Op-ed: Money decisions by women will shape the future for the U.S.

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The rising economic power of women in this country is one of the most significant financial shifts of recent decades. The bottom line: Women are generating and managing an increasing amount of wealth in the U.S.

Meanwhile, closing the gender gap has been one of the major financial initiatives in America over the past decade. To date, women earn just 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

While the gap in gender pay is closing, there are quantum shifts happening not only at the workplace but also on the household front when it comes to how money decisions are being made in the modern world. This massive change over the next 10 years will reshape the way we think about money as women will shape the future of the U.S. with their money decisions.

Today, women control more than $10 trillion (about 33%) of total U.S. household financial assets. Meanwhile, an unprecedented amount of assets will shift into the hands of U.S. women over the next three to five years, representing $30 trillion by the end of the decade.

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Why? Because as men pass away, they will leave control of these assets to their female spouses, who tend to be both younger and to live longer.

This is a wealth transfer of such magnitude that it approaches the annual gross domestic product of the U.S.

I reached out to several fellow members of the CNBC FA Council to get their take on this important topic.

“This is a huge transfer of wealth in and of itself but, because women traditionally outlive men, women stand to inherit most of it,” said certified financial planner Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth. “As more and more women have a say in significant financial decisions, it’s easy to see they’re not adhering to business as usual.”

Why is this a big deal and why should you care?

If you are a brand-name consumer products company, a financial services company or are in the business of selling real estate, for example, women will be making the majority of these decisions in the years ahead. So attracting and retaining female customers will be a critical growth imperative for your business.

To succeed, business of all types will need to truly understand women’s needs, preferences and behaviors when it comes to spending and managing their money.

Women continue to make more financial decisions on behalf of the household, and more women are also turning to the investing decisions. In fact, women are leading the field when it comes to environmental, social and corporate governance, or ESG, investing, according to a recent article in Fortune magazine.

In general, a higher percentage of women are interested in ESG investing than men, says CFP Cathy Curtis, CEO of Curtis Financial Planning. A Calvert/Investment News study showed that usage of ESG funds are up 25% year over year, and the trend of ESG investing is more pronounced in women, with 53% doing so currently.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has spotlighted our financial and health-care systems’ inequities as more disadvantaged and poor people are losing their jobs and lives,” Curtis said. “As a result, where the environment was the main focus of ESG investors, social and governance have become critical and are driving the inflows into ESG products.

“As women inherit more wealth from their parents and spouses and sometimes make the investment decisions for the first time in their lives, I predict more money will flow into ESG and impact investments,” she added.

So, with women making financial choices that have a long-term impact on society, the environment and overall business performance, small businesses and major corporations will need to step up and find ways to support social issues such as climate change, racial and gender inequality, and social justice.

Businesses that prepare for the transition of wealth to women could see four-times faster revenue growth, according to a McKinsey & Co. report.

“It will require businesses to understand a woman’s needs, preferences and behaviors when it comes to managing their finances, which I’m not sure they’re ready for,” Cheng said.

In general, women are not only providing to the household income, they are also responsible for managing the money and making a majority of the financial decisions.

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To that point, nearly 9 in 10 women who are married or live with a partner said they are involved in spending and investing decisions in their household, up from just 42% in 2012, according to a recent report from Hearts & Wallets, a consumer research firm.

“One financial decision that women will make that will shape the next decade is deciding to participate and contribute to their company 401(k) plan or save to an individual retirement account if they are not working but have a working spouse,” said CFP Shannon Eusey, CEO of Beacon Pointe Financial.

A recent TransAmerica Center Study found that only 32% of women expect Social Security to be a primary source of their retirement.

Eusey elaborated that this decision in itself will shape their next decade and beyond for two reasons: The act of saving in itself creates a habit of saving and the compound growth effect.

Saving a portion of every paycheck into a 401(k) plans or an IRA builds the habit of saving and living within your means. Even if starting with a small percentage or amount being saved, the amount saved can increase annually and any raises can be saved so more and more is being saved over time. Secondly, once the funds are in the account, it should be invested.

By 2030, all baby boomers will be age 65 or older and, on average, women are outliving men by about five years. With Covid-19 still front and center in our lives, “the pandemic has really highlighted the need to prepare for the unexpected,” said Winnie Sun, managing director of Sun Wealth Partners.

“With women leading the financial discussion in many households, it’s time to discuss the importance of always having an emergency fund in place, a financial first aid kit ready, and a game plan if you or your partner lose your source of income, Sun said. She added that when aging parents fall ill and need emotional and financial support, women are handling those needs the majority of the time.

The times are changing. As wealth begins to move into the hands of women, financial services firms and businesses overall will need to commit and adapt to find ways to better meet the needs of female clients and consumers. 

— By Ted Jenkin, CFP and CEO/founder of oXYGen Financial and a member of the CNBC FA Council

Sophie Tremblay

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