Originally Aired: October 19, 2011
Topic: Financial Advice for Women with Eleanor Blayney, CFP
The Lange Money Hour: Where Smart Money Talks
James Lange, CPA/Attorney
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|Click to hear MP3 of this show|
- Introduction of Author, Certified Financial Planner Eleanor Blayney
- Female Investors Have Different Perspectives and Values
- Women Today Are Taking Bigger Role in Making Major Decisions
- Trusts Can Restrict Wife’s Financial Control After Husband’s Death
- Women More Interested in Shared Experience Than Who’s Winning
- Men Should Listen to Women Instead of Offering ‘Solutions’
- Women Look at Qualitative Outcomes, Not Just the Numbers
- Without Knowing Her Value, a Woman Can’t Make Smart Decisions
- Step 1 for Women Investors: Does Advisor Put Her Interests First?
- Take Time to Choose an Advisor for the Long Term
Welcome to The Lange Hour: Where Smart Money Talks with expert advice from Jim Lange, Pittsburgh-based CPA, attorney, and retirement and estate planning expert. Jim is also the author of Retire Secure! Pay Taxes Later. To find out more about his book, his practice, Lange Financial Group, and how to secure Jim as a speaker for your next event, visit his website at paytaxeslater.com. Now get ready to talk smart money.
Hana Haatainen Caye:And welcome to The Lange Money Hour. I’m your host, Hana Haatainen Caye, and, of course, I’m here with Jim Lange, CPA/attorney and best-selling author of the first and second edition of “Retire Secure!” and now his new book, “The Roth Revolution: Pay Taxes Once and Never Again.” Jim’s guest tonight is Eleanor Blayney, CFP. Eleanor has been quoted in a dozen publications including “Forbes,” “The Wall Street Journal” and “The New York Times.” She’s often a guest on various radio shows across the country and is the author of “Women’s Worth: Finding Your Financial Confidence.” In addition, she is the CFP board’s consumer advocate. You can learn more about Eleanor on her website at www.directionsforwomen.com. On tonight’s show, Eleanor will explain why investing for women is different than it is for men. We will talk about what the biggest impediments are to women seeking the advice they need. Then Eleanor will offer some practical solutions for these issues. Additionally, she will share how women should handle the interactions with a financial advisor to be sure they get those needs met. Good evening, Eleanor and Jim.
Eleanor Blayney: Good evening.
Jim Lange: Hi, Eleanor. First, I want to congratulate you on a really fine book. I read most of it, actually, in the last two days. By the way, I was also impressed that you got a very nice testimonial from Deena Katz, and that’s as high up as you can get in the investment world. But I thought that what you really did is you really brought out some issues that were well beyond things like women live longer and women have interruptions in the workforce, and you talked about some of the different thinking and you mentioned authors who I had known and read independently, including Deborah Tannen. We can talk a little bit about some of her work, and also Linda Babcock, who is actually a local Pittsburgher who I know. So again, congratulations on a great book and we’ll give the name of it out again. It’s “Women’s Worth,” and that can be found, by the way, at www.directionsforwomen.com. But why don’t I start out by just giving you kind of a general question: Why should planning for women be different than planning for men?
Eleanor Blayney: Well, it’s a provocative question and I think the answer is that yes, it should be different, and the reason is … actually, there are several reasons. First of all, we know from certain research that has been done that men and women often think about money differently. Now, I should say there are men who think more like women and women who think more like men, and so I’m not saying we’re talking about a black and white issue, but we’re talking about tendencies, and we do know, for example, that women are more values-driven and less numerical goals in terms of how much they want to save for retirement. They tend to be more “other” oriented. So they will often think about financial planning in terms of their children or their philanthropies, and maybe less about their own professional achievements.
But there are also those biological differences, not only as a result of a longer life, but just kind of the way we’re made, I guess. You know, we’re more apt to suffer from disabilities and we’re much greater consumers of long-term care. We’re much more apt to take care of elderly relatives, and the other important fact is we talk about retirement, and I know that’s your specialty, Jim, but for women, it’s as much about retirement in the last third of their lives, those final years, but the more important factor is they’re going to be single. Nearly 80 percent of women will in fact pass away as single women, and that opens up a whole host of financial issues. So, the issues are different. The way we think about money decisions is different, the way we make money decisions and the way we talk about money. So, I think it’s time that we as advisors understood those differences and used them more effectively in the counsel that we’re providing our women clients.
