Editorial Policy

Does the Personal Finance Industry Talk Down to Women?

Bill Hazelton

April 8, 2013

Do women get short shrifted when it comes to their money management skills?

That may just be the case. According to a February 2013 survey conducted by the nonprofit American Consumer Credit Counseling, “nearly 80 percent of women in relationships bear the responsibility of managing household finances” — often without any help from their significant others.

But women still get a bad rap when it comes to money management, and it seems that the personal finance industry is happy to play along. In her recently released book, “Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry,” Helaine Olen documents the personal finance industry’s dim view of women’s personal money management skills.

According to Olen, even the women in the personal finance industry are doubtful about their fellow females’ personal money management skills. In her book, she describes how Joan Cleveland, Prudential Life Insurance’s vice president of business development, presented results of Prudential’s annual survey on women and money at a press conference in New York.

“Given the complexity of the financial products that are available to women,” Cleveland told the crowd. “… they really need to be encouraged to seek out that financial advice from a professional.”

Even respected financial advisers reinforce old, inaccurate stereotypes that women are intimidated by financial matters, too emotional about financial decision-making and simply unable to handle financial risk as well as their male counterparts.

In her best-selling book “Women and Money,” personal finance guru Suze Orman poses the following question: “Why is it that women, who are so competent in all other areas of their lives, cannot find the same competence when it comes to matters of money?”

Unfortunately, women are playing against a stacked financial deck. Women, Olen writes in her book, tend to earn less than men. They also need to make that smaller income last longer because they live, on average, about seven years longer than men. Then there’s the societal expectation that women will care for children and elderly family members, which costs them 11 years of work and $325,000 over the course of their lives, according to Wells Fargo numbers Olen cites in her book.

Adding insult to injury, being a woman may cost more, too. According to a 2010 Consumer Reports investigation, women are charged 30 percent to 50 percent more for the female versions of everyday items such as shaving cream, haircuts and even pain relievers. In addition to getting charged more for little things, women are more likely to be charged more for the big things, too, such as homes and car loans, according to Consumer Federation of America.

So why isn’t the financial services industry addressing the very real challenges women face? Perhaps there’s simply money to be made by perpetuating these stereotypes. If financial professionals can reinforce the myth of women’s financial incompetence, women would just pay more often for their services, right?

Women, however, have started to resent their treatment by financial professionals in recent years. In fact, a 2009 survey of women by the Boston Consulting Group showed 70 percent of women had complained about inadequate treatment from their financial professionals, citing “being talked to like an infant” as one of their loudest complaints.

“The financial services industry presents itself as our savior,” Olen recently told Salon.com. “But by doing that, it has to confirm our cultural bias that we are alone responsible for our financial fates … They tell us we are women, we are so strong because we do so much more around the home and work than men, but yet we are financial illiterates who have no clue.”

The bottom line is that women are far more financially adept than the financial services industry gives them credit for but continue to be treated as incapable of managing their own financial futures.

So, we’d like to pose the following questions:

  • What can be done to turn the tide in the financial industry services industry for women?
  • For women seeking money management advice, have you had to deal with any condescending or patronizing financial services professionals in the past?
  • For married women, who handles the financial decision-making, yourself or your spouse?
  • Are you more comfortable making financial management decisions on your own, with a spouse/partner or with a money management professional?
  • What are you doing now to proactively manage your financial future?

Looking forward to your comments.


This blog is a guest contribution from Bill Hazelton, managing director of www.CreditCardAssist.com.

CreditCardAssist is a credit card comparison site that offers advice and tips on balance transfers, cash back rewards programs and all things credit-related.

You can also find Bill on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.