Most Canadian women are disinterested and unprepared when it comes to planning their financial futures, according to a recent survey by TD Waterhouse.

If that’s true, how would you suggest encouraging women to become more ‘invested’ in their personal finances?

Read more: “Many Canadian women avoid financial planning: study”

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/reuters/071126/canada/canada_investing_col

I am an economist, a former financial planner, and one of Marketocracy.com’s Master’s 100. http://www.marketocracy.com I am strongly interested in behavioral finance and this question has bothered me for some time.

In my personal experience there are four gaps. First, and this applies equally to men and women, it is boring to most people. If it were exciting, everyone would know how to do it. So there is a large issue with the form of financial education. It is one of the areas I have worked on, eliminating the yawn. However, and this comes from studies on engineering education rather than finance, it appears that women learn topics similar to finance differently than men and that to some extent the way it is taught triggers self selection bias out of the field of study. I believe much of the skills needed are taught by men for men, in a way that is cognitively valuable primarily to men. There is no intended bias at all, but I am pretty sure it exists. In my experience, many life skills natural to “women’s roles” should make them superior investors to men, but unless you are a truly good investor with a decent idea of the behavioral elements behind good investing, you won’t notice them. I wish I had many of my wife’s skills, my portfolio performance would probably improve.

The second issue is that women seem to embrace variance less than men. I have read research on commercial loan outcomes between men and women and there is less variance among women borrowers, in outcomes, than men. This would imply that women prefer lower natural variation. This may be a gender bias, but it could also be a consumption bias instead. The consumption literature implies that people are “risk loving” in transaction size. That is the larger the transaction, the more risk they are willing to take. It is counter-intuitive and does have a rational explanation, but true. If female income is less than male income, then other things constant, should engage in smaller transactions. It is simple to engage in low variability transactions, go to a bank and open an account. It requires little emotional, personal or educational involvement and satisfies an underlying emotional need, or utility as us very boring economists would say.

The trick around this is rather simple, education which changes how they feel about a future outcome over what they feel about the present state. I have long found that people will not change their behavior from cognitive education. You have to feel the change to do the change. Everyone prefers to maintain their own misconceptions of the world, than change them. Watch “A Private Universe,” by the Annenberg Foundation and you will see what I mean.

Third, to be “invested” in your personal finances it must appeal to you. If it does not already appeal to you as a topic, then the things around the topic need to change. The regulatory structure of financial institutions is very cold and impersonal, providing clarity and little in terms of feelings. Banks, for example, are the only sales driven organization in the world that beg their customers to go away (use ATMs, online banking, debit cards, automatic payroll deposit). There are even banks in the United States that bill their customers to walk in the door.

Pick up a Wall Street Journal and pick up Oprah’s magazine, they have about the same circulation, they do not have the same gender distribution of readers. We do not have natural social structures, magazines or institutions that approach the world interpersonally in the field of finance. Investment clubs, unfortunately, are poor substitutes for professionally organized equivalents and the statutory structure limits what can exist. I have been working on curiculum to do just this, but it is still in its infancy in many respects and there hasn’t been an objective test to see if it matters either, other than student evaluations at the end of the semester.

Finally, really talking about financial planning means talking about potential death, illness, disability, disease and loss. No one likes this, but in many respects women should have an advantage here. Women, more often, are the caregivers in a family and the well being of the family is of deep concern. While this should motivate engaging oneself in this issue, the day to day experience of maintaining a family is exhausting and so passing over this responsibility to a husband or boyfriend permits rest. It takes energy to engage and children love sapping your energy.

So, remove the yawn, specify behaviors so they can feel the change, present in a way the audience needs it presented, permit a reordering of topics from how it is normally presented, play to natural strengths, and put it in either a social structure that is natural in groups of women, or in small bites so that it can be consumed between the time when one child takes another’s toy and scream for the referee and when the children notice they are hungry.