Jim Lange: Alright, well, if we could, if we could take two different sets of women, and of course there’re many variations, but let’s talk about two in particular, and then maybe you will have different advice for each one. One is, let’s say, a married couple where the woman is obviously half of the partnership, and they are seeking financial planning and potentially estate planning services while they both are alive, and at least for our discussion now, at least both healthy. One of the things that I have noticed, both as an estate attorney and a registered investment advisor, is there are a lot of situations that I have found where the man has traditionally taken care of the finances, and what sometimes scares the bejeevers out of me is when the man is not doing the kind of job that I think he should be doing.
Maybe it’s kind of a do-it-yourselfer who has some offbeat theories or has some different theories and isn’t directing the couple’s finances the way I think he should, or even close to the way I think he should, and we’ll get into the estate planning aspect later. And I almost kind of want to shake them and say, “Hey, this isn’t safe, and by the way, in a way, you know, Mr. Smith, this isn’t really about you because you’re likely to die first, and Mrs. Smith might be here for eight or 10 years or even more after you’re gone, and some of the screwy decisions that you are making, for which she’s just nicely nodding her head, could have a big impact on her.” And usually, I try to point that out as diplomatically as I can that some of these things might not be in their best interest and that they might actually have a negative impact on Mrs. Smith instead of Mr. Smith, and I want to ask you how you think either the Mrs. Smiths who are listening to this discussion right now, or even other advisors, how should we handle that when the man has traditionally taken the lead role in the finances, and maybe isn’t doing the best thing for the couple?
Eleanor Blayney: Well, that’s a great question and I think just your bringing up this situation is very important for advisors to hear, because yes, that is a kind of traditional scenario where he comes in and he basically … she’s quiet, you know, she says very little. He does most of the talking and defines the relationship, but what I would say to advisors is that don’t necessarily be fooled. She may not be doing a lot of the talking, but we’re understanding now that she may be playing a much greater role in the big decision making, even the decision making about hiring the advisor, and while he may be ostensibly or nominally in charge, she may have more decision-making authority or opinions than we often give her credit for. Now, she may not be entirely well-educated. She may have deferred some of the technicalities to his handling, but she has a mind of her own. And so, I think that yeah, it is dangerous to have him do all the arranging without taking into account what she may want to be doing after he’s gone if indeed he predeceases her. So, don’t be fooled by the traditional model. It is changing.
Jim Lange: And the other thing that I have seen is sometimes she might not be pushy or aggressive about it, but she actually wants to hear what I have to say and why I don’t think that the way he is doing it is absolutely right. So, this is particularly true of some of the do-it-yourselfer engineers that I have who have some kind of interesting theories on money, and I’m not saying that they’re necessarily all wet, but let’s just say that they are far from conventional and I’m not comfortable with them. That sometimes, she might know that hey, you know, he might not be so wonderful. Was it in your book that said behind every great man, there’s a woman rolling her eyes?
Eleanor Blayney: If I didn’t say it in my book, I should have! I would endorse that!
Jim Lange: But I think sometimes she kind of knows that maybe what’s there isn’t so wonderful, but at least in my experience, she has often deferred to her husband, and I don’t know if you have any advice for women specifically who are in that situation where they have traditionally listened to their husband, and then, if she says something, he’ll start giving her a technical reason why he’s right. But in the big picture, a lot of times, he’s not, and right now, I guess I’m just talking about investments, and then maybe we’ll switch over to estate planning later on. But do you have some advice for women in that situation who have traditionally listened to their husbands but now they’re thinking well, maybe he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does?
Eleanor Blayney: Well, let me just turn that question slightly around and talk about it from the perspective of the advisor, and maybe this will empower women to seek a different relationship with the advisor himself or herself. I think advisors, when they work with couples, they often, and I have done this myself in my 20-plus years of advising clients and couples. You know, you think of it as one relationship, you know, the Murphys. They’re my client. And when in fact, you really have to think that you have, in essence, three clients. You have the couple themselves and what, you know, the joint goals that serve them, with regard perhaps to their children, but you also have two individuals and, you know, every married couple has their sort of public version of both their finances, how they run the household, whatever it is, it’s the joint story.
