Money is not a gender neutral topic. Women think and talk about managing and investing money differently than men, say financial advisors who focus on improving services for female clients.
A recent CIBC poll of women with investments found 92 per cent are the sole or joint decision makers about household finances, but only 54 per cent feel confident about investing.
That confidence gap is the divide that needs to be bridged with a different style of financial conversation by advisors.
"Women think about money in terms of safety and security and once we've got that in place we think about translating money into the achievement of goals," says Sarah Widmeyer, below, managing director and head of wealth strategies for CIBC.
"Will I be able to stay in my house or will I be able to afford my house? Will I be able to help my kids in education? Will I be able to travel the world in retirement? We don't really think about alpha-beta investment returns," says Ms. Widmeyer.
That life goals conversation is the skill financial advisors need to develop to build trust.
Women value relationships, says Jane Alm, below, senior investment advisor for Angus Watt Advisory Group at National Bank Financial in Edmonton.
"I think women want to discuss finances and their whole life from a more personal level. Men put it almost in silos – this is my investment; this is my business; this is my personal."
Ms. Alm says women also want advisors who will talk to them as an equal.
The CIBC poll, an online survey of 1,010 conducted by Angus Reid in February, found women investors were focused on savings, with 48 per cent saying their retirement portfolio investments primarily contained GICs, savings accounts or other guaranteed investments. Only 37 per cent said their retirement portfolio was primarily invested in stocks, including mutual funds. And 70 per cent said volatility in the stock market makes them nervous investors.
So are women more risk averse than men?
Not necessarily, says Ms. Widmeyer. "I think it's a fallacy that women are risk averse. I think it really is they don't understand the value of risk."
Saving is very important, she says, but Statistics Canada figures show Canadian women have a life expectancy of 83.
"It would be in women's best interest to improve on their knowledge and confidence around risk taking because it's an important part of portfolio construction and making sure we don't outlive our capital," says Ms. Widmeyer.
Advisors say once women get the information they need, they grow more comfortable with balanced risk. But first they need to get the information. It's no surprise that advisors say finding a professional advisor is the big step for that.
Opinions vary on whether women prefer to talk to female advisors. Most argue that a male advisor can meet the needs of female clients if they carry on a client-focused goal-oriented conversation. But under-representation of women in the financial industry is still a factor.
"Some of the research has pointed out women feel they haven't been well represented within the industry," says Jennifer Lemieux, co-chair of the women's advisory board for RBC Dominion Securities. "Are we doing a good job with our own advisors? Do we have enough women in front of our women clients to be representative of that community that is so important to us?"
Ms. Lemieux, who is also vice-president and branch manager in Kingston, says the percentage of women in RBC Dominion Securities sales force is closing in on 20 per cent, slightly ahead of the industry as a whole.
The company is engaged in outreach to young women. For example, it is one sponsor of a conference for junior high-school girls at Brescia College at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. One message it hopes to get across to the coming generation, says Ms. Lemieux, is that the financial industry "is a people business and a relationship business and that's a skill set a lot of them will have. …We hope to see them when they finish university."
Golden Girl Finance website co-founder Susan Misner says women need to see themselves in the financial and investing sector. The Winnipeg-based former financial advisor says Golden Girl was founded to create an online resource that women could reference at any time of the day for information and discussion of financial issues.
Ms. Misner says she was recently on a financial company's website and "every person in the whole company was male. It was male advisors, male executives, male board of directors."
"[Women] can't necessarily see themselves as a client if they can't see themselves in the business. Women need to be well represented at all levels in the financial industry."
The industry is heading in the right direction in hiring more women, she says.
On the flip side of the financial advice relationship, what should women seeking advice be doing?
Advisors say don't rush when looking for an advisor. Do some Internet research. Seek referrals from women friends. Interview prospective advisors.
Approach money advice as you would other aspects of your life, suggests Ms. Misner.
"[Women] have a relationship with the family doctor, dentist, the teacher. They have a personal board of directors and it's essential everybody has a strong voice of good financial advice for their own personal team."
Ms.Widmeyer is a bit stumped about why women don't talk to each other about money.
According to the CIBC poll, 73 per cent of women who invest don't talk about it with their friends and family.
"A lot of us are in book clubs, have friends we go for coffee with. Maybe we should challenge each other to start talking about different investment vehicles – TFSAs? RRSPs? What are you doing this year? We just need to raise this and start talking about it and help each other," she says.
There are indications the confidence gap may start to narrow as younger women gather steam in the investing world. The CIBC poll showed that 46 per cent of female investors between 18 and 34 manage their own investments through a discount brokerage, compared with only 19 per cent of baby boomers.
"I think it's awesome that women are leaning in that way. It is a millennial trend that online and do it yourself is a very important thing. It's the rise of robo-advice and all that sort of stuff. I don't know that it's a sea change but … hopefully the confidence gap will start to narrow," says Ms. Widmeyer.