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the sexes

‘Women tend to think more as planners than men do,’ says Andrea Thompson, senior financial planner at Coleman Wealth, part of Raymond James Ltd. in Toronto.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Studies have shown that men and women approach investing and money management differently. So, what can the sexes learn from each other?

It turns out men might have the steeper learning curve, as research suggests that women have a slight edge.

In 2016, Fidelity Investments sifted through 8 million of its investment accounts and found that women's investments earned 0.4 per cent more per year than men's.

Another study by the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business looked at investing trends over six years and also found that women performed better.

This doesn't mean that all men make a mess of investing, of course. Think of it as similar to how, in general, men are taller than women, but there are still lots of tall women and shorter guys.

However, it does suggest there are some recurring differences in the way women approach money management.

"We find that women tend to think more as planners than men do," says Andrea Thompson, senior financial planner at Coleman Wealth, part of Raymond James Ltd. in Toronto.

"Women seem to be more sensitive to the complexities that financial planning involves. Obviously, not everyone is like that, but we do find that women seem to understand more that a plan drives the individual investment decision, and not the other way around," she explains.

Men generally "want to talk more about the specific investments and their performance. They come to us more often with stock or investment tips that they read or heard about. They tend to think that investment means trading, and it's not – the two are different."

Another difference she finds is that women tend to be more comfortable with the investment decisions recommended by planners, while men tend to challenge these decisions more often.

"This comes up when men question the types of investments we make for our clients – whether it's an ETF [exchange-traded fund] versus a mutual fund or a stock," Ms. Thompson explains.

Whether it is running a top hedge fund or a small family portfolio, investing has come to be seen as something that men are best placed to manage, says Meredith Jones, author of Women of The Street: Why Female Money Managers Generate Higher Returns.

This persists even though "it seems that on average women are better at preserving and increasing wealth," she says.

Current research, however, does not offer evidence that men or women perform better at a macroeconomic level, says Ambrus Kecskés, associate professor of finance at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto.

While it's true that some research finds gender differences among analysts and fund managers, these distinctions seldom are evident in results or return on investment.

Investors should not expect initial public offerings to be wildly overpriced or hedge funds to be traded like baseball cards just because men are in charge, Dr. Kecskés says. Similarly, on the whole, big-league investment decisions by female managers won't be more cautious or risk-averse than men's.

The lack of difference at the higher levels means that "we can all sleep easy in terms of assets like our private and public pensions," Dr. Kecskés says. The gender of the big decision-makers doesn't seem to matter.

"On the other hand, at the microeconomic level, there is lots of evidence that men and women behave differently, and that it does show up in peoples' portfolios. So whether you're a man or a woman, you may want to be aware that you might have these biases [because of your gender]."

These differences can easily be tempered by other factors. For example, a woman or a man with an MBA in finance might look at money management differently than someone with a completely different education.

Still, gender biases might be food for thought, Dr. Kecskés says: "If you're a man and the literature suggests that men tend to trade too much, you might want to ask yourself: Do I really need to buy into bitcoin right now?"

Darren Coleman, who works with Ms. Thompson at Coleman Wealth, says the temptation to trade more frequently can be exacerbated by the ease of trading and low fees offered by ETFs.

"It's not just the fact that ETF's are easy to trade. It's also the messaging from the direct brokerage companies that trading is what's required to be successful," says Mr. Coleman, senior vice-president and portfolio manager.

"Consider the ads that run on TV for these companies. They offer dozens, sometimes hundreds, of 'free' trades when one opens an account and deposits capital. They offer very sexy trading tools for things like 'market intelligence' and a 'personal algorithmic add-on.' I'm not making these terms up."

For those investors who like to trade a lot, whether male or female, the ease of ETFs may actually make portfolios more complicated, Ms. Thompson warns.

That's because ETFs, which hold a basket of stocks, are designed to be bought and held, as they include a broad array of equities on the market. Trading can thus be counterproductive.

"Just because you can trade cheaply and easily doesn't mean you should," Mr. Coleman says.

Whether you're a man or a woman, "remember, wisdom, experience and prudence come separately from trading."

The days of double digit returns are over. Rob Carrick, personal finance columnist, lays out what you can expect given your investment risk profile.

The Globe and Mail