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What women investors want


The best method of selling investment products to women, who are much less well prepared for retirement than men, is to imbue them with confidence that they can take care of themselves. Scaring them with threats that they will be paupers in their old age will not transform them into wise investors.

That is the operating philosophy of a new seminar to teach brokers to sell to women that will be introduced next week by Jane Mancini, the president of Sun Life of Canada (U.S.) Distributors.

Mancini's goal is to avoid a patronizing tone and to conduct the seminar so women do not feel they are being singled out as needing special help.

"You Have What it Takes! Wise Investing for Women" appeals to women's willingness to accept responsibility and their desire for freedom. The broker's script begins, "We'll be taking a different approach to learning about money and investing. You won't see any scary statistics about how much longer you'll live than men, or how much less money you earn, etc. Instead, our goal is to increase your comfort level when it comes to money and investing -- so that you'll be willing to, and you'll feel good about, taking the steps you'll need to insure your financial future."

The new seminar comes in response to a recently disclosed spate of statistics that reveal how poorly most women have planned for retirement.

Statistics released earlier this year, for example, in the Scudder Kemper Baby Boom Retirement Preparation Survey conducted by the National Center for Women and Retirement Research at Long Island University, revealed that just 27 percent of women born between 1946 and 1964 have more than $100,000 invested in 401(k) plans compared to 43 percent of their male counterparts. In addition, 33 percent of women reported having saved less than $25,000 compared to 18 percent of men. And the median amount of other assets that women have set aside for retirement is $20,000 compared with $40,000 for men.

Another study conducted by The SunAmerica/Teresa & H. John Heinz III Foundation found that 41 percent of women ages 25 to 55 are worried they will live at or near the poverty level come retirement because they cannot save enough.

"Financial Challenges for Mature Women," a study by The National Center on Women and Aging at the Heller Graduate School at Brandeis University in Waltham, Ma. and sponsored by Sun Life of Canada (U.S.) Distributors, had no better news. Forty-seven percent of the women surveyed said they had little or no knowledge of mutual funds and 53 percent reported little or no knowledge of stocks. So, how can the financial services industry better meet the needs of women preparing for their later years?

Mancini's seminar guide instructs brokers, following the introduction, to discuss the importance of a positive attitude and to explain why experts say women make great investors. For example, they say, women tend to do more research, admit it when they do not understand a concept, and juggle multiple tasks and roles effectively.

In another section of the presentation, "Overcoming Investing Obstacles," brokers are told to begin with a discussion of math anxiety and progress to a discussion of the participants' fears about losing money. It also urges women, who tend to take on the role of nurturer and think of others before themselves, to be "selfish" and think of their own retirement.

In addition to the scripted presentation for brokers, Sun Life has developed a workbook for seminar participants. Worksheets include "Getting Organized," "Determining Your Net Worth" "Tracking Your Cash Flow," and "Establishing Goals." Finally, "How to Shape the Future" asks participants to imagine the future and illustrates the difference between saving and investing.

Throughout, investing is presented as an ongoing, lifetime process with plenty of choices to be made about how to manage risk and meet goals. "You Have What It Takes: Wise Investing For Women," not only gives women a solid understanding of investing and financial planning principles, but it does so such that it encourages and empowers. Too often, companies try to scare women into action with statistics and projections about how much they will have to save to survive. But those tactics do not always work, Mancini says.

"In fact the scare tactics can often lead to a kind of paralysis. Women can become overwhelmed with the process and afraid of making mistakes. Our approach is unique to the marketplace," she says.

"We made it easy for male and female brokers to approach the women's market. We want women to walk away from our program feeling good about themselves and about their abilities, and ready to begin the process of investing and planning for their future -- on their terms," Manicini says.