September 21, 2016

Breaking Down the Barriers Between Women and Financial Success

Her Wealth is exposing the obstacles and breaking down the barriers that prevent women from succeeding financially.
Dawn Doebler, MBA, CPA, CFP®, CDFA®, Senior Wealth Advisor

When we first began to talk about creating a 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: Traditional Wealth Advisors have characterized women as a one-dimensional niche market 

We have to credit Shellie Peters, a Senior Wealth Advisor 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 partner 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 #2: 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 advisors 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% stake in the firm. Similarly, according to data from Cerulli Associates, in 2012 females accounted for only 11.6% of RIA advisors and only 7.9% of all advisors.  Not only are advisors themselves predominately 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 #3: Fear is both a motivating and paralyzing factor when it comes to women and money

One emotion that tends to be shared by women regarding money is fear.  The source of fear may come from a life experience of witnessing a mother or grandmother who suffered from the impact of early widowhood or an unexpected divorce.  Fear may stem from our news media’s inclination to dole out financial sound bites which often emphasizes a woman’s higher risk of outliving her money.  Women face very real challenges—longer life expectancies, living alone in old age, high healthcare costs, and lower lifetime earnings than men. Fear can result in a woman disengaging from the discussion to avoid uncomfortable conversations. Taking on infinite financial decisions can be stressful and fear can often impact or paralyze our financial decision-making.

This 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. We plan to tackle these fears by bringing clarity and choices to life’s financial dilemmas.

Barrier #4: 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 #5: 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 towards money including a lack of financial preparation. For example, in 1960 only 11% of households with children under age 18 had mothers as sole or primary breadwinners. Today, 70% 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%, 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% 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.

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 towards 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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Shawn: Now you hear all kinds of deals about leasing cars, how can you negotiate a better deal if you want to lease?

Nina: Okay, well many people don't realize that they can actually negotiate the sticker price on a leased car in the same way that you would do that if you're buying a car. And since when you lease -- when you're, you know, your lease payments basically cover the depreciation, the difference between the sales price and the residual value. So it's definitely in your best interest to try to reduce that sales price as much as possible because then you'll pay you know, smaller dollars over the life of the lease. Make sure you pay attention to the down payment at the lease signing. And so here's an example, you might see an ad that says you know, lease payment is only 1.99 a month and that sounds like a great deal for thirty six months. The catch is, is that it might require a $3,600 down payment. So, if you amortize the down payment, then actually that 1.99 special, becomes 2.99. So, you really have to kind of look at total costs. 

And then lastly, dealerships use the term, money or lease factor, when they're calculating your financing costs and a lease factor is not the same as an interest rate. So, you have to make sure the dealer converts that lease factor into a comparable interest rate so you know what your financing charges are. 

Shawn: At the end of the day, does one method wind up being more expensive more often than the other, or can we tell that?

Nina: You know what, it really depends on how long, if you're going to hold the car for a long time, you're better off buying. But if you know, and if you're not, if you just really enjoy driving and you want to have a new car, then go ahead and lease. I mean, there's pros and cons to both, to be honest with you, it's not one size fits all.

Shawn: Alright Nina, great. Happy Thanksgiving to you. Alright, Nina Mitchell is with The Colony Group, for more go to wtop.com and search Her Wealth.

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Dawn Doebler, MBA, CPA, CFP®, CDFA®, Senior Wealth Advisor

Dawn’s experience spans more that 25 years providing wealth management, financial planning and corporate finance solutions for clients. As an MBA, CPA, Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®), she is uniquely qualified to understand the challenges and financial needs of clients from executives to entrepreneurs, as well as single breadwinner parents. Dawn is a weekly contributor to WTOP radio.