How to get women to feel comfortable about building wealth

At InvestmentNews' annual Women to Watch think tank, industry leaders brainstormed ways to educate women about personal finance.

Mar 14, 2018 @ 5:51 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

While last year's Women to Watch think tank focused on how firms could attract more female advisers, this year's session featured a discussion on how to improve financial literacy among women, starting at an early age.

The goal was to identify small changes that, if embraced by many, could make a big difference in the opportunity for women to feel confident and comfortable building and sustaining wealth.

One problem, according to the advisers and industry leaders in the room, was that money has become too abstract for many children. With more families doing their shopping on websites like Amazon, fewer kids have a tactile experience in holding or spending money.

One idea was using board games to teach young girls about cash flow. Or schools could introduce a kids credit bureau — an idea from BlackFem, a non-profit focused on promoting financial literacy among girls and women of color — where students receive a monthly credit report and credit score linked to their homework and attendance.

Another idea was to use popular girls' toys like Barbie dolls to introduce financial planning as a career, and teach girls how Barbie affords her car and dream house.

The idea resonated with Erin Botsford, the founder and CEO of Botsford Financial Group, who brought up the idea at the afternoon's luncheon.

"I didn't grow up with a badass Barbie, but I became her," Ms. Botsford said.

(More: Women to Watch luncheon honors women in the financial advice industry)

Tish Gray, a wealth adviser with Sagemark Consulting, presented some ideas on how to keep finance engaging for teenage girls. What's most important, Ms. Gray said, is finding the correct delivery mechanism for the information.

For example, classes could facilitate roleplay to demystify the experience of talking with a financial adviser. Another idea was for advisers to use social media to reach teenagers to get them information directly and answer their questions.

"A lot of these students are learning from parents and counselors and teachers [who] might not be financially literate," Ms. Gray said. "Social media is a way to blast those ideas and connect with folks that aren't the people in this room."

(More: How to improve gender diversity in financial advice)

A common theme was that it only takes one person to introduce the changes that can lead to a difference, especially when that person has the resources of a financial adviser. For example, advisers could sponsor a high school that doesn't have funding for personal finance education.

Pershing CEO Mark Tibergien did this for Gladstone High School, his alma mater in Gladstone, Mich. A graduate from the high school, Caitlyn Gimler, said the course inspired her to pursue a career in financial planning.

Ms. Gimler, now a student at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, said high school girls could benefit from more exposure to what a financial adviser does. She suggested advisers volunteer their time to teach at high schools, and maybe get a continuing education credit as an incentive.

(More:How Pershing adopted a school program to educate high school students about personal finance)

The women in the think tank agreed that many of the same suggestions would be useful for college-age women as well. The industry needs to do a better job, they said, at targeting female communites on campus, such as sororities and female athletes, and connect to them over topics like student loans, credit card debt and budgeting.

The think tank consisted of women named as women to watch by InvestmentNews in 2017 and in previous years. The ideas discussed will be used to produce an executive brief on how financial literacy programs can help encourage more women to enter the financial advice business.

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