March 8 is International Women's Day, a day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.1 First observed in 1911, the day also serves as a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The theme for 2022, “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” strives to advance gender equality in this time of climate crisis through the leadership of women.
Since 1995, the Presidents of the United States of America have also issued annual proclamations designating March as Women’s History Month.2 These proclamations recognize the specific contributions women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields.
Women and men alike take a keen interest in celebrating the achievements of our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, colleagues, friends and other females who have played an important role in our lives. And all people are welcome to participate in activities to help commemorate these two important holidays.
In this context, now may be an appropriate time to reflect on the women you serve as a financial professional—and renew your dedication to helping women achieve their financial goals throughout the year.
Explore the service opportunities you may be overlooking
You may even decide that this is a segment of your book of business that deserves greater attention from you on an ongoing basis from now on. Here’s why.
Women have emerged as an economic powerhouse—earning, controlling and inheriting more wealth than ever before. A report from the National Association of Women Business Owners estimates that women in the United States controlled 52 percent of wealth in 2017. The report also projects that wealth controlled by women will only continue to grow, reaching an estimated two-thirds of wealth by 2030.
Indeed, women are adding to their assets a rate of $5 trillion per year globally according to the “Women in Wealth, Managing the Next Decade of Women’s Wealth” published by the Boston Consulting Group in 2020. With this growing wealth comes more financial responsibility and complexity, often intertwined with juggling careers, caregiving and life’s transitions.
Yet in 2018, only about half of women felt confident about managing investments compared to more than two-thirds of men, based on findings of “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line,” published by AgeWave. This disparity remained consistent, even when women and men earn the same scores on financial literacy tests.
Whether by choice or by circumstance, women are increasingly in roles where they must be responsible for their long-term financial security. In fact, the vast majority of women will be in charge of their family finances at some point in their lives by choosing to remain single, experiencing divorce or simply living longer than men.
Understand the unique challenges to women’s financial security
Although women have made strides toward social, political and economic equality, gender-related challenges call attention to the reasons why careful planning may be necessary to meet financial goals.
- Women generally earn less than men. This may result in having fewer assets to manage when preparing for the future.
- Women may interrupt careers to care for children and/or elderly parents. This may further reduce the assets contributed to retirement plans.
- Women can expect to live longer than a male counterpart. This may require more assets to cover lifetime needs.
- Women will likely survive husbands and be in charge of the family wealth. This is often overlooked in planning for post-retirement needs.
Furthermore, while women have high expectations for their careers and financial lives, a lack of financial confidence can undermine their planning efforts. And women may often recognize the need for more financial help, yet equally as often fail to make it a priority in their busy lives.
The business case for paying special attention to women clients
For all of these reasons, it’s important for women to take an active role in their financial lives, whether building a career, working inside the home, partnered, married, divorced, widowed or solo. As an experienced financial professional, you are well qualified to help your women clients overcome the obstacles that stand between many women and their long-term financial wellbeing.
Take a careful look at your book of business, and you may see many opportunities to speak to women about their goals and circumstances. When meeting with clients who are married couples, many financial professionals focus more attention on the male partner.
In fact, a study by Fidelity Investments found that among married couples, men are 58 percent more likely than women to be their financial professional’s primary contact.3 This may be one of the reasons why 70% of women who become widowed leave their husband’s financial professional within one year of their husband’s passing, according to research conducted by Spectrem Group.
So if you are already talking to your women clients and helping them address what is important to them, good for you. Not only are you doing right for your clients, you’re taking the right steps to help avoid having client assets walk out the door.
And if you want to build stronger relationships with your women clients, but are uncertain about how to talk with them, browse our Perspectives article on connecting with the female investor for insights that may help you break the ice and develop a meaningful client-professional relationship.4
Conversations to have with female clients this year
Based on anecdotal reports from financial professionals, academic research and an RBC Wealth Management study titled, “The influence of women on building the family legacy,” published in collaboration with Scorpio Partnership, here are five topics to consider addressing with your most valued women clients.
For each topic, listen for the following questions and consider using the information provided in your responses. Or better yet, prioritize these topics for each female client and address the potential questions before they come up.
1. Achieving financial goals
Research for RBC’s “Influence of Women” paper shows that women well-versed in financial matters and focused on the long-term financial health of their families are both empowered and empowering. The study found that high net worth women are ambitious, both for themselves and for the next generation.
Many well-intentioned parents, especially mothers, prioritize their children’s college education ahead of their retirement savings. Discuss the advantages of maximizing retirement savings first and developing a college savings strategy with other funds. Also, encourage women clients to start saving for both goals as early as possible.
Investors may occasionally want to liquidate portfolio assets for a major expense. Maybe it is a home remodel or vacation property. Perhaps it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for the family. Or maybe a luxury car. When women clients ask about financing wealth management goals, consider prudent use of securities-based lending to help fund major purchases without interrupting progress toward long-term goals.
The decision about whether one parent should stay home with the children is complex. Most families depend on what the mother provides. Indeed, mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners for 42 percent of U.S. families, with another 22 percent earning 25–49 percent of the family income.5 Talk with women about the advantages and drawbacks of employment outside the home, as well as the value they may contribute as the primary homemaker, chief finance officer and chief of staff of the family.