But each one has an individual story, as well, and it’s important to go into the meeting room when you have a couple and be aware that, Number 1, they probably came from, I mean, inevitably, they came from two different households. They had two different upbringings. You know, they may have been from the same socio-economic class, but their money messages may be very, very different. She may defer because this is the way to … it may be an efficient response of running the finances. It’s easier to defer and to let him do what he wants, but it doesn’t mean that she’s entirely endorsing what he has to say. I think it’s important to, if you’re a woman who feels, “Hmm, does this really make sense for me?” ask the advisor if you can meet for lunch or on another occasion to talk about your concerns or, you know, your perspective on money, or even ask, well, you know, I know that we’ve got to plan long life expectancies of the probabilities and tell me what happens if he passes away and when he passes away — what does this mean for me? Because that is a likely scenario. So, advisors need to be aware that there’re really three stories sitting in that room and it’s their job to get each of the stories out, and sometimes that means meeting with the partners or the couples separately as well as together.
Jim Lange: Which surprised me, and I’d like to talk more about that, but …
Hana Haatainen Caye: Yeah, we’re going to take a break right now. When we come back, we’ll continue the conversation with Eleanor Blayney and Jim Lange about women and investing on The Lange Money Hour, Where Smart Money Talks.
Hana Haatainen Caye: Welcome back to The Lange Money Hour. This is Hana Haatainen Caye, and I’m here with Jim Lange and Eleanor Blayney, CFP and author of “Women’s Worth: Finding Your Financial Confidence.”
Jim Lange: Eleanor, you just mentioned something that I hadn’t really considered and I have not done in my own practice, which is potentially having a meeting just with the husband or, I think what you’re talking about is just with the wife, and that was kind of an intriguing idea to me because sometimes, maybe the wife doesn’t feel as free to express her concerns with her husband in the room, and sometimes I frankly get a little too technical or interested in the technical aspect when the conversation really should be geared towards some of her concerns on a more basic level. In fact, one of the things that you did in your book, which I applaud you for, is to have a discussion of, let’s say, some of the more basic things, but then you tie it into people’s emotional needs. So, when you were talking about things like budgeting, things that most financial advisors don’t go near, saying hey, these are very real issues and that it isn’t OK to just ignore them, which I thought was very good. But could we switch for a minute to talk about the dying side while we’re talking about couples? Because this, to me, is kind of what I would consider a hidden issue.
Most traditional estate plans, and I would say right now, most people that have assets of what used to be, but maybe is even less now, but what used to be $600,000 or more, typically, as their estate plan, they have a trust that was originally designed to save estate taxes that, in effect, said that, and let’s just use the example of the husband dying first. The husband dies first. Any money that the husband had in his own name would then go into a trust, and the terms of the trust were the surviving spouse, the woman, or Mrs. Smith, would get the income from that trust. She would get the right to invade principle for that trust, and then, at her death, the money would go to the kids, and typically, they would even name a bank or even the kids as trustee, meaning that when Mr. and Mrs. Smith are alive, they could do whatever they want with their money and spend it however they like, but with the traditional estate plan, now Mrs. Smith is going to be limited to income and she’s either going to have to go to a bank or to her own kids, in effect, for permission to spend, and I just think that that’s such a bad idea on so many levels, and I actually see that as a woman’s issue mainly because, more often than not, the husband will die first and the wife will be stuck with this trust, and then to add to it all, you know, today, we have a $5 million exemption, and if you’re married, $10 million, and since most people don’t have $10 million estates, the original purpose of this trust was to save estate taxes is no longer valid. Do you have some opinions on this type of planning, and I mean, obviously, I’m very strongly opinionated that I think it’s a terrible plan, but I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this in terms of a woman’s issue?
Eleanor Blayney: Well, I think you’re right. I think it can be a woman’s issue because of the likely scenario that she’s the one who’s left with all the, you know … it’s interesting because it’s likely that she’s going to be the one that has to do the administration of the estate, but then, meanwhile, the estate is sort of snatched away from her control and put in a trust, and you’re right. I mean, basically, it is safeguarded and directed quite often by another fiduciary, and she really just continues to receive a check with very little control over how the assets are invested or, as you say, limited, a fairly limited access to the principle and she has to ask permission for that. So yes, it puts her in a dependent situation.
