Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.
Peter Foley CFP® is taking lessons learnt from a facilitated in-house women’s forum to help his business better engage with the unique needs of women.
Laughter, shared experiences and storytelling are not something we usually associate with financial planning, but it’s the type of approach Peter Foley is using to better engage with women to help them realise their financial goals and objectives.
It’s an approach that is working for the CFP® professional, who is acutely aware of the interrupted careers his female clients face in order to raise a family and care for loved ones. Not surprisingly, it’s gender pay gaps, lower super balances and the fear of poverty in retirement that keep his female clients awake at night.
But these concerns are something that Peter – a director at Thirdview Financial Planning – is working hard to rectify, by allowing women to talk about their fears and worries in a safe and non-judgemental environment, which he believes is the key to working with women on their financial wellbeing.
“According to recent statistics from the ABS, women generally have an average super balance at retirement that is about $114,000 lower than men. So, this means women need to be more fully
engaged with their super in an effort to close this gap, and to ensure they have adequate funding to support their lifestyle in retirement,” Peter says.
However, with women generally more conservative, risk averse and less confident when it comes to investing and planning for their financial future – a fact supported by a 2018 UBS report that
revealed that 56 per cent of women still leave investment decisions to their husbands or partners, with the worst offenders being Millennials at 61 per cent – Peter is mindful of the challenges involved in engaging more women with their finances.
“The key reason listed by women for deferring financial decisions to their husbands or partners was they don’t consider themselves to be as knowledgeable about investing as their spouse,” Peter says. “Unfortunately, when it comes to money, women are generally less confident. As planners, we need to change this!”
It’s a view supported by Loredana Fyffe – a mum and professional, who is also a client of Thirdview Financial Planning. And although Loredana views herself as being knowledgeable in most matters, she admits to still being conservative and a little hesitant when it comes to money and investing.
For Loredana, education and financial literacy is at the core of her relationship with Peter and the team at Thirdview. In fact, for the 40-year-old, she believes improved financial literacy is the key to improving the engagement of women with money.
“Today, 85 per cent of women living in Sydney are actively involved in earning and managing their household budget – a statistic uncovered through research we commissioned in my previous role as marketing and partnerships manager at the Sydney Women’s Fund (a sub-fund of the philanthropic Sydney Community Foundation). So, women are already money savvy on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis,” Loredana says.
“I believe that by improving the financial literacy of women, we can improve their confidence, allowing them to step up to the next level and take greater charge of their overall financial independence and wellbeing.
“However, as a woman, it pains me to say that the financial literacy of women has traditionally not been very high. And even though I’m well educated, when it comes to the nuances of investing, I still need professional help.”
In seeking Peter’s advice, Loredana freely admits to wanting to work with a professional who takes the time to clearly explain the various financial planning options and strategies available to her, as an individual, and for her family.
The Kitchen Table
Peter sees this general lack of confidence as being an opportunity for planners to reach out to women and help them to better understand their own finances and financial circumstances.
He is doing this in his Sydney-based practice through a venture called – The Kitchen Table® – a thoughtfully constructed, facilitated forum in which small groups of women unpack their own beliefs about their relationship with money.
“Women focus on the shared experience, teasing out each other’s problems, supporting and validating each other’s experiences,” Peter says. “This venture has been the foundation of my business, which focuses on women’s unique financial planning needs, encouraging open conversations to build two-way trust.”
Peter says one of the real privileges of focusing on women and finance has been witnessing the honesty and openness with which women share their stories. He admits, it’s something he hasn’t experienced with many of his male clients.
“While it can be heart-warming and sometimes heartbreaking to hear their stories, other women inevitably offer support, validation and encouragement. It’s very powerful. As a result, the conversations usually become lively and optimistic, with a ‘can-do’ approach to action.”
When it comes to client meetings, Peter believes it’s essential to give his clients a “clear voice”. By doing so, it provides clients with buy-in and ownership of their financial world. He does this by allowing clients to articulate their ideal lifestyle, by ensuring both sides of a couple have an equal part in expressing their financial aspirations.
“We also talk about the client’s money mindset,” Peter says. “Quite often, one client’s approach to money is much different to that of their partner. So, as a dispassionate third-party, I can more easily talk to them about their different money mindsets and the consequence this has on each party’s approach to money.”
