Not Your Mothers Portfolio

By Hannah Wallace August 31, 2005

Among the presentations about aging and menopause at a recent women's health forum, Helen Nugent's seminar on women's financial health was one of the most well-attended. Nugent is senior vice president, director of wealth strategies at Northern Trust Bank of Florida. She has been in the trust investment business since 1985.

1. How are women's financial concerns unique? Forty-three percent of all Americans with $500,000 or more in assets are women. One-third of all businesses in America are owned by women. Few women today can afford not to pay attention to money. There have been huge changes in women's relationship to money-in the last 20 to 40 years, women could easily be thrown into financial crisis overnight by divorce or widowhood, job loss or a family illness. I had an aunt who was a music teacher. In her day, if you were a woman you were a nurse, a teacher or a homemaker. Now you have more and more women in business, and they're financially responsible for other people as well as themselves.

2. What are some current trends in women's investing? Studies show that women are more inclined to buy and hold through a volatile time provided they have a well-thought out plan. A Wall Street research study showed that 51 percent of men said they purchased a stock on a tip from a friend, compared to 34 percent of women. It's not about keeping score for women. Women prefer to have a solid plan and are less likely to stray from it, so it's important to evaluate your own risk tolerance. It's important to know yourself, understand your limits and weaknesses and then create a program right for you.

3. What are the most common pitfalls in investing? The biggest threats to any investor are fear and greed.

4. How do you avoid these? It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, you have to understand volatility in the marketplace. There are different cycles in the market. The biggest mistake would be the average investor reacting at the wrong time. Stay with your plan. Long-term performance is determined primarily by appropriate asset allocation policy. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. You just can't determine what's going to be up or down.

5. You talk a lot about the importance of taking control of your financial future. What's the best way to start? Build a team of trusted advisors. Finding the right financial planner is like finding a combination good doctor, therapist and confidant all in one. Money issues are so emotionally charged, you need to find someone with not only good financial skills but good interpersonal skills. They need to understand what keeps you up at night, family dynamics and marriage issues. Get a good attorney. Get a C.P.A. for tax concerns, as well as a fiduciary advisor. And your team members need to work together. How do you find them? Make a list of things that are important to you, ask your friends and shop around. Trust your instincts and don't be sold-make sure you're the one buying.

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