Retirement Director Taylor Pluss explains why, despite having an extensive background in financial services, she can relate to – and has personally experienced – many of the challenges female investors face.
While delivering a presentation a few weeks ago, someone asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. It was one of those questions that makes you wonder whether others may have been wondering the same thing, but no one had the courage to ask.
Since 2013, I’ve been traveling the country promoting our Women and Wealth initiative, working with financial professionals to better equip them to serve female clients and prospects, and working with female investors to make them feel more confident when it comes to managing their finances.
Following a presentation covering our Misunderstood and Unconvinced program, one of the financial professionals attending the seminar asked: “Do you feel as though you can relate to the average female client?”
Admittedly, the question caught me a little off guard at first. But I quickly realized where he was coming from. After all, I’ve been in the financial services industry for 15 years. I have my CFP® certification. I majored in finance in college. So what this advisor was wondering was, how in the world could I relate to his female clients, who for the most part likely have little to no financial background?
And yet, after that initial hesitation, my response was swift, because this is something I have thought about often. The fact is, despite my background, I’m the rule, not the exception: I am part of the 90% of women who are solely responsible for their finances at one point in their lives.
Furthermore, my mom recently became part of the 70% of widowed female clients who leave their financial advisors following the death of their spouse. And while I felt I could absolutely relate to female clients before this happened, the experience she went through – and that I went through with her – brought the financial planning challenges women face into a whole new light.
Discrimination Hits Home
Before my dad passed away, he believed he had left me and my mom in good hands with a network of financial professionals, including an advisory team my dad felt assured would help us with every twist and turn.
First, a little background on my dad. His two passions in life were medicine and money. He was a physician who spent his free time learning all there was to know about personal finance and investing. He shared this interest and knowledge with me and my mom; growing up, personal finance was a common dinner-table conversation. In other words, both of my parents were actively involved in the family’s finances. And yet once my dad (a.k.a., the Chief Financial Officer of the Pluss household) was out of the picture, our relationship with the family’s financial advisory team completely changed.
I won’t share every complaint (there’s too many to cover in a blog post) but the list includes never meeting with either me or my mom following my dad’s passing to determine what our individual goals were, not reaching out when the market crashed in March 2020 , then allowing an exorbitant amount of cash accumulate in an account when the markets rallied a few months later (their excuse being that my mom was in a fragile state – three years after my dad had passed – so they didn’t want to bother her).
In short, I found myself and my mom being treated in precisely the way I tell every advisor never to treat a female client they want to retain in a transition.
One day, my mom turned to me and said, “I feel like I’ll never have enough money for this team to care about me.” That was the moment I knew I could not allow this relationship to continue. The next day, we had meetings arranged to move all of our accounts elsewhere.
A few months ago, we found a new advisor – someone who went out of his way to learn our stories and sat both of us down individually to talk about our goals. That may not sound particularly remarkable, but up until this point, we had met with a lot of advisors who told us all about themselves but never once asked about us.
I Can’t Manage It All Alone, Either
Like many women, I try to balance it all: family, friends, relationships, work, finances … and the list goes on. Women are also nurturers by nature, often putting our own needs last – including planning for our financial futures. And while I’m pretty good at managing my day-to-day finances, looking at the big picture can feel like an overwhelming and, at times, insurmountable task.
That’s why, even though I have a background in finance, I have come to accept that I cannot manage every aspect of my financial health on my own. And I consider my financial health to be just as important as my physical health. Most of us rely on a network of medical professionals who help us navigate our health care needs; why not have a similar network of financial professionals to help ensure we stay on track to our goals?
Personally, I have chosen to build a network that includes a financial advisor, a CPA, an estate planning attorney, a realtor, and an insurance professional. These are individuals I trust, who listen to me and help me plan for the inevitable bumps in the road and, most importantly, who have my best interests in mind.
Facing My Own Mortality (and Planning for It)
Speaking of those bumps in the road, I think it is fair to say that one of the themes of the last 20 months has been to expect the unexpected. Things we thought we could count on or control have been thrown out the window with the COVID pandemic. Besides, while we’ve all been impacted in different ways, the pandemic has affected virtually every person on the planet. And whether you’ve been in the financial industry for 30 years or just opened your first investment account this morning, experiencing tragic loss on a mass scale has likely made you think about your own mortality – possibly for the first time.
That’s why now is the ideal time to revisit what your wishes are should something out of your control happen. I’m talking about basic estate planning. Some reading this may think, “I don’t need an estate plan because I don’t have an estate.” However, even if you have just a dollar to your name, if you become incapacitated or die, that dollar has to go to someone. Instead of letting your state of residence decide who it goes to through the process of probate, why not dictate it yourself?
Additionally, many people do not realize that if you are over the age of majority in the state in which you live, your parent or spouse must be designated as your medical power of attorney in order to make medical decisions for you, which is another reason why something like a basic estate plan is so important. Start small by drafting a will and instructions on digital assets and designating a power of attorney and medical power of attorney. Humans do not like to face their own mortality, but something like a basic estate plan is one of the best gifts you can give your loved ones.
So, Can I Relate?
Going back to the question I was asked that prompted me to write this post: Do I feel as though I can relate to the average female client? Despite my background, my answer is an unequivocal “yes.” I am the average female client, trying to juggle all that life throws my way, encountering (with my mom) the same inequity and condescension that so many women experience when working with financial professionals, and facing my own mortality as I continue to cope with the pandemic. Just because I have a finance degree does not mean I have all the answers, nor does it set me apart from the millions of women striving to set themselves up for financial success.