Stern Advice: I am woman (investor), hear me roar
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Is there a target on the back of my dress? Because it feels like there is a target on the back of my dress.
It was painted there by the financial services industry, which has grown hyper-aware of the fact that women have a lot of money and are about to have a lot more.
According to a 2009 study from the Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, women will inherit 70 percent of the money that gets passed down over the next two generations, and that excludes the increasing amounts they earn on their own. Women already own more than half of the investible assets in the United States.
Companies like Bank of America's Merrill Lynch, Prudential Financial Inc and TD Ameritrade are studying the investing behavior of women, in the hopes of winning more of our dollars.
They know that when a husband dies, his widow often switches money managers.
Indeed, the Certified Financial Planning Board of Standards is trying to lure more women to the business of financial advice.
Sallie Krawcheck, who ran Merrill at Bank of America, recently bought a women's network and started a mutual fund that seeks to invest in companies led or heavily influenced by women.
Last week, Barclay's Bank PLC moved in the same direction, creating a Women in Leadership index and related investments.
It's great to be wooed, but it's also scary to be the focus of a great marketing effort. It could all end badly if the industry simply pink-washes inferior financial products.
Here are a few bits of advice for women and Wall Street, as they circle each other warily:
There will be questions. Women are infamous in some financial advisory circles because we ask so many more questions than men. That is good. Do not invest in something you don't understand. Advisers who want us to invest in complex products and services need to be willing to explain them clearly and simply.
FEMALE ADVISERS NOT NECESSARY
We don't need our advisers to be women. It's not like going to a gynecologist. A male financial adviser is fine with me, as long as he's competent, straightforward and good with my money.
We also don't need pink folders for our statements or ladies' investment products. We like green, and want the products and services that will secure our money and make it grow.
Funds that invest in women-led companies may do well in the future; there's some research that diverse boards govern winning companies. But women and men should be cautioned not to be over-dependent on niche funds and not to overpay for them.
KEEP COSTS LOW
Women control most household income and tend to be price and budget conscious. So don't try to win us with high-priced mutual funds when there are less expensive ones that do the job.
Don't charge us a lot to recommend a generic plain-vanilla index fund portfolio we could find on our own.
WOMEN, WORRY LESS
Survey after survey reveal that women are more afraid of managing money than men (which is not the same thing as being worse at it) and they are more afraid of market risks than are men.
Women keep a lower proportion of their money in stocks than men do, even though women live longer and the stock market has long proven itself to be the best place for long-term investors to keep money.
ADVISERS, WORRY MORE
A good adviser won't prey on those fears; she or he will help female clients overcome their worries and invest in low-cost products that balance risks and rewards.
And if they don't? There's another new company out there that is explicitly targeting women investors. It's called FireMyAdvisor.com.
(Linda Stern is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own. Read more of her work at blogs.reuters.com/linda-stern)
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)