Attracting women clients is an on-going challenge for the financial industry.  Women do far less formal financial planning than men.  Even though women are increasingly in control of more wealth and are likely to be living without a partner for at least part of their adult life, their role as financial heads of households has not translated into increased involvement in financial planning.  Here’s the evidence:

A research study comparing married, cohabiting and lesbian couples’ approach to retirement planning identified a clear difference in take-up rates between men and women[1].  The inclusion of lesbian couples enables further understanding of the differences between the role a person has within a couple versus their actions based on gender.  The roles within a same-sex female couple should line up to roles within all types of couples when it comes to managing the various demands and risks of life.  In other words, if someone has the role to do financial planning in a heterosexual couple then it seems appropriate to assume that someone will also have that role in a same-sex couple.  This lets us discard any notion (whether true or false) that it’s men’s role to do financial planning within a couple.

Although the study did not have any data for same-sex male couples, the results are still intriguing.  All women in the three types of couples did less financial planning than the males in the two heterosexual couples.  This further indicates the challenge of getting women to do financial planning, by linking gender, not division of household roles, to financial planning.  What is especially worrisome about this outcome is the risk being incurred by an increasing number of households because of the trend toward women-only families and solo-women households.  Those households are less likely to have a financial plan in place.

The study did show that the woman in married heterosexual relationships were the most likely of all the women to do financial planning.  One possible explanation for this could be the greater percentage of children in married relationships versus other types of couples increasing the motivation to get one’s financial house in order.  Another explanation could be that married heterosexual couples are more likely to go together to a financial planner than are other types of couples.  This may partly be due to the tendency of financial planners to encourage married couples to participate together in the process.

The baffling divide between ‘fear’ and ‘action’

A 2013 Allianz Life Insurance poll found that “…almost 50 percent of American women are afraid of the likelihood of becoming poor, despite having enormous financial achievements”.  Philanthropist and multi-millionaire Adrienne Arsht in a media interview indicated that “…all women, at whatever level of wealth, are afraid of being bag ladies.!”. [2]  Unfortunately this fear does not motivate women to take action.  Women who have achieved substantial financial success, including leadership in the financial industry, are still less likely than men to do financial planning.  Salli Krawchuck, who held very senior roles in wealth management, in a recent media interview expressed how much she hates (her word) doing financial planning[3].

Greater peace of mind can be achieved by having a plan in place but it seems for now the perceived agony of creating a financial plan is enough to keep women away from the process.

[1] Mock, S.E. & Cornelius, S.W. (2007).  Profiles of interdependence: The retirement planning of married, cohabiting, and lesbian couples.  Sex Roles, 56, 793-800.

[3] Interview with Chris Taylor, July 2013.  Ms. Krawchuck previously headed wealth management for Citigroup and Bank of America.