The Rise of the Female Investor
ESSAYFebruary 22, 2013, 8:11 p.m. ET
The Rise of the Female Investor
How to attract women to personal finance? With a long-term, goal-oriented approach
By SUSAN GREGORY THOMAS
American women may be starting to outearn American men, but personal investing is a different matter: Many of them, even powerhouse female executives, hate dealing with it.
Darline Jean, president and chief executive of the About Group (which owns About.com), says that she doesn’t “have the downtime to look at all those stock tickers and research every one of those companies’ performance histories.” The online interfaces of financial services firms, she says, offer “the kind of blipping screens that guys like—to hunt stock prices like they’re moving targets.” Like many other successful women, Ms. Jean outsources investing to a financial adviser who presents her with data on how to reach her long-term goals.
Just 20% of female breadwinners said they were ‘very well prepared’ to make wise financial decisions, versus 45% of their male peers.
Financial services companies admit that, historically, they haven’t done a great job of attracting women as customers, but with women rising fast in the income and managerial ranks, they’re now paying more attention. The number of women-owned firms increased by 54% between 1997 and 2012—that’s a rate 1½ times the national average. As of 2012, it is estimated that there are over 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue. Liza Mundy, author of “The Richer Sex,” says that if academic enrollment is any indicator, in 25 years women will dominate once male-dominated fields such as law and medicine.
Yet surveys show that men are still more likely than women to take the lead with the family financial account. According to a recent study by Prudential, 19% of wives said they took control of financial decision making, versus 38% of husbands. Among female breadwinners, 20% said they were “very well prepared” to make wise financial decisions, compared with 45% of their male counterparts. (It’s worth noting, of course, that their levels of confidence are no indication of their real level of preparedness.)
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In recent research, Karin A. Risi, principal at the Vanguard Group’s Asset Management & Advice Services division, has found that women differ substantially from men in how they relate to investing. They don’t want to hear about the growth or comparative performance of different funds; they want information about reaching their long-term goals, like putting a kid through college. “Investing is not a hobby or sport for women,” she says. “But because financial services have long been male dominated—and because men respond to it that way—much of our industry treats it that way.”
Moreover, Ms. Risi says, “We’ve found that in general women, more than men, are disciplined thinkers, good long-term planners.”
Vanguard’s findings hint at a long-held stereotype about women as investors—that they are somehow less aggressive than men when it comes to money management. To which one might respond: What’s wrong with that? A number of studies over the years have found that women are more likely to buy and hold. And as a 2011 Barclays BARC.LN +0.92% and Ledbury Research CHW.LN +1.26% study put it, “women were more likely to make money as investors in the financial markets, mostly because they didn’t take as many risks as men.”
Such traits aren’t exactly liabilities, whatever your sex. According to an index from the firm Rothstein Kass, female hedge fund managers produced a return of nearly 9% through the third quarter of 2012 (based on 67 hedge funds with female owners or managers), while their male counterparts, according to the HFRX Global Hedge Fund Index, choked out a mere 2.69% net return through September. Yet, despite their higher returns, female-run hedge funds are a small minority of the industry, a scant 16% of Rothstein Kass’s respondents.
Of course, the bulk of new blood in female investing clients doesn’t consist of hedge fund managers. They’re more likely to be middle-income women (think physician’s assistants, soldiers, teachers). And if financial services companies want to make a buck off the masses of these female breadwinners, they are going to have to engage with them on a different level. Companies such as Motif Investing, which encourages clients to make investments based on social trends and themes, or Betterment, which keeps clients on track with meeting their goals, are reaching out to women by focusing on their personal interests and long-term goals.
Nor is it up to the financial services industry alone, says Amanda Steinberg, the founder and chief executive of DailyWorth.com. It is also up to the rising ranks of female earners, who need to change their attitudes about money. Women, says Ms. Steinberg, need to get comfortable with investing not just by seeking out reliable financial advisers but also by educating themselves about the basics.
As longtime Silicon Valley marketing strategist and adviser Becky Saeger says to women who are taking the investment plunge: “Risk averse doesn’t mean you’re afraid—it means you’re thinking.”
—Ms. Thomas is the author of “In Spite of Everything: A Memoir.”
A version of this article appeared February 23, 2013, on page C3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Rise of the Female Investor.