And although Loredana is not a participant of The Kitchen Table® forum, through her involvement with Peter, she feels more in control of her financial future.
“Peter has listened to me and understood my risk appetite, that of my husband, and importantly, has respected that. He has really helped me to better understand what to do with my super and insurances,” Loredana says.
“Peter’s work around insurances for me has been very in-depth. I have really appreciated his pro-activeness and the due diligence he has undertaken on my behalf in relation to product selection, in particular his ability to understand my health and medical needs.”
Women and Insurance
Interestingly, when it comes to insurance, Peter believes this is always a hot topic with his female clients, particularly in relation to their health and wellbeing, as well as the premature death of their spouse.
For these reasons, he opted for an insurance provider that focused on providing a positive impact on the health and wellness of his clients.
“I chose AIA because everything about its client offering focuses on helping to get people more engaged with their health in an easy, fun and rewarding way, while providing all the additional elements you’d expect from an insurance provider,” he says.
In fact, with Thirdview’s focus on lifestyle, it’s understandable that Peter also places a lot of emphasis on his own health and wellness, both personally and professionally.
“To me, health and wellness is about feeling vital. It’s about having energy and enthusiasm for life. That sounds like such a simple thing to say but it’s a challenge to maintain those feelings in a world that’s so busy,” he says.
Peter incorporates health and wellness into his personal and professional life by staying physically, mentally and emotionally fit, which he achieves through exercise, meditation and maintaining strong meaningful relationships.
“I’m fortunate to not only have great friends and family, but also engage in work that allows me to support the financial and emotional wellbeing of my clients. That’s a really special part of being a financial planner.”
And what about the insurance needs of his clients?
According to Peter, women are most interested in paying down debt, not losing the home, and ensuring there is enough money to safeguard the family and to live off. They are most concerned that their “financial world” is secure at all stages of life, regardless of whether they are married, divorced or widowed.
“When it comes to insurance, for most women, it’s a non-negotiable. If the main breadwinner is no longer around, there must be a contingency in place. Whereas men tend to be more ambivalent.”
Peter takes a proactive approach to talking to his clients about their insurance needs. This involves presenting them with scenarios, as if an event had happened in their lives, and getting them to walk through those scenarios.
“This can range from the premature death of the partner, to illness and disability. We talk to them about their lifestyle in relation to that event and then we build the financials around that. So, if that event did occur, at least they have an understanding of what the next steps are from an insurance perspective in supporting their required level of lifestyle.”
It’s an approach that Loredana supports.
“When it comes to financial matters, I think a lot of women are embarrassed that they don’t know everything,” she says. “We don’t know what we don’t know, so we don’t take action, which is highly dangerous.
“Peter took the time to understand my needs and concerns. It has taken a lot of communication, and it’s been a real dialogue, with a lot of learning from both sides, for us to get to where I needed to be.”
In order for women to secure their financial wellbeing, Loredana says it’s essential that they don’t shy away from the things they don’t like or that seem overwhelming. The key to facing off the overwhelming is to find a guide or coach to help you through, just as she has done with Peter.
She also believes that financial products could be more sympathetic to the needs and circumstances of women. Interestingly, Loredana’s girlfriend, Emily Hollingum, is launching a tool for women that rewards them with cash payments directly into their super, when they shop from retailers, as well as providing other ways to accrue value, which is particularly beneficial for low-income earners.
“Emily is also working on another product for women by negotiating better insurance premiums for females, which is very encouraging. Compared to men, fewer women take up income protection insurance. I don’t think enough value is placed on insuring ourselves as women, and that needs to change.”
A different type of engagement
Peter is under no illusion that when it comes to working with his female clients, he needs to engage with them differently to that of men. Providing rewards and incentives, while focusing on their health and wellness, is one way of doing that.
“Because our advice is heavily focused on lifestyle to begin with, introducing more general health and wellbeing as part of the overall financial planning process is not such a stretch.
“In terms of our female clients though, they really appreciate knowing that they can go about the normal course of their life and through programs like AIA Vitality, actually be acknowledged and rewarded for that. For example, AIA’s Vitality program offers women 1,000 points when they complete preventative health checks like having a mammogram or pap smear.
