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opinion

Jean Marmoreo is a medical doctor and the co-author with Johanna Schneller of The Last Doctor: Lessons in Living from the Front Lines of Medical Assistance in Dying.

A financial adviser once told me that the greatest risk to his industry is the so-called “disengaged spouse.”

I’d never heard that phrase before. He meant a woman whose husband either dies or divorces, leaving her adrift, not without money, but with no idea how or where to manage it. His point was, 70 per cent of those women leave their existing financial adviser and take their money to someone they’re more comfortable with.

Seventy per cent. That seemed high, though it rang true from talking with my women patients when I was a family doctor. Canadian women today control $2.2-trillion, which is bigger than Canada’s entire annual GDP, yet 7 in 10 have leaned so heavily on their husbands in terms of investing they know little about their combined finances. Their spouse’s death or divorce will cause them to overhaul everything.

This got me thinking, “I’m one of those disengaged spouses.”

I’m not widowed nor divorced, but I certainly qualify as disengaged. I realized this when last year my husband and I shifted our retirement savings from one Canadian bank to another for lower fees. During the weeks it took to move over our accounts, I had to confess that I knew next-to-nothing about my own investments.

True, all the Big Six banks have special women’s programs, as do many wealth management firms. But I doubt they’re making a dent in that 70 per cent disengaged rate.

Are they talking to the wrong women? Their websites and events pages seem to be geared to midlife women, those age 40 to 65. Which is fine. But that’s not the age when most women’s spouses die. That age is between 70 and 85 – and what bank markets investment services to women in their 70s and 80s, other than for catastrophic illness insurance or long-term care?

They should be focusing on the large, rich and growing market made up of Old Canadian Women, i.e. women like me who will turn 80 this year.

After all, we are the first generation of women ever to lead active lives in the second half of our 70s and early 80s.

Women live longer than men in every country on earth. In Canada, healthy women now have a life expectancy of 83.9 years, while healthy men can expect to live until 79. A Canadian wife can expect to outlive her husband by several years.

We’re staying healthier than ever too. We’re travelling, spending, connecting, banking and most of all, belonging.

I know all kinds of professional women in their 70s who decided not to retire but switch careers instead. For 45 years I was a family doctor who cared for families and delivered their babies. Now I provide medical assistance in dying.

Ninety per cent of Canadians older than 65 live in the community and most of these are women.

Many of these women are disengaged spouses like me. We definitely need to start taking on more active roles in managing our finances. But Canada’s 90,000 financial advisers should also pay more attention to the women that they serve, even if their husbands are the main points of contact.

Otherwise, their competitors will.