Finding a seat at the table

How do women approach their short and long-term financial decisions? According to a recent report by the international financial services firm UBS, they don’t.

The report, titled “Own Your Wealth,” was commissioned and published by UBS and was the catalyst for its first Florida Gulf Coast Women’s Leadership Retreat in Sarasota. It found that 56 percent of married women willingly leave the bulk of the financial decisions to their spouses, and that more than 80 percent of men and women are fine with that arrangement.

Tampa Bay Business and Wealth talked with two leaders from UBS to discuss the report, the retreat and why it all matters. Theresa Bursey is a director and Florida Gulf Coast market head, and Jane Schwartzberg is head of strategic client segments. This transcript was edited for clarity and brevity.

What was the purpose of the retreat?

Bursey: The main goals were really twofold. The first was to bring together a diverse group of women in management roles, financial adviser roles and various support roles that are a part of business and really talk about leadership—leadership in regard to how we can lead each other as women. I think there’s a lot of focus on women rising and taking more of a leadership role.

They’re getting higher positions, all over, in every different industry, but a lot of times we’re not taking a minute to support one another. Not because we don’t want to; we’re just not thinking about it. And I really wanted people to start to think about how that word “leadership” affects each of us in what we do every day and how we can help each other.

The other piece of it is clients. No matter whether you’re in a management role, we really all are client-facing and we’re all here to serve the client.

What were some of the most compelling discussions?

Bursey: No. 1, it all starts with a conversation. And I think that clients, women in particular, are demanding that we engage with them in a different way than we have in the past. That means less of a transactional conversation, and more of a conversation around goals and aspirations for their wealth, which is very different. You’ll get the transaction, but if you don’t know what the goal of the money is or what the desire is of the end client, it really doesn’t make any difference.

Schwartzberg: Let me make sure it’s clear what we mean by “transaction.” That is a one-time thing. Do you need money to purchase a house? Do you need guidance on how to invest wisely or borrow money to pay for a child’s wedding? What Theresa is talking about is that women, rightly so, are largely needing and wanting a broader conversation about their lives and how they want their wealth to work for them.

Bursey: The traditional relationship that we all, as individuals, are used to in society, and financial advisers are used to, is that the man is the breadwinner. The woman maybe stays home, or even if she is working, isn’t necessarily the breadwinner. But that is changing quite rapidly. What we decided was we need to talk more about how everybody in that relationship gets a seat at the table and has a voice at the table.

Schwartzberg: I couldn’t agree more, and what we talk about as we speak to hundreds and even thousands of women about their financial picture … is you don’t have to be good at math. You don’t have to know how bonds are priced or what a dividend payout is. All you have to do is take your seat at the financial table.

What were the top findings of the “Own Your Worth” report? What do they mean?

Schwartzberg: It was an interesting journey. We started out by saying, “Let’s see what we can learn from women who have gone through either losing a spouse or a divorce, and let’s find out what they learned or what they would tell women, younger women or women earlier in their marriages to do differently.” We were stunned at how consistently the wisdom of the widows and divorcées was, “You must be involved in your long-term finances.”

Then we sought to answer the question, “If we know statistically eight out of 10 of us will be alone and in charge of finances for a long period of time, why is it that women are still abdicating?” What we found out was that women are choosing very willingly, that this is their preference to not be very involved in finances.

We boiled it down to essentially three primary causes.

One is we repeat what we see, so basically, gender roles run deep. If we saw our families or parents or women in our lives, not really having been in the driver’s seat in terms of their finances, there’s a good chance we’re not inclined to do it.

Two, there’s an assumption that the person who’s earning more money should be in charge of the finances. We found that even in households where women were earning more many are still abdicating.

Finally, the time constraints on women seem to be so enormous. The thought of taking on more responsibility, more time pressures, more decision making, etc. All around finances are not particularly appealing.

What are the calls to action? What can be done to encourage women to get more involved and take ownership of their finances?

Schwartzberg: What we outlined is three high-level things that a woman can to do to take action right away. One is the name of the report, “Own Your Worth,” and that simply means to know what you have, where it is, what you need to use it for, and, if you are in a long-term partnership, to make sure there’s transparency in that. And be clear on what you want your money to do for you over a lifetime.

Second, find your voice. Many of us still consider the topic of money to be taboo, and we don’t love talking about it. Start the conversation. Figure out how and with whom you can have a conversation about money, wealth, earning, retirement. That could be your financial adviser, could be your partner, could be a friend.

Last, set an example, because we are just copying what we saw [growing up] to a large extent. We want to set an example for the next generation and do differently in terms of feeling like we really have all we need to take a seat at the financial table.♦

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