Jim Lange: Yeah, and that has always bothered me. The other thing is, I think this is a little bit of a throwback from the old days when the men did all of the handling of the money and upon their death, the bank would take care of the little woman and she wouldn’t have any worries, but I’m really against that because I really think that the surviving spouse should be able to make her own decisions, both with regards to investments and if she hires an investment advisor, which she might very well want to do, and if he doesn’t perform well or if she doesn’t like her interactions with him, she could fire him and go somewhere else, where typically you can’t do that in a trustee situation. The other thing that bothers me a lot is that health maintenance and support is not the same as unlimited access to the money.
Eleanor Blayney: That’s right.
Jim Lange: And that bothers me a lot because when both members of a couple are alive, they can do whatever they want with the money, including going on vacation, including helping their grandkids with their education, including putting an addition on the home or even getting a second home or doing whatever they want, and I don’t see why we want to restrict the surviving spouse after the husband, or it could be the wife, dies first. So, I think that that’s a really bad idea and I think it ties in very well with some of the differences in planning for men and women.
Eleanor Blayney: Well, I think it’s an excellent point, and I would add to that, and you alluded to it earlier and you may find this in some of the estate planning that you’ve done, the fact that we now have raised the exemption amount, the amount that can be transferred without taxation, and if a couple has a fairly old estate plan and it has a direction in there to fund that trust that ultimately will go to the children up to the amount that is exempt from taxes. Before, that was $1 million, let’s say, and then it was $3 million, and now it’s gone even higher.
Jim Lange: To $5 million.
Eleanor Blayney: But you can have the very unfortunate result that if you’re not looking at these estate plans, not only have you set up a situation where she has very little voice, it may mean that all of the assets go into that format and nothing passes to her directly, or through a trust that she manages. So, you’ve probably seen estate plans that were not written to contemplate a much larger amount going into that family trust.
Jim Lange: And personally, the way I see it, even if there’s a potential risk of estate taxes, I personally think, unless there’s dementia or Alzheimer’s or maybe a second marriage, which is a different story, but I personally believe in the empowerment of the surviving spouse, not restricting her because I just think that that’s a bad idea, and I will tell you, unfortunately … and by the way, I’ve been a big fan of this flexible estate planning for many years, so there are no examples of documents where I have drafted and the woman has been restricted, but I have been involved in estates where other attorneys have drafted and the surviving spouse is restricted, and it’s terrible. You know, when they want to do things like help the grandkids for their education, if anything, by the way, and perhaps it’s because of the generation that I serve, I don’t find women who are being spending inappropriately. If anything, they are spending inappropriately by not spending enough.
Eleanor Blayney: Correct.
Jim Lange: So, I’m not really worried that they’re going to go out and buy Cadillacs and do all kinds of things that … and maybe a Cadillac would be appropriate given the right amount of money, but I don’t think that those trusts are a good way.
Eleanor Blayney: Well, I think your clients must then be very well served by your sensitivity to this because I agree. It can have some very disenfranchising effects on the 20 or so years that she may survive him. You know, women’s life expectancies are maybe five to seven years longer than men’s, but when you add on the fact that women still tend to marry men older than themselves, or another demographic phenomenon which is that older men, as a result of divorce, often choose second or third wives that are much, much younger than them. You know, you have a very long time period that she may be surviving him, and to effectively be kind of disenfranchised from that money for what may be a period of her life where she’s still very healthy and has a lot of needs and interests and so forth. I agree with you. Your sensitivity to the issue is I’m sure appreciated by the women that you’re serving.
Jim Lange: Well, interestingly enough, you brought up another issue that we’re not going to have time to delve into, which is estate planning for second marriages.
Eleanor Blayney: Right, yes. That was in the back of my mind as well.
Jim Lange: And we could do a whole show on that. In fact, we actually did, and suffice to say, I am not a fan of the traditional solution, which is called a QTIP trust, where the surviving spouse gets the income, and at her death, it goes back to the kids from the first marriage, particularly when the kids from the first marriage might be almost as old as she is, and particularly if the funds are IRA or qualified money, where the tax consequences of a QTIP trust are just horrendous. But I think I’d rather try to go back to some of the things that you had in your book, and one of the things that I thought was great was some of the other woman authors that you had mentioned, like Deborah Tannen and some of her discussions on the differences between men and women. If you could maybe give me a few anecdotes that you thought that she brought out, and then I have a quick Deborah Tannen story.
