By Keila Torres Ocasio
Connecticut Post, Bridgeport.
When Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman decided to run for state comptroller several decades ago it was a confusing concept for event organizers to grasp.
“They always thought I was going to be the secretary of the state because the secretary of the state was the woman’s position,” she told a group of roughly 50 people Wednesday.
At that time, though, a man named Miles Rapoport was running for that office.
“And the interesting part was every time they came to introduce us, they got confused,” Wyman said. “And they’d say our next secretary of the state is Nancy Wyman. And I would look at Miles and say, you just don’t look like a Nancy.”
Wyman, who became the state’s first female comptroller, presented the example at a forum she hosted in Bridgeport on Wednesday night about women and banking.
The event was one of many the lieutenant governor has chaired throughout the state on the gender wage gap and issues affecting Connecticut women.
The talks were prompted by the release of a report by the Gender Wage Gap Task Force created by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last year.
“From the standpoint of dealing with women and trying to get them to come into the institutions to open accounts we need to take away the mystery of finance and the intimidation factor,” said Mary Ellen O’Neill, state Department of Banking Financial Institutions Division director.
“It’s important for people to understand your money is safe when it’s in the banking institution or when it’s in the credit union. It’s federally insured up to $250,000.”
O’Neill said she learned about saving and handling money from her parents, but also took a consumer class in high school.
Wyman recalled having a bank book in grammar school and learning about the importance of saving and how to manage spending.
Many young women and men today don’t have that type of education, said Janet Ortiz, program director for the Nehemiah Commission Prime Time Intensive Mentoring Program.
Many don’t know how to balance a checkbook or have a financial plan in place to ensure they can not only pay their bills but can also pursue long-term goals like buying a house, Ortiz added.
“They want to learn but their priorities are also out of whack,” she said. “These kids don’t think tomorrow. They think today.”
Mayor Bill Finch, who joked that he secretly relegates his household banking to his wife, said young girls should be taught early on that the financial sector is an available career choice for them too.
“We need to plant the seeds within young minds that these careers are for them,” he said. “There is no reason women should not be in the highest ranks in the financial services industry.”
Peyton Patterson, president and CEO of New Canaan-based Bankwell Financial Group, said women, who are often the breadwinners in their households, have historically backed away from the financial sector.
“When we talk about safety there’s physical safety, but there’s financial safety that comes with that,” she said. “They’re intertwined.”
This is especially true in households where there is domestic violence, said Deb Greenwood, president and CEO of the Center for Family Justice.
She noted that 98 percent of victims go back to their abuser if they are being financially abused, meaning the finances have been withheld from them. “We need to get victims to become survivors and in order to do that they need to be financially stable,” Greenwood said.
Patterson said to be financially secure women need to work toward having six months worth of expenses in a savings account.
They also need to have a debit card and should research what banks and credit cards would be most useful for them. She warned that it was important to keep credit card balances low and not overspend.
‘Get the word out’
The conversation also turned to the importance of reverse mortgages for retirees, the lack of assistance for those just barely making ends meet and the renegotiation of mortgage rates.
“No bank wants to take your home,” said state Department of Banking Commissioner Howard Pitkin. “If you can more easily pay the mortgage at a lower rate they will look at that.”
Wyman said educating the young and old about how to manage their finances and the advantages of going into the financial services industry are important, but are not something government officials can easily do.
“We’re here to say to all of you we’ll help you in any way we can but you have the pulse,” she told the audience members, many of whom work at nonprofits and social service agencies. “We can try to help. But we need to get the word out that financial security is very, very important.”