Melissa Walsh, CFP®, CFA, AIF®, a Principal and the Senior Wealth Advisor at Allegiant Private Advisors, offers a female advisor’s perspective in a historically male-dominated world.

As a young woman starting a career in finance, I noticed how my peers seemed to be doing everything “by the book”—saving for retirement, investing aggressively, and making stepwise advancements in their careers and salaries. I figured that my own career and savings would follow the same pattern…until a female colleague pulled me into her office and revealed, “I’m not saving in my 401(k) due to childcare expenses, I turned down a promotion to spend more time with my children, and my investments are conservative.”

This was the moment I realized that not all of my colleagues were textbook examples; it was mostly my male colleagues. I also realized that my female colleague wasn’t doing it wrong. The textbook was outdated and broken. Sometimes life doesn’t cooperate when it comes to following each chapter. That’s why true financial planning is a process that constantly evolves. Luckily, women often adapt well and flourish in the face of change.

Today women control 51 percent of the personal investment wealth in the U.S.(1). Forty-one percent of women are their household’s primary earner, and another 23 percent contribute significantly(2) to the household’s income. 

So why hasn’t the financial industry adjusted to changes that have occurred in the control of wealth? The textbook has not evolved to reflect the needs and goals of many women and their families, resulting in a more typically male vantage point. So it’s up to women to obtain financial advice from someone who understands and has experience adapting the typical financial planning guidelines to each woman’s individual experience and expectations. I recommend considering these ideas:

  • Investments and risk tolerance: Some women avoid investment and financial help because of perceived inexperience or discomfort, but a competent advisor can educate you about subjects impacting your financial well-being (in an understandable way) and implement an investment portfolio that matches your risk tolerance.
  • Caregiving expenses and responsibilities: For those with young children (like myself!), the idea of dedicating an hour or two to review finances can seem impossible. For those also caring for aging parents, the desire for financial clarity can be overshadowed by attending to others’ needs first. As caregivers and members of the “sandwich generation,” I know these responsibilities are often accompanied by high medical and professional expenses and forgone wages. Having a thinking partner to help remind you of your long-term goals can help keep you on track during these busy times.
  • Nonlinear career progression and wage gap: Women are more likely to experience career disruptions, which result in an income trajectory for women that can be “N” or “W” shaped. Additionally, even women who are full-time, year-round members of the workforce make only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men(3). These factors impact the ability to save and invest during working years and lowers potential Social Security benefits during retirement years.
  • Difference in life expectancy: Women have longer life expectancies than men, and financial plans should reflect this. For single women, a longer life requires planning so that retirement income continues into your 90s and beyond. For married women, this can mean having a financial plan in place in case a time comes when you’re managing your finances without your spouse.
  • Desire to work with an advisor who listens to you: Many women I meet with have never received financial advice from a professional woman—or have felt ignored and discounted by other advisors. A good financial advisor should first seek to listen and understand each client, regardless of whether a spouse is present, and consistently affirm that the financial plan is explained, implemented and reviewed carefully.

Like my colleague, my own career and financial plan have not followed the old patterns. Also like her, I wouldn’t have it any other way. No matter where you are in life—young, not-so-young, single, married, divorced, widowed, separated, mother, aunt, daughter, work-in-the-home, work-out-of-the-home or any other categories we may put ourselves into—having a financial plan is important and achievable.

The advisors at Allegiant Private Advisors can help design a plan that starts where you are, incorporates your plan for the future, and anticipates life’s surprises. And in case you’d like to work with a woman yourself, we have plenty of female professionals on the team.

Allegiant Private Advisors is located at 240 South Pineapple Ave., Suite 200, Sarasota, FL 34236. For more information, call 941-365-3745 or visit allegiantpa.com. Advisory Services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, a Registered Investment Adviser.