The Personal Finance Industry Wants Ladies to Think They're HelplessS

The personal finance industry would rather pressure women into letting professionals handle their money than give them the tools to do it themselves, according to this great but frustrating excerpt from Helaine Olen's new book Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry.

More than five out of six married women are jointly or solely responsible for their household finances, according to a recent Prudential Individual Life Insurance survey. Awesome! Well, not quite: according to Prudential VP Joan Cleveland, all those ladies running the house are incapable of actually understanding what those $$ signs mean. "Given the complexity of the financial products that are available to women … they really need to be encouraged to seek out that financial advice from a professional," she said, adding that their "very nurturing" natures lead them to accept bad advice from whomever will listen. Nice backhanded compliment there: women are pushovers, but it's totally not their fault!

The longstanding concept that women can't manage their own money is pervasive: they're scared! Bad at negotiating! Uncomfortable taking risks! Or, they just really love shoe shopping. Olen points out how wrong that "analysis" is:

Women have less money than men for two basic reasons: they earn less and live longer. In 2010, women earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. There is no amount of education or job selection that can completely eliminate the gap.

But the personal finance industry profits off patronizing women by telling them they can't do it themselves, via obnoxious services that often aren't helpful at all:

Take LearnVest, a woman's financial information website. They put together "Sh*t Girls Say about Money," which had everything to do with shopping, spending, and not knowing how much money is in your bank account when you go to the ATM to withdraw money. No one complained about how the guy at the next desk earns more money for performing the same work.

Meanwhile, studies show that men actually waste more money on dumb stuff while women look for discounts. No matter!

Here's a shocker: women are smart enough to realize they're being duped.

When the Boston Consulting Group surveyed women in 2009, they found an astonishing 70 percent complained about subpar treatment from financial professionals, citing everything from "being talked to like an infant" to credentialed experts repeatedly making the assumption that the male half of a couple was the financial decision maker. A paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research last year discovered would-be advisers were less likely to ask women about their work and financial situations than men, but were more likely to insist those same women transfer funds over to their care before discussing specific investments with them. "This behavior might be based on the perception that women or more docile or gullible," the paper's authors dryly concluded.

So what can you do? Olen suggests "the financial services industry could start by giving women what they say they want." Perchance to dream! I want to proclaim that you should resist sales pressure by remembering that the goal is often to make women feel insecure about their ability to manage their money. And, yes! But I definitely struggle with feeling capable when it comes to my finances, so I'm interested to hear your tips down below.

[Slate]

Image via Nattika/Shutterstock.