: (1) many women don’t feel heard or part of the financial conversation, and (2) the majority of financial planners don’t engage in the bigger picture purpose for the dollars.
A Man is Not a Plan
A good 80 percent of Sallie Krawcheck’s audience was male, which is representative of my industry. Only 23 percent of certified financial planners are women, and of the 311,000 financial advisers in the US, only 15.7 percent are women. These statistics have been stubbornly consistent over many decades because the financial advice industry as a whole doesn’t know how to speak to women or learn what they want. In some circles, there is a lingering feeling that women take a backseat when it comes to finances and, instead, let their spouses manage their accounts. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Women’s wealth and their ability to make money are growing faster than ever. Currently, women control $14 trillion of personal wealth or 51 percent of wealth; in the next five years, this is expected to increase to $18 trillion. Now, more than ever, women have larger incomes and a greater desire to take control of their financial futures.
Even though women are taking control of their finances, their experiences with the investment world are lacking. According to a study conducted by global research firm EY, women say their experiences with the investment world are “unwelcoming,” “patronizing,” “male-dominated,” and “full of jargon.” Sixty-seven percent of female investors perceive that their banker or wealth manager “misunderstands their goals or cannot empathize with their lifestyle.”
Unfortunately, I see this all the time. Women tell me that, in the past, when meeting with a financial planner they either didn’t have a comfortable conversation about their finances or goals, were presented with options that were too laden with jargon for them to ask important follow-up questions, or they were made to feel they didn’t have a voice.
While some women are comfortable relying on their husbands to make financial decisions, as Sallie Krawcheck said when she responded to the murmurs about men being a woman’s best asset, a man is not a plan. In fact, the majority of women will be responsible for their own finances at some point in their life whether they like it or not. This might happen when they first leave school, when they go through a divorce, or when they continue into retirement after their spouse dies.
So, What is a Woman to Do? Build Confidence.
If you’re likely to be managing your finances alone at some point, you’ve got to prepare. However, this can be a challenge.
One-third of women find talking about money stressful compared to just under a quarter of men. Even worse, women don’t always want to talk about money or seek help when they have questions about managing it. In my experience, this is due in large part to a lack of confidence.
Whether you are male or female, to increase your confidence in making financial decisions follow these initial steps.
STEP 1: UNDERSTAND YOUR SPENDING
Forty-one percent of Americans spend less money than they make, so the majority of us are spending about what we make or more than we make. Understanding your spending habits is the first step toward building financial confidence.
All spending can be divided into two categories: (1) critical spending, and (2) nice-to-have spending. Critical or necessary spending includes everything you need to live. This group of expenses includes your rent or mortgage payment, health insurance, copays, and utility bills to name a few. These fixed expenses are critical to your day-to-day existence. Nice-to-haves, on the other hand, aren’t necessary for day-to-day living. They are just that: nice to have. These expenses might include this season’s jacket, a vacation, or a phone upgrade.
Understanding the difference between these two kinds of expenses will help you budget and know which expenses to cut back on when needed.
STEP 2: UNDERSTAND YOUR DEBT
Debt can be a little tricky because there’s good debt and bad debt. As a general rule, good debt facilitates a goal. Buying a house or taking out student loans can lead to good debt. The house might be a long-term investment and the student loan debt might help you pursue that career you know you’ll thrive in. Of course, you don’t want to get in a situation where you can’t pay off the student loan or the house debt.
Bad debt, on the other hand, is debt that includes a high-interest rate and doesn’t necessarily support a life goal. The most common bad debt in the US is credit card debt. The average American has more than $5,000 in credit card debt. The thing is, many people don’t see credit card debt as bad debt. They have no idea that they’re paying 18 percent interest (or more) on debts of $5,000 or $15,000. And if they pay the minimum payments, their payment goes right toward the interest and doesn’t make a dent in how much they owe. The amount they’re paying interest on increases as they add new charges, but many people think small purchases don’t matter because they don’t fully understand the importance of reducing debt.
STEP 3: BUILD AN EMERGENCY FUND
Life brings many ups, downs, and surprises. These are inevitable. What you can control is how you handle financial surprises as they come along. What if family members become sick and you have to take a leave of absence from work or absorb the costs associated with caring for them? What happens if you or your spouse lose a job?
Job loss can have a drastic effect on your finances. If the labor market is tight, if you have a very specialized skill, or if you get paid very well, finding a new job can take months. Having an emergency fund can help you through the transition period after a job loss.
I recommend having three to six months of living expenses stored away as your emergency fund. This will go a long way toward paying for any unexpected expenses such as a car repair bill, an unexpected medical bill, or costs of living during a job loss when life hands you one of its many surprises.
Sometimes, couples choose to live off of one earner’s income and save the rest. For a single person, acquiring three to six months of income reserve can be challenging. Start working toward saving one or two paychecks for an emergency fund and go from there.
Are You Prepared to Build Wealth?
The above three steps can help you get started in building financial confidence – and give you momentum to build wealth, too. Of course, working with a financial professional who understands your goals, challenges, and unique needs is also a valuable step to take.
At Flourish, we work with women to build wealth that allows them to achieve their financial goals and their larger personal aspirations, too. If you think you might benefit from our experience and expertise – and our unique understanding of financial planning for women – please reach out to schedule a no-obligation conversation. We look forward to hearing from you!