By Joyce Gannon
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Pittsburgh financial adviser Deborah Graver is conducting a series of “Women and Wealth” seminars for her firm, Signature Financial Planning. The goal is to better engage women in investment planning.
On a stormy evening last week, about 30 women gathered in the party room of the Trimont condominium complex on Mount Washington for a session on how to save and pay for their children’s looming college education expenses.
When the host — financial adviser Deborah Graver — stepped up to the microphone with the city’s skyline visible through the windows behind her, she didn’t immediately launch into a list of tips for socking away money for tuition.
First, she noted that no men were invited to the event, one in a series of “Women and Wealth” seminars her firm, Signature Financial Planning, is sponsoring to better engage women in investment planning.
“I’m on a mission to create financially aware women … and young women,” she told the group, which included mostly mothers — some of whom brought along their high school-age daughters to get them thinking about how their families will pay the upcoming college bills.
In her 20-plus years career, Ms. Graver, 47, said she’s experienced too many instances where women sit by passively in financial planning meetings while their husbands take the lead — even if those men aren’t necessarily investment experts.
To help close the gender gap, the partner and senior adviser at Signature Financial is working to create a niche practice that specializes in helping women. “Not that you shouldn’t trust your spouse to do this stuff, but [women] need to know enough to see the red flags and ask questions,” she said.
For women, it may be even more important to know investment basics because they live longer than men on average, they could end up handling their own finances if they divorce, and in many cases they are responsible for managing elderly parents’ estates and finances.
According to 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate among women 65 and older was 12.1 percent compared with 7.4 percent for men that age.
Even though women now comprise about half the U.S. labor force, increased responsibility on the job means many are focused on juggling work and family, Ms. Graver said.
“A lot are either not making decisions because they don’t have the time, they’re staying with financial advisers from whom they’re getting bad advice, or they’re making knee-jerk decisions that are not always in their best interests,” she said.
“That makes me crazy.”
Paying attention to it
Patricia Boswell, a psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor whose practice in Highland Park includes financial wellness coaching, attended Ms. Graver’s seminar last week to network with other women interested in financial planning.
Some women lack knowledge about their investments because they’ve been raised to believe caring about money is shameful, she said.
She and her ex-husband struggled with financial issues, but when she was going through a divorce and needed to take stock of her budgeting and expenses, she deliberately carved out time to pour a glass of wine, light a fire and treat the act of financial planning “like a relationship I would have with a girlfriend … with time, energy, respect and appreciation.
“When I paid attention to it, I started to have more money than ever before,” she said.
Tonya Johnson of West Mifflin and Haya Eason of Bethel Park brought their daughters — both 14, and friends from dance school — to the college planning seminar.
Ms. Johnson heard about it through an email from a friend.
“I liked the fact they were going to talk to the girls, too,” said Ms. Johnson, who said as a single parent she is responsible for planning how to pay for her daughter’s education as well as her own future.
Ms. Eason said she and her husband have some “different philosophies” on money and she considered the seminar a way to get as much information as she can on how to pay for their child’s college.
Now that her daughter is in high school, “I’ve crossed over from thinking about it to worrying about it,” Ms. Eason said.
Getting women into the advising business
Among the reasons Ms. Graver thinks women are underrepresented when it comes to getting financial advice is that many would prefer seeking advice from a female. Only 23 percent of certified financial planners are women, according to Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards in Washington, D.C.
The CFP Board estimates there are 75,000 certified planners nationwide.
“Women are still very much a minority,” said Ms. Blayney, who is also a special adviser on diversity for the board’s Women’s Initiative.
In research released in 2014, the CFP Women’s Initiative found barriers to females entering the field include women’s lack of awareness of financial planning as a career, misperceptions about what’s involved in becoming a certified planner, risk aversion, and a professional culture that’s not always welcoming or supportive.
“Little girls do not grow up saying, ‘I want to be a financial planner,’ ” Ms. Blayney said. “Most haven’t met a woman financial planner like they have a woman doctor or nurse.”
Ms. Blayney spent more than two decades as a certified financial planner and was a managing partner at an investment management firm in McLean, Va., prior to shifting into financial planning advocacy.
Though her research hasn’t produced firm data that shows women would become more savvy about their own finances if there were more women advisers to consult, “My gut says, yes, this is the case.”
Bringing on the flowers
Ms. Graver, who holds a bachelor’s in finance from Penn State University and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, got her start at Mellon Bank working on the Mellon family’s trust accounts.
She then worked as a paraplanner for investment adviser Robert Fragasso at brokerage Smith Barney before joining his firm, Fragasso Financial Advisors, where she worked her way up to managing director, president and chief compliance officer.
But growing management responsibilities found her increasingly removed from one-on-one advising, she said. Last year she left to join the much smaller Signature Financial Planning, where she could “get back to what I like best and think I’m best at: working with clients.”
Cindy Hounsell, president of the nonprofit Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, or WISER, in Washington, D.C., believes women have increased their awareness about the need to be on top of their finances over the two decades since her organization was launched in 1996.
“Women are more worried about their retirement,” she said. “They know there is information out there, but there do need to be more programs and those that exist could be broadened.”
WISER, founded with a grant from the Heinz Family Philanthropies, offers training sessions and informational forums for women and groups that assist women, such as regional Area Agencies on Agencies. It also publishes resources on its website, www.wiserwomen.org.
Another nonprofit, Women’s Institute for Financial Education, based in San Diego, Calif., was founded by two female financial advisers. WIFE sponsors workshops and publishes books and a newsletter, and offers financial tips for women at its website, www.wife.org.
At her first seminar in May, Ms. Graver invited two clients who own a floral business to help other attendees design their own flower arrangements. “Suddenly the room was filled with the beautiful scent of fresh flowers. That brought everybody’s stress level down because when you talk about finances, everybody gets nervous, scared and intimidated.”