By Kristen Billows
March is National Women’s History Month, which honors the many significant contributions women have made to our country. These include impressive steps women have taken toward achieving full equality that began well before passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 and continue today.
The financial services industry is uniquely positioned to support women in one of the key areas where they continue to lack equality. It’s time for our industry to help bridge the gender retirement gap once and for all so women have every opportunity to secure their financial futures.
As it stands, the focus on saving for retirement is more relevant than ever for both genders, especially as baby boomers steadily continue to leave the U.S. workforce. For many, the accompanying uncertainty is daunting. Retirees don’t know what to expect or what retiring comfortably means. Among other factors, rising health care costs and longer lifespans already jeopardize many retirees’ savings.
Along with these hurdles, women face an additional set of gender-specific challenges that have led to a continuing disparity in their financial readiness for retirement compared to men.
Let’s look at the facts:
- Women live longer than men do. Research from the Social Security Administration shows that once women turn age 65, their life expectancy extends to age 86.6 as opposed to age 84.3 for men. This is nearly seven years longer than life expectancy at birth, which is the more commonly cited statistic.
- Due to living longer, women will spend 7 percent more than men on health care costs in retirement, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports.
- A 2017 study from the National Partnership for Women & Families reveals that women are paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. This means if a man saves 10 percent of his income, a woman must save 18 percent to reach the same level of wealth by retirement.
- Many women choose to take off time to care for children or aging parents, which can affect their finances as well as their careers. With less income, women are often unable to save at the same rate of men, crippling their 401(k) accounts as well as their Social Security income.
But it’s not all bad news. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make up 47 percent of the workforce, and the number of working women with college degrees has almost quadrupled since 1970. Additionally, a 2015 study from the BMO Wealth Institute projects that women will control upward of $22 trillion by 2020. Women have more financial decision-making power than ever, and it’s time for advisors to take notice.
How To Connect With Female Clients
Still, the financial services industry remains stuck in some ways. Male financial advisors dominate the industry and sometimes struggle to interact with female investors. Preconceived notions can influence some advisors to offer generic investing advice, which makes women feel unheard and frustrated. To better communicate with women, advisors need to improve how they connect emotionally. This starts with developing a more personal client experience.
As women wield greater financial power, they want to take a more active role in their investments. Women don’t want an advisor who will simply take their money and invest as they see fit. Rather, women tend to look for an advisor who will educate them on their options and empower them to make the most financially sound decisions.
When a woman first comes to you, ask her why she initiated the conversation. Perhaps a major life event caused her to take control of her finances. Not only does this give you insight into her financial situation but it also allows you to understand where she is on an emotional level and to empower her to take an active role in her finances.
Consider the language you use. Because advisors are so knowledgeable and entrenched in the financial services industry, jargon tends to creep into their client conversations. Instead, simplify your language with layman’s terms. If you can develop a relationship with an education-focused approach, you will create a partnership with an engaged client who is more likely to stay with you in the long term.
When dealing with couples, ensuring both parties are engaged in the financial discussion can get tricky. Often, the husband takes the lead on the conversation. This is especially true with older clients. If you don’t make an effort to also engage the wife, you won’t be in a position to keep the couple’s business in the long term, especially when considering the longevity factor.
Given the average life span differences, many women outlive their husbands. If you haven’t made the effort to develop a relationship based on trust, don’t expect your client’s wife to stick with you. In fact, if you repeatedly ignored your client’s wife throughout the years, why would she turn to you for such personal matters in a difficult time? Instead, she’s likely to search for an advisor who cares about her individual situation from the start.
In fact, if you’re truly looking out for your client’s best interest, you must equally engage both partners. Don’t just ask the husband how he envisions life after retirement. Turn to the wife and specifically ask how she plans to define her purpose in retirement. One voice shouldn’t speak for the couple. As the advisor, it’s your job to make sure both parties are heard.
Women must prepare for life’s many obstacles – overlooked promotions, unequal pay and glass ceilings – but lacking retirement savings shouldn’t be one of those obstacles. The financial industry must change how it interacts with women, and advisors are in the perfect position to elevate women’s voices and help them secure their own financial freedom.
Kristen Billows is a regional vice president for Jackson National Life Distributors.Kristen may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.
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