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Give Women and Men the Same Financial Advice

Do a quick Google search on "women and financial advice" and you get 133 million hits. "Women and investment advice" yields 64 million. Wow. That's a lot of advice. Do we really need that much?
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Do a quick Google search on "women and financial advice" and you get 133 million hits. "Women and investment advice" yields 64 million. Wow. That's a lot of advice. Do we really need that much?

After the first three paid ads, the top of the investment list is something called WIFE stands for Women's Institute for Financial Education. Decorated with cutesy icons like jewel-encrusted pink flip-flops, hearts, and kittens, the site tells women "In celebration of the month of love, is bringing you suggestions for how you can improve the relationship between you and your sweetie, and your money." Gawd. In case said suggestions don't work, there's a divorce workshop link farther down the page.

If this site is what the term "targeted financial advice," means, women sure as hell don't need it. We don't all have a "sweetie." If we do, we don't all distrust our partners. We don't all have time for (or need) a hand-holding investment club. Like men, we just want to have a decent life now and a non-poverty old age later, without taking more risk than we can afford to take.

WIFE is not the only outfit on the "women need different advice than men" bandwagon. Created by Citibank more than a decade ago, Women & Co. uses girly script (only slightly less smaltzy than the pink flip-flops) to tout their dedication to educating women about money. I couldn't find any outright statement that women are too dumb to digest "regular" (meaning men's) financial advice, but that's surely the impression.

But looking under the hood (I know, women don't do that -- might damage the nail polish) what you find on "researching investments" -- after you get past the gorgeous waif in a yoga pose taking up most of the page -- is a link to a generic USA Today article. It's written by a guy, Matt Krantz, and it advises "investors." Not female investors or male investors, just investors. It looks like pretty fair advice to me. And it also looks like Women & Co. is just a marketing ploy. The good news is that the boys at Citi apparently don't really believe women need targeted financial advice -- just (mis)targeted marketing.

But back to the fundamental question: Do women need different financial advice from men? No. They need the identical financial information any decent advisor would give a man in the same circumstances. That means if the advisor is talking to a guy making 77.4 cents to a woman's dollar doing the same job (and that's the national average gender pay gap for full time working women) he needs to be told he doesn't have as much money to invest as she does, so he might want to look at safer ways to earn interest than someone with cash to spare. If a worker of either gender is making minimum wage (and the majority of minimum wage workers are adult women) then the only financial advice they need is how to stretch the budget to pay for gas and groceries -- forget the bond markets and 401k's.

On the other hand, suppose the advisee is one of the 18 Fortune 500 female CEOs. Should she get different advice than the 482 male CEOs? Not unless she has lower pay or fewer stock options than the guys... and we know that would never happen.

And what about Christy and Alice Walton, numbers 6 and 8 on the Forbes 400 richest Americans list, as compared to their brother at number 7? Nah. When you're that rich, a few mil at the margin doesn't make any difference in how you allocate investments. All three of you could afford to give up a nickle on the dollar to provide affordable health insurance for your employees without missing a single meal.

But realistically, there are women who don't have any experience at investing at all. They've tended hearth and home, and the family assets are tied up in a house and hubby's retirement account. He's always taken care of the finances, and now he's suddenly run off with a bimbo or gone to that great corporation in the sky. She's feeling unsure and afraid of making a mistake. Doesn't this woman need targeted financial advice? Yes -- but targeted to the circumstances, not her gender. If a man were in the same boat he'd need the same advice.

And that, as we big-time money types like to say, is the bottom line.