Gender plays a role in retirement planning

By Nancy R. Mandell
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If you were one of the top women executives on Wall Street, what would you expect from your personal financial adviser? In fact, would you even need a personal financial adviser?

According to Sallie L. Krawcheck, president of Global Wealth and Investment Management for Bank of America, the answer to the second question is "yes." But what should you expect from the relationship?

"When I meet with my adviser we don't talk about numbers until the last moment," Krawcheck told a recent gathering of the Financial Women's Association of New York. "We go through what we need to: what's going on in my life, changes in the family. When we're done," says Krawcheck, "I feel so much better. It's like having a girlfriend to talk to, but someone who comes up with solutions."

From her professional point of view as a former research analyst and the present overseer of some 15,000 financial advisers (most the result of BofA's acquisition of Merrill Lynch), the adviser/client relationship is "very different from the popular perception of a bunch of folks trading stocks."

From a personal viewpoint, she looks for exactly what most women seek: a personal relationship. Women are not looking for a bank in pink, she says, and they're not looking to be dumbed down. They want to be spoken to in a frank fashion, "not gobbledygook, but not 'you think I'm a moron!'"

Instead, Krawcheck says, when couples meet with a financial adviser, "We often hear women say, 'He's not looking at me; he's looking at my husband!'" These same advisers often don't understand why the woman leaves when she becomes widowed or divorced.

"This business tends to attract more males, and males like to talk to males," she adds.

Women already control more than 50% of assets in the U.S., a figure that is expected to rise to two-thirds of consumer wealth over the next decade. Moreover, studies estimate that women will be the beneficiaries of the largest transference of wealth, from $12 to $40 trillion, in U.S. history. Many Boomer women will be the beneficiaries of a double-inheritance windfall, from both parents and husband.

But none of this, Krawcheck says, is "changing our business enough yet."

The acknowledgement of women, whether as clients or CEOs or board members, is not just a matter of diversity. For example, Krawcheck cites the short-termism of management, a male characteristic, as one cause of the current financial crisis. Diversity in the boardroom might have resulted in a different outcome. The case for diversity, she believes, is not only about the inclusion of people who look different, women or people of color. "It's about people who think differently, she says.

Nancy R. Mandell is a former managing editor of Wealth Manager and OnWallStreet magazines, as well as the newsletter Securities Week. She began her journalism career at The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. as a reporter, feature writer and columnist. For the past decade, she has specialized in stories concerning women in finance and women's relationship to money and investing.

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