As a woman who has been in the financial services industry for over 30 years, I feel a sense of optimism as we continue to see women’s presence increase at the board and executive levels and the number of female graduates continue to grow and outnumber their male counterparts, especially in professional schools. The highlight this year, on so many fronts, was watching Kamala Harris being sworn in as the first female Vice President of the United States. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but we are progressing. Yet the one area that still troubles me is the gap in women’s financial literacy relative to men.
Over 30 percent of Canadian women are sole breadwinners and over 40 percent out-earn their husbands
Even though women are making more money, the paradox is that they are only half as likely as men to feel confident about their financial future and they also rate their financial literacy lower than men. If this isn’t concerning enough, nine out of 10 women will be responsible for solely managing their finances at some point in their life likely driven by a life event such as divorce, partner illness, or death. Over 45 percent of women over age 65 are widows. What worries me terribly is that women are not financially preparing themselves for the time when they will have to solely manage their finances. Why is this?
Sixty-one percent of women would rather talk about their own death than money
When I share this stat with women, we all laugh because we realize the absurdity of it. But why aren’t women having money conversations? There are many factors at play which could include our upbringing and the money mindset that we bring into our relationships. Some of us may have come from families where the discussion of money was taboo, right up there with politics, sex, and religion—although one might suggest that these conversations may not be taboo anymore.
The financial services industry has been historically dominated by men who did not necessarily know how to properly connect with women. The rate of return-focused approach combined with overt self-confidence just didn’t sit well with women so as a result, they were not finding the right financial advisors with who they could connect. In addition, women are twice less likely to be approached as potential clients by male advisors. It’s not about women wanting to be treated differently. It’s about women wanting to be heard.
Managing your finances and understanding the industry jargon can be daunting. Years ago, I went through a long, drawn-out divorce and, quite honestly, was completely overwhelmed. With the sole responsibility of raising three school-aged children, managing a household, and a demanding career all while navigating through the costly expense of divorce lawyers and court costs, I didn’t have time to breathe, let alone proactively manage my finances in the best way. In reflection, if I could have a “do-over” I would have sought out a financial advisor to guide me through the tough times. I needed an objective, professional to provide me with options when I couldn’t think clearly. The key is to have a trusted financial advisor before a life event happens.
The horror of not knowing
My cousin is a family lawyer and she shares stories of women who come to see her at the start of a divorce and have no idea what their family financial situation is. They are overwhelmed at having to put together a basic financial statement which is the requirement. More disturbing are the devastating financial revelations that sometimes come to light—homes being fully leveraged and lines of credits maxed out for luxury purchases with no indication of any savings. You need to understand your financial situation before a life event happens.
Get involved. Stay involved.
It’s quite normal to divvy up various household responsibilities. And let’s face it, not many people other than maybe accountants or bankers like to manage the household finances, so having your partner offer to take this task over can be a great relief but there is a caveat. Don’t hand it over fully and then walk away. Stay involved.
When couples share the responsibility for the long-term financial management of the household or where individual income is similar, the knowledge gap diminishes.
It’s never too early or late to start
The great news here is that the tide can be changed. And we are in control to do so. Regardless of your age, commit to learning more. There are resources everywhere—articles, websites, webinars—the information out there is endless. Start small.
If you are in a relationship where your partner manages the finances, get involved. Ask them to sit down with you to explain your financial situation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do this a few times a year. Make sure you know where all your financial documents are kept in the event your partner ever becomes suddenly ill and hospitalized. Find a financial advisor you can connect with. It couldn’t be easier right now with everything being virtual. You don’t even need to leave your house!
No matter where you are in your life journey, single or married, stay at home or employed/ entrepreneur, Gen Z or Boomer, I encourage you to make a personal commitment in 2021 to get started and get knowledgeable. You’ve got this.
About the author: Dilys D’Cruz is the VP & Head of Wealth Management at Meridian Credit Union and is on a mission to help educate women of all ages so they can be in control of their financial futures.