Women-owned businesses comprise 31 percent of all privately held businesses—and 20 percent of businesses with revenues of $1 million or more.6 Discuss the financial considerations, which may include sourcing start-up funding, managing substantial risk and coping with unpredictable income. A securities-based line of credit may be on solution for multiple business-related financial goals.
Many women see their wealth as a way to initiate positive change. It grants the freedom to support worthy causes and gives a sense of making a real and significant difference. In fact, 62 percent of high-net-worth women cite social impact as being very or extremely important, compared to 50% of men surveyed.7 Charitable trusts and donor advised funds may be two tools that women clients would like to explore with your help as an investment professional.
2. Accumulating wealth
With generally longer life expectancies, women may need to both accumulate more assets and invest for more growth potential over time. Considerations women may face include potentially lower income levels and possible time away from work to raise families and care for older parents.
Women tend to be more risk-aware with their portfolios. Risk-aware investors are less likely to suffer losses from chasing performance or trading too often. However, they also choose lower-risk investments that may produce lower returns. Helping your women clients understand their risk tolerance relative to their time horizon, asset allocation and the potential impact of inflation and taxes may help make appropriate decisions.
The median retirement account value for women is 34 percent less than men.8 Many employers match employee contributions, to a certain level. To maximize savings, recommend that women clients take advantage of employer match, if available; contribute more if possible and consider boosting contributions when earnings increase.
3. Protecting wealth
Many women want to live independently while caring for their loved ones during their later years. Taking appropriate steps to protect wealth may help preserve individual autonomy and help offer peace of mind about future financial security.
All women need a survivor plan to help provide financial security for themselves or for their spouse and potential dependents in the event something happens to either individual. Women who are employed or own businesses need to be able to replace that income. Women who are homemakers and who take care of others need to be able to replace the cost of those important contributions to their family’s wellbeing.
Seven of 10 retirees will need some form of long-term care.9 Seven of 10 nursing home residents are also women.10 Medicare covers brief periods after qualifying hospitalizations. Medicaid is intended for those with extreme financial need. Talk to women about potential long-term care expenses and how to prepare for them.
Work with women clients and couples to find out what legal and financial arrangements have been made should one spouse outlive the other. Make sure all wills and living trusts are in order and updated, and that all beneficiary designations are correct, especially if either spouse has been married previously.
4. Turning wealth into income
Women are far more likely than men to face financial hardship during retirement. The typical income for women 65 and older is 25 percent lower than for men, and that gap widens to 44 percent by age 80 and older.8
Consider developing a retirement income plan for your women clients’ circumstances and goals. Plan to cover living expenses (such as housing, groceries and health care), as well as lifestyle expenses (like hobbies, travel and entertainment).
Women who are widowed, divorced, over age 70 and have household incomes of less than $80,000 rely on Social Security benefits for most of their income.8 Claiming benefits before full retirement age reduces the amount, while delaying benefits past full retirement age increases it. Include Social Security claiming strategies in your conversations with women clients.
As part of a divorce or legal separation, a portion of a former spouse’s retirement benefit may be obtained. In most private-sector plans, this is done using a qualified domestic relations order issued by the court. Ask your women clients who may be divorcing to contact their spouse’s plan sponsor to request a copy of the summary plan document and review it with your women clients to help better understand her options.
The surviving spouse of a defined benefit plan (e.g., a pension) may be entitled to receive a survivor benefit when the enrolled employee dies. The rules may be different for a defined contribution plan (e.g., a 401(k)). Work with your women clients to consult the summary plan document or the plan administrator about spousal rights to death benefits.
5. Transferring wealth
Women are likely to inherit wealth from grandparents, parents and spouses. This may be why research for the RBC “influence of women” study found that providing a financial legacy for loved ones is an important goal for many women. Be certain your women clients understand the following details and help them make appropriate choices regarding wealth transfer.
A will allows recipients of estate assets to be designated. Beneficiary designations on financial accounts supersede wills. Without a will, estates are settled according to state law. Trusts can provide additional instructions, such as when beneficiaries receive assets and how assets may be used.
Estate settlement of a will is conducted in probate court and is a matter of public record. It can also be time-consuming and costly. Assets transferred by trust are not subject to probate publicity or delay. Life insurance proceeds also offer privacy and speed without legal fees or taxes.
Taxes may be due on estate assets above the federal estate tax exemption. To leave more to intended heirs, consider reducing a taxable estate by making gifts to charities and heirs during lifetime or by moving assets into a trust, either during life or at estate settlement.
Gifts to qualifying charities can lower income tax and reduce estate tax liability. Other gifts exceeding the federal gift tax exemption may be subject to gift taxes. Gifts to third parties for the benefit of the recipient (e.g., paying tuition directly to a school) may not be subject to a gift tax.
Complimentary RBC resources to support conversations with women clients
Download a copy of the women and wealth planning workbook
This workbook is just one example of the wealth management expertise and practice management support available from RBC Clearing & Custody to help you grow, run and protect your business. For additional insights on making diversity and inclusion strategies work for your goals, browse our recent Perspectives article titled, three ways to diversify your business.12
To learn more about how we’ll make a difference in your business—and your clients’ financial lives—please contact us to speak with your business development manager.