Breaking down the barriers between women and financial success

WASHINGTON — When we first began to talk about creating Her Wealth, our women’s financial initiative, we wanted to somehow take the collective wisdom and experience of the women financial professionals at Bridgewater Wealth and give that back — not just to our clients and their families — but to a broader audience of women.

We wanted to revolutionize the way women think about their money and wealth by identifying and breaking down the barriers we see all the time that prevent women from being fully engaged in their financial lives. There’s no better place to start than taking on those barriers.

Barrier #1: The wealth management industry continues to be dominated by men

We don’t want you to get the wrong impression: There are many fantastic male wealth advisers, including those at Bridgewater Wealth, who deliver a valuable service to their clients — both men and women. That said, we cannot ignore that the wealth management industry remains a male-dominated field.

According to Wealth Management Magazine, of 400 Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) firms, there were only 25 firms with women holding at least a 25 percent stake in the firm. Similarly, according to data from Cerulli Associates, in 2012 females accounted for only 11.6 percent of RIA advisers and only 7.9 percent of all advisers.  Not only are advisers themselves predominantly male, but most of the advice given is directed to the male of the household.

We hear from women all the time that they feel this void. We think it takes another woman with that shared experience to understand, at a very deep level, all the factors that affect a woman’s relationship with her money. We believe this so strongly that we have established an annual Her Wealth Scholarship to advance the education of women in the financial services industry.

Barrier #2: Talking about money is a taboo topic

When was the last time you had an honest conversation about money with a close friend or family member?  Many of us were taught that, like religion, politics and sex, money talk is off limits.

We rarely discuss money, even with our closest confidants.  Why?  Well, it can be seen as bragging if we’re complaining about money issues that often arise in a family with substantial wealth.  Or, if we fall upon leaner times, our own parents may think, “She makes a lot more money than we ever did, I don’t understand why she can’t make ends meet?”

And, if you aren’t sure you can afford the new home you and your husband are considering, who helps to address that concern?  Likely, your friends and family may persuade you based on their own finances.

Many life choices have significant financial implications and it may be uncomfortable to discuss them. That’s why we think women need somewhere to go to have important conversations about money. A place where talking about money is not taboo, but encouraged and supported.

Barrier #3: Lack of preparation is still prevalent among women of all ages

The lives of women today, especially those in their mid-to-late 50s, are completely different from those of our mothers and grandmothers.  Yet, we continue to see women maintain outdated attitudes toward money, including a lack of financial preparation.

For example, in 1960 only 11 percent of households with children under age 18 had mothers as sole or primary breadwinners. Today, 70 percent of women with children under age 17 are employed outside of the home.

We are earning more money than our mothers, but are we better prepared for life’s financial curveballs? With the divorce rate at 50 percent, it’s becoming more commonplace to consider prenuptial agreements for second marriages and to design estate plans that incorporate children from multiple marriages. We’re living longer and will need more income for a retirement that could last significantly longer than those of our parents and grandparents. In most cases, social security and pensions no longer provide enough income to support our retirement needs. Saving enough for retirement is challenging for women who earn 25 percent less than men and spend an average of 11 years out of the workforce.

We want women to be prepared for all of these situations through thoughtful engagement and education rather than waiting until a crisis hits before taking action. At that point, options are limited and it may be too late.

Barrier #4: Traditional wealth advisers have characterized women as a one-dimensional niche market

We have to credit Shellie Peters, a senior wealth adviser and director of financial planning at Bridgewater Wealth, for keeping our mission top of mind. She would remind us over and over that “women are not a niche market.” This was one of her loudest complaints having witnessed the wealth management industry cater to women by creating pink brochures or talking down to them.

Instead, we set out to recognize and celebrate every woman’s individuality, especially when it comes to money. While some women have concerns about inherited wealth, others are “self-made,” either from working alongside a supportive spouse or by forgoing marriage or parenthood altogether.

Some women need guidance to manage through challenging circumstances, such as a divorce or the loss of a loved one. Others are trying to save for retirement and college for their kids while caring for aging parents. Even while our circumstances may differ, women have much in common, including our experiences of being women in today’s ever-changing world.

Barrier #5: Fear is both a motivating and paralyzing factor when it comes to women and money

The one emotion that tends to be shared by women regarding money is fear. The source of fear can stem from a variety of experiences or beliefs. The problem arises when women disengage from their finances because they want to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

Women face very real challenges — longer life expectancies, living alone in old age, high health care costs and lower lifetime earnings than men. Taking on infinite financial decisions can be stressful and fear can often impact or paralyze our financial decision-making.

Fear is a challenging barrier to overcome. Even so, we have seen time and again that when women are engaged with and take an active interest in their finances, it’s an empowering experience. Since fear plays such an important role, we plan to address this in greater detail in the future.

Her Wealth is intended to shed light on the shared experiences of women and their wealth.  We’ll be digging deeper into the many factors that impact our attitudes toward our finances, and breaking down as many barriers as possible that prevent women from attaining and enjoying their life’s goals.

Our hope is that Her Wealth is the catalyst for women to create new ways of relating with and managing their wealth.

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