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A 'radical' look at women's finances Add to ...

My favourite story from Financial Lives of Girls and Women, a report on women and investing, comes from a securities lawyer who was one of seven girls in her family. When the girls were in their early teens, their father sat them down and told each of them: "You will go to university and have a career" and "you will be high-functioning and self-sustaining."

And they all are.

The anecdote is one of many in the 16-page report by Barbara Stewart, a chartered financial analyst and portfolio manager at Cumberland Private Net Wealth Management Inc., that convey how confident women are with their finances and how important role models are in determining their financial behaviour.

Ms. Stewart took on a fascinating project this year: She was interested in understanding the disconnect between the way women are consistently portrayed in surveys and studies about financial matters and her day-to-day experience of dealing with women. Her real-life examples were more confident and more successful at their finances than the surveys would indicate.

"That was the big disconnect that I noticed and I wanted to get at the root of that," Ms. Stewart recalls.

Ironically, her first step was to commission her own poll. "I asked a lot of very serious questions that were action-oriented … and we got these fairly radical statistics out of it."

Some "radical" results from the poll, conducted online by Angus Reid:

• Eighty-nine per cent of the women polled said that financial decisions rest with them. They may consult with their spouse or financial adviser, but in the end, they make the financial decisions.

• Although most women (89 per cent) believe they should consult their spouse or partner about financial decisions, only 51 per cent actually do.

• Thirty-four per cent of married or common-law women have completely joint finances, while 66 per cent have at least one separate bank account or credit card.



"There's a lot of independence there," Ms. Stewart says. "More so that what I perceived to be true."

Of course, not all the answers were radical; many were very similar to what other studies have found :

• Seventy-six per cent of women agree that a written financial plan is necessary but 71 per cent say they don't have one.

• Just over half of women surveyed (53 per cent) say they don't consume financial news even once a quarter.

• More than 80 per cent of women feel they should be educating themselves more on financial matters.



What fascinates Ms. Stewart about this survey is the number of women who say they're confident in financial or investment matters - 63 per cent - and how they learn about investing.

"What they do … is they learn by observing the people around them," Ms. Stewart says.

"Role models are huge and especially for the next generation because for many of the women I talked to that really are confident and doing well with their money, somebody way back when had some good messages for them and took the time to tell them something. And that's how women learn and they want to pass these lessons on."

Which brings me back to the father who took the time to convey the importance of a career to his seven daughters. That anecdote - and others like it in Ms. Stewart's report -- came from focus groups and one-on-one interviews she conducted in conjunction with the poll. During those interviews, women spoke passionately about the role models in their lives and the huge effect they had.

Ms. Stewart says that her findings show that "maybe we need to make a change in how we are delivering information to women. It came out loud and clear that relationships and family are central to that - they prefer to read real-life stories about finance: How are other people managing money and the household."

Now that would be radical, coming from the financial-services industry.



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