Eleanor Blayney: Oh, wonderful! Well, Deborah Tannen has done fascinating work in terms of sociolinguistics. She has done a lot of clinical studies, if you will, on the way the different genders use talk, how we talk to one another and how we talk to the other gender. I’ve always enjoyed her work and it’s really spoken to me in terms of some of the conversational difficulties I may have communicating with a significant male other, or even business partners. So, it’s been very, very helpful to look at themselves in the order, or in the pack, if you will. It’s just their way of finding their place in the world and order in the world. You know, who wins and who loses? Who has more points? Who has more money? More status, more power, more control? So, it’s always a sort of one-up, one-down orientation, and it begins even in early childhood with girls. They’re much more interested in the shared experience. What do we have in common, as opposed to what makes you better than me or lesser than me. Not to say that that doesn’t come into our thinking, you know, we’re always trying to look better than another woman or whatever, but we’re also very keenly aware that, you know, we’re looking for commonality, and I find, for example, the best application of this is when we look at the language of investing. Now, investing has very much been traditionally a male dominated endeavor, not just in terms of men are much more in evidence on Wall Street than women. In our own profession, I think males outnumber us by 4-to-1, but also in terms of investors. You know, traditionally, investing was done by the head of the household, the male, and it’s not surprising that the language that we use for investing is very sports-oriented, and it has a lot of similarities to thinking about who’s winning, what mutual fund is the top performer, and it’s all about stats and placements.
Hana Haatainen Caye: Eleanor, do you see this changing? Is it shifting at all with so many women being the head of households now?
Eleanor Blayney: I think it is changing. We’re realizing that yes, that not only women heads of households, exactly, you know, single parents and having … first of all, the 401(k) itself has created some autonomy for women in the investing arena because that cannot be a joint asset. You have it in your own name and usually you make your own elections at your workplace. I think women are getting more involved in investing, but they often feel that they don’t know enough.
Hana Haatainen Caye: OK, we’re going to come back to this in a minute. We’re going to take a real quick break right now, Eleanor, and we’ll come back and talk about this. When we come back, like I said, we’ll continue the conversation with Eleanor Blayney and Jim Lange about women and investing on The Lange Money Hour, Where Smart Money Talks.
Hana Haatainen Caye: Welcome back to The Lange Money Hour. This is Hana Haatainen Caye, and tonight we’re enjoying hearing a woman’s point of view. You can also listen to Jim’s other fascinating discussions with other female financial experts like Jane Bryant Quinn and Natalie Choate in our comprehensive audio library. We have over 50 hours of information packed shows easily accessible on our website at www.paytaxeslater.com. Now, let’s get back to our conversation with Eleanor Blayney and Jim Lange.
Jim Lange: Hello again. I was going to start by saying a quick anecdote with Deborah Tannen, who you mentioned in your book. When I was single, I’ve been married for 17 years now, but when I was single, I picked up one of Deborah’s books called “You Just Don’t Understand.”
Eleanor Blayney: That was her classic, yeah.
Jim Lange: It’s so good. I would recommend it to anybody, but I would even say particularly men because after reading it, I had a much better understanding about communication with women, and my love life went from near nothing to just, it was just terrific because I understood. In the old days, before I read that book, and I even remembered this specifically, a girlfriend at the time was telling me about her problems at work, and I was just trying to do my best to try to solve the problem and solve the solution, and then she would get mad at me. I’m thinking, “Hey, I’m talking about your stuff!” And then, she would talk some more and I would come up with another solution, and she was ready to tear my head off! And I’m thinking, “Hey, I’m trying to be nice. I’m trying to help you!” And then I read the book and it said no, don’t provide a solution. Just listen.
Eleanor Blayney: Listen!
Jim Lange: And then, when I got that, the next time she or anybody else did that, I would just say, “Oh, well, OK.” I didn’t realize that she just wanted to vent.
Eleanor Blayney: She wanted to vent, and when you do provide solutions, her assumption is that you think that she is incapable of solving this for herself. So, you know, she’s come home and had a rotten day at work, the commute was bad and her boss was a jerk and you turned to her and said, you know, “Well, take a different route home and make an appointment with your boss and tell him what you think,” and she hears you saying, “Well, here are the answers because obviously, you didn’t think of these things,” and you know, she knows what the answers generally are to her problems. She just wants the emotional outlet, and you fail when you just fix it to acknowledge the frustration or the emotion that she feels about these situations.
