With many women issuing the final word on financial decisions, marketing to this group seems to be taking off at credit unions.
From microsites tailored to women between the ages of 28-55 and creating entire programs just for mothers to developing programs aimed at helping divorced and single women, credit unions continue to try to connect with this group that, according to consulting firm A.T. Kearney, determines 80% of consumption, purchases 60% of all cars and owns 40 % of all stocks.
Despite this, a "Financial Fitness Report: Gender Gap in Financial Literacy," found that women were significantly behind in virtually all areas of financial knowledge and faced more challenges in meeting their retirement and other long-term goals. In addition, only 25% of women felt confident about how their investments were allocated compared to 42% of men and 63% of women felt as though they have a handle on their cash flow each month compared to 80% of men.
"When it comes to financial security, women have so many more obstacles than men in dealing with finances. They earn less, but they have to save significantly more since they live on average five years longer than men and have higher health care costs in retirement. This puts a lot of pressure on their ability to become financially secure to begin with and also lowers their confidence in whatever knowledge they do have. It also creates a sense of ‘learned helplessness’–the attitude that ‘I’m so far behind that I’ll never be able to achieve financial security, so what’s the point of trying,’" said Liz Davison, CEO of Financial Finesse. "We still live in a society where women are usually the primary caregivers–even if they work full time. As a result, women become accustomed to putting others’ needs before their own and their own financial security takes a back seat to making sure their families have what they need today, and that their children are set for college."
She added that when it comes to proactive financial management (investing and financial planning) most resources are not designed to appeal to women.
"The financial media tends to focus on short-term market and economic news, as opposed to providing the ongoing financial education and support women need to make the right decisions for themselves and their families. For the most part, they don’t hit on women’s priorities so women tune them out, which only added to the problem," said Davidson.
She advised that financial education programs should make finances "about people and their families, not just about the market."
"When we do this, we will engage women at a much deeper, more meaningful level; that’s where you’ll see the biggest changes," said Davidson. "It’s already happening. You are seeing financial institutions increasingly shift from a transactional mentality to a more broad-based financial planning mentality. There has also been a growth in the number of fee-based financial planners who approach finances holistically. Companies are starting to move away from traditional benefits communication where employees are bombarded with technical information on benefits and toward holistic benefits planning which starts with an employees’ financial goals first, then looks at how the employee can best manage their benefits to achieve these goals. These are all huge steps forward. Now, it’s a matter of continuing the progress on all fronts so we don’t lose this momentum. The biggest risk we face is complacency."
Lourdes Cortez, president/CEO for North Jersey Federal Credit Union, earlier this month teamed up with Debra Taylor, principal of Taylor Financial Group LLC, a full-service wealth management firm, to kick-off a financial empowerment workshop series for disadvantaged women at the Oasis. Oasis helps women by providing the educational resources and skills needed to obtain meaningful employment and to break the cycle of poverty.
Cortez and Taylor have committed to teaching monthly workshops focused on financial planning and management to the Oasis women’s group through the end of 2011.
"Women are moving up in the workplace and need to become more confident, informed investors. More importantly, women have more economic clout. However, most of us don’t realize the power we hold in making decisions about money," said Taylor.
Topics covered ranged from how credit unions are similar and different than banks and the basic uses for financial institutions, to building wealth and taking the first steps to planning for your financial future. Goal setting was a big theme, as both presenters recognized that setting realistic goals will help the women plan for themselves and their families.
Other areas covered include adjusting goals when facing challenges, defining cash flow and net worth, tracking your money, creating a household budget, debt management, creating a monthly bill organizer, checking credit reports, and using credit cards wisely.
"This workshop takes a step beyond the typical financial empowerment message. This will combine the knowledge of wealth building basics with using a financial institution as your starting point to save," said Cortez.
Davidson said the gender gap also has huge implications for employers that could affect the bottom line.
"If women don’t accelerate the rate at which they are saving, and as a result don’t get to where they need to be when they’re at retirement age, they’ll end up needing to delay retirement and remain in the workforce," said Davidson. "Studies show the cost for one employee who delays retirement is anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 a year. When you have a lot of women in your workforce, there’s a much higher chance of this happening. Employers also face the risk of having female employees who are not satisfied with their benefits or their jobs. This leads to low morale and lower productivity due to financial stress which, in turn, means higher health care costs. There are a host of risks employers face if their employees don’t get on track with their savings and finances in general."