Why Wall Street Doesn’t Get Women

mars venus money screenshotFor several years now I’ve been sitting in the stands, watching (and sometimes reporting) on Wall Street’s stuttering attempts to reach female customers. Good news: There seems to be some actual progress now, as I wrote in an essay for the Sunday New York Times this weekend. (There’s the headline on the home page tonight, “Mars, Venus and the Handling of Money” pretty much right above these words.)

Finally, financial companies are starting to take their cue from women’s distinct financial style and outlook—and it’s high time they did. I’m not sure why it’s taken so  long for the Ameriprises, Vanguards, and Fidelities to digest the fact that women really do handle their finances differently than men do.

One big hurdle, I think, is that the financial gap between men and women isn’t obvious at all. In fact, as more women become executives, CEOs, Senators (or chair of the SEC), there’s a fingers-crossed wishful hope that they’re also on par with men in terms of basics like money management. They’re not. Let’s use the disputed statistic that women earn about 77 cents for every dollar men earn (a disparity that doesn’t exist in every field, etc., etc., OK). But even taking 80% as a target for financial parity, women overall are nowhere close to men in terms of financial security. The average retirement account balance for men was $95,675, a 2011 study by Vanguard found, and $58,833 for women. 

Another problem is that many women would rather believe that they themselves, personally, have an issue with money. The idea that we’re all sisters in this strange quandary sparks ambivalence for many women. When I was writing this NYT piece (sorry about the braggy second link, BUT I AM SO PSYCHED), cough, where was I? Oh right…when I described what I was writing to a friend she scoffed at me. Scoffed! “That sounds like some old Ms. Magazine article,” she said.

Meanwhile, like so many women, this dear, dear friend feels just as alienated from capital F finance as, well, about 10 million other women. That’s a conservative guesstimate based on the aggregate research in my brain, and I’ll try to actually find out what the real number might be—but it’s a lot.

But women shouldn’t feel ashamed, embarrassed or squidgy-cringey-can-we-change-the-channel-now. The way money works is pretty incompatible with how women think of their finances (and how most women view money fitting into their lives). But that’s changing, thanks in large part to the super-smart cadre of women who are in leadership positions at the big boy companies like Vanguard, Fidelity, Ameriprise, Wells Fargo, and others. 

But it makes me laugh that even now, with all this outreach and new programs and initiatives, these companies’ efforts to understand and accommodate women still only add up to a toe in the water. A pinky toe. Meanwhile, here’s a video series from Wells Fargo that’s got the right idea, and this is my fave of the bunch. Let the money games begin!

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