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Why Rich Women Need Financial Inclusion

You don’t have to be an MBA to be financially literate. Learning about money is about protecting yourself and your future.

Three women I know quite well came into big money while in their 40s.  Two gained enormous wealth after vicious divorces ended long marriages.  The third inherited when her husband died suddenly of cancer. All three were terrified.

None of these women had ever had much to do with the home finances during marriages that had lasted many years.  Oh sure, they kept the household checkbook and even had their own credit cards.  They talked through major decisions with their husbands, such as buying houses and starting businesses.  None of them are stupid or passive fluff-heads.  But they just never got into the nitty-gritty of investment portfolios or life insurance or automobile titles.

So, they each found themselves thrust into a crisis where they suddenly had to grasp the past, present, and future of a financial situation that they had mostly left to their husbands.

The widow spent the first three years after her husband’s death in financial paralysis.  She was grieving, of course.  But she was also sure that she did not have enough to live on and would end up being a bag lady.  Her daughter still needed educating–would they qualify for financial aid? She was afraid to make any move.  Tiny piece by tiny piece, she worked through the loss of her health insurance, the discovery of his financial records, resetting all the passwords, and so on.  As the time went by, she felt more and more like she wanted to leave the condominium they had shared for decades and move back to New York to try and pick back up the identity of her youth.  But the condo was paid for and she was afraid if she left it, she might have to live in a cardboard box.  You can guess the end of the story.  It turned out she had lots of money and once she got a financial advisor, he told her she could sell the condo and live out her dream.  She did it, and is now enjoying a whole new life, including both a hip New York condo and her own business, but still suffers from fears of future poverty.

Instead of worrying about becoming a bag lady, take control of your own future. Learn to make financial plans that are realistic.

Instead of worrying about becoming a bag lady, take control of your own future. Learn to make financial plans that are realistic.

The second woman got a very valuable house and a handsome portfolio after a divorce that took three years to settle.  The income from the portfolio provided a comfortable living–she had never held a job–and the house was a joyous place from which she built her new life.  But in the early days of the crash of 2008, her financial advisor panicked and told her to sell, sell, sell before she lost everything.  Since she had never managed her own money, never really done anything but follow the orders of the men who advised her, she gave her permission for a massive sell-off of her portfolio, though it was composed almost entirely of blue-chip stocks.   She lost a third of her liquid assets in a matter of days. She should have held firm.  She will still make it, but the house was sold.

The last woman allowed her husband to use some family money she had inherited to start his own business.  He did a great job with the new business and became massively wealthy.  She continued to live the life of a wife, decorating houses and having parties and traveling.  He was not exactly a sociable sort, so, really, she created his entire life outside of work.  And it was, from all appearances, quite a beautiful life.  Yet, suddenly, she discovered that he was keeping women in two different cities.  The ensuing divorce was incredibly ugly, with a great deal of distrust about the disposal of the business–which he, of course, tried to claim was all his. He turned out to have been quite the wheeler-dealer, so just figuring out where everything was, etc., was a major job.  In the end, she got a very good settlement, but was then left with the task of managing the money.  And, of course, all the financial advisors she had ever had were her husband’s people and she felt hesitant to trust them.  She stepped up to the plate.  She learned the particularities of arcane financial transactions that, frankly, make my head hurt.  She is rapidly becoming a serious expert, proving yet again that there is nothing about the xx chromosome that makes you unable to grasp finance.

Financial independence is not having a credit card that you shop with and he pays for.

Financial literacy is not for poor women only.  Nearly all the studies of financial literacy have been done in the rich nations and they consistently show that women are less equipped than men.  Even when given financial training, they remain less confident and less capable.  No one has yet explained why that is the case, but I think it is because women are reared to think that money is something men know about.  They think finance belongs in the same bin with automobiles and hunting and other things they are happy to leave to males.  This is a self-destructive attitude, leaving women vulnerable to all kinds of flim-flam, bad outcomes, and irrational fear.  We need to start making financial literacy an important goal for women, right along with winning Congressional seats, getting to the White House, and sitting on boards.

A man is not a financial plan. Neither is a house.

A man is not a financial plan. Neither is a house.

Financial literacy for females is an important part of the global push for women’s financial inclusion generally. One objective of the campaign is to get improved access to financial services–such as private wealth advisors who treat women as adults, in addition to savings accounts for the very poor.  We will need women on the other side of the desk:  women as financial advisors.  So, “financial inclusion” also encompasses the demand for access to better jobs in the financial sector.  Research indicates that greater diversity in finance will benefit entire economies because it would protect us all against the insider decisions that created the crash of 2008.

So, please, sign the petition that we are preparing for the UN Sustainable Development Goals to have women’s financial inclusion on the priority list.  If this topic gets on that list, attention and money will be pushed toward getting women their place in the financial system and every government in the world will have to account for their progress.  I know it takes a minute to log in and sign.  But this is important.  Please take that moment for all of our sakes.   Even the rich ladies.

Please share about the petition with #DoubleXPetition.


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