Jim Lange: And reading that book, it helped me with my relationships with women, and then it also helped with my relationship with women now in a professional capacity because my natural instinct is to be the problem solver. So, when people come in with issues, I immediately want to start talking even before I hear them out, and I have learned to sit down, shut up, let them say the whole thing, and then, by the way, sometimes I learn more about the problem, and then I can end up doing a better solution and there’s more satisfaction because somebody feels like they have been heard. And then, honestly, that was hard for me because before that, I instantly wanted to go to the solution.
Eleanor Blayney: Well, yes, and I mean it’s kind of a liability or a tendency of our profession. We are a profession of fix-it people, you know, fix a tax problem or fix an estate problem or fix a portfolio allocation or diversification problem, but we really need to not fix first, just listen, and oftentimes, the solution, she has the solutions and obviously those may be far more acceptable than the ones that we suggest from the outside. So, I think, you know, yes, you’ve learned some great lessons from that book and I think it’s a great book, and I think it has a lot of applicability to the way we talk about money.
Jim Lange: I do, and the other thing that I liked about your book is you were saying to try to communicate in a way that isn’t necessarily quantitative but what the result of it is. So, I’ll give you an example. One of the “women’s issues” that I have in my practice from a technical standpoint is, and particularly for older couples, and even more so when one of them is ailing physically, is I like to do Roth IRA conversions when they are both alive and we can take advantage of the “married filing jointly” tax rates, knowing that, at his death, the tax rate is going to go up for the woman. So, I think, oh boy, this is a good time to do a Roth IRA conversion, and by the way, if you do this, you’re going to be $50,000 better off and your kids are going to be $500,000 better off, but I think what I got from your book is if I put it in terms of well, and the difference is that money that you give to your grandkids while they’re alive is the difference between going to a state school and a private school.
Eleanor Blayney: Right.
Jim Lange: Or the difference could be between having a $100,000 second home and a $300,000 second home, or something like that, and I think that what you are saying is put it in terms of qualitative differences instead of just quantitative differences.
Eleanor Blayney: Exactly. Women want to know, you know, we may say “Well, this mutual fund outperformed that mutual fund by 50 basis points,” and she may understand basis points. She may understand all the mathematics of it, but on her mind may be “Well, what does that mean? What does it mean for my life? What does it mean for the decisions that I need to make about, as you say, my child’s education, about where we live, about where we take our vacation, when we take our vacation.” So, it’s not that the numbers give the meaning, and we really have to translate that into the context of her life.
Jim Lange: Well, I think that that’s great advice. In fact, I’ve tried to read more women’s books lately and tried to pick an additional sensitivity to it, but I think your book is probably one of the most clear. The other female author that you had mentioned, and I want everybody except for my employees and my wife to hear this, is you mentioned Linda Babcock with her book. And by the way, she’s a client of mine and a very nice lady, and her book “Women Don’t Ask.”
Eleanor Blayney: “Women Don’t Ask.”
Jim Lange: And again, with the exception of my employees and my wife, what advice would you have for women in that area?
Eleanor Blayney: Well, she’s referring to not asking in a number of areas, but she’s referring in particular to our failure to negotiate for what we’re worth in the workplace, and you know, I think women … in fact, I titled my book “Women’s Worth” because my mission at Directions for Women is to help women understand what they’re worth, not necessarily in dollar terms, but all the resources that they bring to their life and the choices that they have, and until you know what you’re worth, it’s impossible to make smart financial decisions about any other aspect of your life, and I think what she’s talking about, and she has some, oh, really compelling statistics about how, let’s say just the one failure in that initial job to ask for more … now, I think it’s very important that women know what they’re worth. In other words, they’ve done the research on the industry. They’ve done the research on the geographical market for that particular industry or experience level or skill set, and there is data out there. The Department of Labor has excellent handbooks that give you that information. Understanding what the roles and the responsibilities that you will fulfill and what that commands in the marketplace. You have to know that and you have to ask for it.
