How Women Can Flex Their Financial Power

Who run the world? Based on certain statistics, Beyonce was spot on. While women, on average, are still lagging men in many ways — like, say, in income, congressional seats, CEO positions and uninterrupted speaking time on the Senate floor — they do pack quite a bit of financial power already. And wielding that power wisely does wonders for them individually as well as for the economy at large.

For example, women make about 85 percent of household purchasing decisions, according to marketing firm Interpublic Group. So they make a big impact on the economy via consumerism.

That’s part of what inspired Shannon Coulter to start the #GrabYourWallet campaign along with co-founder Sue Atencio. When Coulter first heard the infamous “Access Hollywood” recordings of now-President Donald Trump boasting about his harassment of women, she became upset and felt moved to fight back. Her weapon of choice: boycotts. “Women control the vast majority of household purchases,” Coulter says. “I just knew if I could mobilize that power,” it could help force a change.

Indeed, #GrabYourWallet, which compiles a list of companies that support or are associated with Trump and his family, has been credited with getting a number of businesses to drop Trump-related products from their inventory.

On top of that, Coulter relishes the effect that the movement has had on its participants, especially older women. “Boycotting is a safe and effective, private form of protest,” she says, noting that it can be a particularly appealing strategy for people who might not have otherwise felt comfortable publicly protesting in, say, a march on Washington. And now that those women have discovered this way of asserting their opinions, “I don’t think they’re going to be missing very many opportunities to flex their power in the future,” Coulter says.

[See: 7 Companies That People Are Boycotting Because of the Trump Family.]

Women can be as effective with their portfolios as they are with their wallets. In fact, when it comes to long-term investing, women tend to do better than men. The HFRI Women index — which tracks the performance of women-run hedge funds — gained a total 38.4 percent from January 2008 through October 2016, according to consulting firm KPMG. In the same time period, the HFRI Fund Weighted Composite index returned just 24.2 percent. And on the individual level, online investing platform SigFig reported that, in 2015, its male users had a median loss of 2.5 percent while women did better, losing just 2.2 percent. In the year before, women gained 4.7 percent versus men’s 4.1 percent rise.

Why do women tend to be better investors than men?

“The primary reason is because they’re much more likely to set a strategic plan and stick with it,” says Natalie Colley, an analyst with financial planning firm Francis Financial in New York. “And that is one of the best things you can do for successful long-term growth in your portfolio.”

Still, despite their ability to perform well with investing, women continue to do it less than men. According to a Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies survey, 80 percent of male respondents report that they are saving for retirement while just 72 percent of women say the same. Worse news: Men say they’ve saved a median $115,000 for retirement, and women have saved a meager $34,000. Plus, when asked whether they were invested more in stocks or bonds, women indicated a low level of engagement, with 32 percent of female respondents replying “Not sure.”

[See: 11 Money Tips for Women.]

What’s behind this gender investing gap?

Before launching Ellevest, a digital financial advisor for women, in 2016, Sallie Krawcheck wondered the same thing. “I began to recognize that something in investing isn’t working for women,” she says. “And we always tend to blame them — they need more financial education or they need to spend more time on it or they’re not good at math — but those explanations really fell flat … so I came to the conclusion that women didn’t need to change. The industry needed to change … in order to better serve women.”

Having spent more than a decade as CEO or CFO of giants in said industry, including at Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney, Krawcheck knows of what she speaks. So she and her team approached building their investing app differently by keeping women in mind. Some of the facts they take into account when developing financial and investing plans: Women live longer and tend to take more career breaks, and their salaries peak sooner. They also “recognize that men tend to be happy investing in order to make more money, whereas women are more motivated by concrete financial goals,” she says.

Krawcheck’s hope with this app is just to get women investing. “The biggest mistake women make is they don’t invest,” she says. “They tend to overestimate what the downside can be in investing, so they lose out on the returns that have historically been available to them.”

Overcoming that initial hurdle and getting started is the key to financial success. “Once women feel they have a good handle on things, they become much more confident and then much more aggressive in their portfolios and can lean into their financial lives even more,” Colley says.

[See: 11 Great Investing Tips for Women.]

Virginia-based financial planning professional Jocelyn Gonzales has seen a similar shift among her own clients: “The women are starting to step up and learn more about investments and retirement,” she says. “We can’t depend on ‘the man’ to take care of us. We have to find ways to take care of ourselves, and the first way to do that is to learn about managing our finances.”

That’s a good start, but women need to continue stepping up their financial engagement and flexing their financial power. “Too many of us know women who have lived lives less fully than they otherwise would have because they haven’t had the financial freedom to make the choices they want to,” Krawcheck says. “We women will not be fully equal with men until we are financially equal with men.”

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