“So, by offering a range of rewards for those who engage in its wellness program, including large discounts on insurance premiums that can easily add up to thousands of dollars, AIA is providing another means for planners to actively engage more closely with their clients.”
Loredana supports Peter’s decision to recommend an insurance provider, like AIA, that encourages both health and wellness through its incentives-based rewards program, as a means of better engaging clients with their insurance needs.
“I’m definitely more aware of the activities that I’m doing each day because of the AIA Vitality Program,” she says.
Loredana uses a fitness device to track her movement and she has also done the online assessments.
Peter is also a convert of the program, having accrued enough points to fly to Vancouver return for half the price. He has also used rewards for vouchers to buy new runners, gym gear and movie tickets. “As for my kids, they love it when I use the weekly rewards to buy a Boost Juice. Sometimes, it’s the simple things!”
Peter also encourages the profession to get rid of unnecessary jargon. “We have made the financial planning process far more complicated than it needs to be, so it’s little wonder so many people are disengaged.”
He also believes planners should take as much time as it requires for clients to feel comfortable with them and the advice process.
“Don’t assume your clients understand everything you tell them. Make sure you check-in with them to ensure they understand what it is you are doing and why. Ask questions like: ‘Does that make sense’ or ‘How does that make you feel?’ You need to ensure that women are comfortable and accepting of the conversations you are having with them and the advice you are offering.”
And finally, don’t just listen to what’s being said but listen to how it’s being said.
“By doing so, you can pick-up on some of the feelings of what is being said. Explore and draw out your client’s feelings by asking them how they feel about something, rather than how they think about it,” he says. “By allowing your clients to express their feelings, this will lead to better conversations with your clients about advice.”
Loredana agrees. “The entire financial planning process needs to be less intimidating and more accessible to women. I believe improved financial literacy will go a long way in helping more Australian women realise their financial goals and objectives.
“But the fact that 40 per cent of women are low-income earners in carers roles, means that most women wouldn’t think it’s worthwhile seeking professional advice. Yet these are the women who
probably need help the most.”
But Loredana remains pragmatic: “However, women need to concern themselves with their finances because it’s their future, and financial independence is the key to their safety.
“Be curious. Ask questions. Seek professional help. Don’t fear the time it takes ‘that you don’t have’, nor all the paperwork. Once you do the ground work and have a plan, you’ll feel, and be a lot more secure about the future.”
Understanding different life stages of women
Peter Foley CFP® identifies four different types of women who typically seek advice from him. They are:
Full-time career woman
According to Peter, the full-time career woman typically is more knowledgeable about her finances, but often lacks the time to properly deal with her money. This demographic also continues to take on a higher proportion of housework chores than full-time men.
“This group of women are time poor. So, we give information in short sound bites that go straight to the point, and clearly offers solutions for these women,” Peter says.
Peter has found that stay-at-home mums tend to have less confidence around large financial decisions, even though they typically control the household budget, deferring most investment decisions to their partner.
“We spend more time checking in on their level of understanding around money, and raise their level of engagement with money to give them a greater sense of confidence.”
Peter says he has advised too many widows who not only lack confidence but have outright fear about money, because they were not party to financial conversations with their husbands. He says it often takes years before they begin to feel safe, even when they have exceptional financial means.
“I find that widows who haven’t had an exposure to financial decision-making before, have the greatest lack of confidence and fear about money,” Peter says. “This group requires a ‘start from scratch’ approach, which includes foundation learning about money, as well as a lot of reassurance and encouragement. In many ways, you’re counselling them to believe in themselves.
“We support this with financial modelling that shows the facts of their financial position, so we’re approaching both logical and emotional levels to lift their confidence and competence.”
Single women have a different set of considerations. Excluding inheritance or other forms of family support, they are self-reliant and lack the economic framework provided by a partner. However, they are most aware of the importance to be financially independent.
“Whether she is a single parent or just on her own, this group is seeking a sense of security and protecting what’s already there,” Peter says.
“It all goes back to the biggest lesson I’ve learnt in planning: People don’t want to be rich, they just don’t want to be poor. So, while all these demographic groups want security, the level of education and reassurance does vary depending on their individual circumstances.”