She points out that women routinely ask for much less from a starting position than do men, even when we hold the experience and the training and whatever, and just that single failure to ask for more can cost a woman basically hundreds of thousands of dollars over her lifetime. I mean, the ripple effect is incredible. You ask for less, I mean, you get less because you haven’t asked for more. It means you’re eligible for less in benefits. You can put less in your retirement plan, your Social Security benefits are less, that one failure. So, you ask for what you’re worth. If you’re told no, you say “Well, that’s where I want to go. Tell me what I have to do to earn that money, and I want a review in three months’ time.” We have to empower women to get from the workplace what they need. Given that they often spend less time in the workplace, they need their money to work even harder.
Hana Haatainen Caye: OK, Eleanor, this is great information you’re giving us, but we do need to take another break, so when we come back, we’ll continue the conversation with Eleanor Blayney and Jim Lange about women and investing on The Lange Money Hour, Where Smart Money Talks.
Hana Haatainen Caye: Welcome back to The Lange Money Hour. This is Hana Haatainen Caye, and I’m here with Jim Lange and Eleanor Blayney, CFP, author of “Women’s Worth: Finding Your Financial Confidence.” Eleanor, I love the fact that your website addresses helping women understand what they’re worth, and for our listeners, they can find that information at www.directionsforwomen.com. But I wanted to ask you what you think women should be thinking about when they’re talking to and looking for an advisor?
Eleanor Blayney: Well, I think that, most important, and this actually applies to men too, but it’s doubly important for women, is that they should be looking for an advisor who practices at a fiduciary standard, and by that, I mean the advisor is bound by the ethics and the standards of his or her profession to put the client’s interests first. Now, it’s important to understand that not all advisors are held to that level of practice. So, you want to ask whether the advisor abides by a fiduciary standard. Why is this important, especially for women? Because we do know that women are more apt to reach out to an advisor when they are in crisis: divorce, the death of a spouse, the loss of a job, a situation with a child, a special needs child. In other words, there’s some sort of emotional stress or a major life change. This is the biggest trigger, as it were, or impetus for a woman to seek out advice. But it’s at those times of life that we are not fully rational. We’re dealing with a big emotional upheaval, and therefore, it’s so important that we be able to trust the practice of the advisors to be sure to be giving us advice that’s not in their interest. We are vulnerable, in other words, and it’s so important that we not be taken advantage of.
Hana Haatainen Caye: So basically, it’s best to find that advisor before that major life crisis occurs, though?
Eleanor Blayney: Yes, yes. I’m sorry, did you say “Ahead of time”?
Hana Haatainen Caye: Yes, before it happens.
Eleanor Blayney: Before it happens. Now, obviously, life happens before we’re ready for it in many cases or, you know, before we’ve done the planning, but certainly knowing that, statistically, you’re likely to outlive your partner. So, it’s important to be planning for that kind of event. Or even when young couples are getting married, I mean, we know that divorce is an all-too-frequent outcome of marriage, and therefore, thinking about it from the very beginning and arranging your assets in such a way or the understanding your conversations about your assets in a way that be far less stressful if the marriage does not survive.
Jim Lange: And I think it’s so appropriate that you use the word “fiduciary,” and at the risk of repeating what you said, or maybe amplifying it a little bit, if you go to a “financial advisor,” and let’s say that that person is not a certified financial planner or is not a certified public accountant or is not a registered investment advisor, there’s a very good chance that that advisor will have a host of products available that can sometimes sound very attractive that very often have commissions to the advisor between 4 to 10 percent of the amount involved or even more.
So, a lot of times, these advisors have a strong financial motivation themselves to push some of these products, or not to name any particular wirehouse, but if you go to one of the wirehouse advisors, maybe one of the wirehouses is trying to sell their own products or sell their own mutual funds or whatever, and the compensation for the advisor might be different depending on what he “sells” or directs his client to purchase, where I much prefer an advisor who is paid a fee and not a commission and is literally … now, I have always felt morally compelled to do what I think is in the best interest of a client, but I think your advice of dealing with somebody who is legally required to put the interests of the client first and their own self interest last is critical, particularly because I know sometimes that there are women who have not spent a lot of time learning some of the financial nuances, are looking for somebody to trust and when they find somebody they trust, they’re often more likely to stay with that person. So, you might as well pick the right person in the first place, and how that person gets paid … if an advisor can’t explain exactly how he gets paid, then I think that there are some major issues. So, you do want to check to see if that advisor is a fiduciary. Now, that might sound self-serving because I am, but I think that that’s a really critical point that you’re bringing out.
