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The Top Three Myths about Women Investors

March 27, 2012

by Lisa Kueng

Women prefer that their advisors focus primarily on them as individuals, not on women in general.  We tested statements such as “…it’s not about understanding the different ways men and women view and relate to money; it’s about understanding the way YOU view and relate to money.  It’s about understanding your goals, your plans for the future…” and we got highly positive reactions.  Women want their individuality, not their gender, to be the focus.

We found another clear example of this as we tested workshop titles intended for women.   We found that titles that included the word “women” tested poorly.  “Investing for Women?”  No.  “What Women Know About Money?”  Didn’t work either.  How about “The Female Financial Advantage?”  Not even close.  Gender-neutral titles were much more favorably received. 

We’re not saying that the industry in general or you as an advisor shouldn’t intentionally target women as clients.  Women, after all, control 80% of consumer purchasing decisions in the country!1  It just means making gender part of your headline won’t help in your marketing.

Myth No. 2: Point out the special financial challenges that women face and then demonstrate how you can help remedy them.

This, too, might seem like common sense.  Most financial advisors are well aware that US women earn 23% less than men on average,2 have less saved than men for retirement and will live longer than men –thereby having to fund longer retirements with less money.3  It’s logical that we might point out those challenges to female clients and then demonstrate how we might help fix them, isn’t it?

But we have heard these facts before, as have our clients.  At this point, they’re tired of hearing them again and again.

When we tested messaging like “women have held lower-paying or part-time jobs that don’t offer retirement plans, they earn less than men on average, and they work fewer years because they leave the workforce to care for children,” responses ranged from neutral to slightly negative.  Not surprisingly, feedback included “that’s very negative” and “it sounds condescending.”

But, one might argue, these facts are true, aren’t they?  Don’t we need to face the facts? 

Yes, of course we do, but that doesn’t mean we should lead with negative messaging.   In fact, we can accomplish a lot – raise women’s awareness of how much they’re earning and saving toward retirement, help them structure financial plans, assist them in finding the motivation to make those plans a reality – without reciting those statistics.

Case in point: In our research, when we encouraged women to “create a financial vision,” “take the time to review their current profile,” or “design a plan for themselves, and then make it happen,” the positive response nearly doubled!  With not a single mention of how they weren’t saving enough for retirement or how they didn’t earn that much money!

Consider an analogy.  A tennis coach is working with a group of players known to have some limitations.  Does the coach start off by announcing, “Some of you may know that, on average, you have 23% less tennis skills than other players.  You didn’t practice enough when you were younger because you took extra time off to take care of your family.  And now you’re going to have to play tennis more competitively than ever before, with less skill! Now go get ’em!”  How’s that for motivation?  Of course, a good coach wouldn’t do that – a good coach would help the players create a training program targeted to each player’s specific needs and motivate each of them to find and focus on his or her strengths.  We as financial advisors can do the same thing.

1. Bridget Brennan, Why She Buys, Crown Publishing Group, 2009

2. DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009. U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, October 2010

3. Reshma Kapadia.  The Forgotten Majority, Smart Money Magazine, October 2010