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BLOG: Changing the tide on gendered financial responsibilities

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Despite the progress we have made as a society, it’s been repeatedly proven that heterosexual couples still split their joint responsibilities along traditional gender lines. Why is this a problem, and how can we rebalance the division when it comes to financial planning?

Historically, women have been systematically excluded from the financial world. Despite this, they have more often than not been tasked with managing households and, by association, household budgets. While in some ways, this could be perceived as financial power, it is important to remember that this setup has typically involved a male partner providing ‘housekeeping’ money, therefore retaining overall financial power.

The results of our recent wealth survey show that the division of financial responsibilities has failed to evolve in line with women’s earning power (which has increased significantly) over recent decades. Women still typically have greater oversight of domestically focused financial products, such as household costs (67% of women, versus 51% of men) while men continue to hold more responsibility for longer-term products, such as investments (35% of men, versus 19% of women).

Why is this a problem?

We often see female clients taking a backseat during financial planning meetings, sometimes stating that their male partner has superior financial knowledge, despite little evidence of this being the case. This is an issue as it raises questions about how suitable any subsequent financial advice will be for both parties. While there is nothing inherently problematic about a couple choosing to divide up financial tasks and responsibilities between themselves, we must be aware that one voice alone is unlikely tell the full story, and that being left out of certain financial discussions can raise problems in the future.

The fact that many female clients do not feel comfortable speaking directly to a financial adviser is a concern. We want everybody, no matter their gender, to feel confident and comfortable in expressing their goals and preferences, including what they do or don’t understand about their financial plans, and what they want out of them.

How can we solve it?

The issue of gendered financial responsibilities is multi-faceted, and as such requires addressing in an individual and tailored manner. One of the ways we can work to ensure that everyone has a say in their financial plan is by recommending they speak to their financial adviser on an individual basis. This ensures that everyone’s voice is heard and eliminates any feelings of doubt or inferiority in terms of financial knowledge. This can be achieved through individual discussions when financial goals and risk preferences are being decided upon, rather than a joint approach, which can often lean heavily towards the bias of one party.

It’s also important to remember that we all have biases, be they subconscious or not, which affect behaviour in our private and professional lives. As financial advisers, it is extremely important to be aware of potential gender biases, and to be conscious of the messages being transmitted to customers, especially those less confident navigating their finances.

This can come down to seemingly small matters, such as how evenly customers are being addressed in joint meetings, which can risk reinforcing traditional gender roles. These small acts can accumulate, resulting in a lack of trust, and lower quality service.

Out with the old, in with the new

On a more positive note, we are starting to see changes among younger generations within our own customer base, with younger women seemingly more comfortable speaking to financial advisers and looking at financial assets as individuals. Women also appear to be more concerned about developing the financial literacy of their children, often bringing them to meetings and including them in planning sessions.

According to our research, of female respondents with assets above £100,000, 61% were likely to encourage financial education in their children, with this figure standing at nearly half (47%) for those with assets below £100,000.

While there is clearly more work to be done, the trends we are observing give us hope that the next generation can get started in the right way.

PK Patel is head of wealth management at Handelsbanken Wealth & Asset Management