Eleanor Blayney: Absolutely, and a fiduciary tells you even if you do not ask. Now, the fact that an advisor may receive a commission does not a priority … mean that they’re not, you know, acting in a fiduciary manner, but they are obliged to as a fiduciary. Suppose they only have a particular company’s product available; nevertheless, they are obliged to let you know that, that this is what they can offer. They can’t offer you these other alternatives, but they should at least be pointing that out to you so you understand where they are coming from.
Jim Lange: Yeah, and by the way, when I hear that, that scares me because even in the product world, like the insurance world, I am not a big fan of going to somebody who only offers, and again, I don’t want to name any one particular insurance company, I would much prefer somebody going to an independent broker who might have contracts and lines with 20 or 30 different insurance companies, and if there is a product like, for example, life insurance, that they could select a product that is best for the client and not the one that pays the most commission or is the one that they happen to be associated with.
Eleanor Blayney: I agree with you. I mean, obviously, choice is better for the consumer.
Jim Lange: So, where should women be directing their financial attention, and you’ve made it clear that you want a woman to be seeking somebody who is acting in a fiduciary manner, but where should women turn, and what should some of their criteria be for them in selecting an advisor?
Eleanor Blayney: Well, I would recommend that women put some effort and sometime into this process because you’re choosing someone ideally who is going to be there for you during those life transitions, ideally for the long term, and we probably, as women, men maybe as well, but we spend more time planning our vacations than we spend choosing a trusted advisor who we will be working with about our money. I mean, it really is a decision that deserves a lot of attention.
Jim Lange: And by the way, you have an excellent discussion in your book on that. You really do. And again, by the way, I will mention, because I know we’ll be having to end soon, the book is “Women’s Worth,” and you can either get that at Amazon or, if you want additional information that’s free of charge, then I would recommend going to www.directionsforwomen.com. I will take one exception to one thing that you said in your book, Eleanor, which is you said that you don’t necessarily have to ask for the financial record of how the advisor has done in the past, and I know that there are some advisors who will have significantly different portfolios for different clients. What I would say, though, is if an advisor does have what I would call a composite, which is kind of throwing all their clients together into one pot and seeing what that performance after fees is relative to an appropriate index like the S&P 500, and of course, you know, past performance is no guarantee of future results, I would want to know that. So, for example, all the companies that I represent, we can say OK, here is how they’ve done historically after fees over the last five, 10, 15 years, et cetera. To me, I think that that’s one additional comment that I think is not a bad thing.
Eleanor Blayney: Well, I agree with the basis for your preference there. Unfortunately, I find that many investors, men and women, are focused very unilaterally on past returns, and they’re not necessarily looking at the … you cannot consider return in a vacuum. You have to be considering the risk that’s taken, and therefore, you know, you may be advising one elderly client, an elderly woman for example, you may, and you mentioned that you used fixed annuities, which I think are, in many cases, a partial solution and not the whole solution.
Jim Lange: By the way, that’s immediate annuities.
Eleanor Blayney: Immediate, yes.
Jim Lange: Yeah, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt because the fixed annuity is a different high commission item, and the immediate annuities are the ones that the “Consumer Reports” people like Jane Bryant Quinn and Jonathan Clements like, and that’s what I like. By the way, we have about one minute left.
Eleanor Blayney: OK. But the point is, you know, recognize that the number that you’re given, you’re going to have to drill down a little bit to understand what has gone into that composite. So, simply just asking for performance without understanding for whom, you know, what kinds of clients got this performance. Is that different from other types of clients? So, you would want to ask the advisor to show me average or composite performance for clients who had a 50 percent equity, 50 percent bond portfolio, so somehow controlling for the amount of risk that as being built into the portfolios.
Hana Haatainen Caye: OK, Eleanor, I just want to thank you for all your insights and wisdom that you shared with us tonight, and I want to thank our listeners for joining us for another episode of The Lange Money Hour, Where Smart Money Talks. We hope you found this discussion enlightening and empowering. The show will air here again on KQV on Sunday morning at 9 a.m., and make sure to tune in at 7 on Wednesday, November 2nd, when Jim will be speaking with estate planning attorney Herb Ness.