How the industry can cater to women's unique needs

Unique life challenges and barriers in the industry are getting in the way of women's financial independence

How the industry can cater to women's unique needs

The Financial Planning Standards Council (FPSC) recently commissioned a survey looking at Canadian women’s continuing struggle for financial empowerment. Kelley Keehn, award-winning author, personal finance educator, and consumer advocate with the FPSC, weighs in with insights on what the survey results mean for women.

FPSC’s survey revealed a concerning proportion of women without knowledge of their credit scores, spending, and issues related to finance and investment. What do you think is causing this gap?
As a former financial advocate and educator, I can say several barriers have been holding women back. Women earn 30% less than men. A woman also often leaves the workforce if she chooses to have a family, and when she re-enters, she often has to start off with part-time work before getting back to her full-time position. If her parents or her spouse’s parents take ill, a lot of times it is her who will step away from her job to help with that care. All of that leaves women with very little time to educate themselves about finance and investments. 

If the survey had also covered the general public, we’d probably also see this kind of gap among men. But I’d argue that financial literacy is particularly crucial to women who, on average, outlive men and are going to rely on retirement savings for so much longer. Certainly, the survey serves as a wake-up call for women to take the opportunity to increase their comfort levels when it comes to dealing with finances and investing.

It also found a significant proportion of women are hesitant to negotiate for better interest rates, rely on their partners to make ends meet financially, and don’t have a financial plan. What could be holding women back from taking control of their financial situation?
Aside from the unique time pressures that women have to deal with, there are issues with how they feel they have been received by the financial-services community. In a study released a number of years ago, the Boston Consulting Group gave the financial services industry the dubious distinction of being the number-one industry that women feel disrespected by. So even if a woman knows that she needs help from a confidant or coach to negotiate and navigate her financial goals, it’s still a very male-driven industry.

And whether it’s a male or female across the desk from her, a lot of times the conversation revolves around MERs, stock performance, and things like that. Women, on the other hand, are generally more interested in what they can do with their money than how much they can make. And industry professionals often provide advice that looks at issues one at a time — “here’s your problem, here’s the solution” — which is not a good fit for most women, who want advice that holistically takes their unique circumstances into account. 

How can we best help women realize the goal of being financially independent?
We can certainly do that by making the support they need as easy and accessible as possible. For instance, the Financial Planning Standards Council has invested in creating a great consumer website, We’ve worked hard to have lots of articles and videos for women and all Canadians to help them understand how to ask questions and gain confidence before they engage a professional. Helping women subscribe to money magazines and providing content that’s specifically tailored to them would also be beneficial.

And in my view, the financial professional in a woman’s life has to be like a physician; especially because of all the issues a woman juggles, they must be anticipatory of what she should be worried about. There has to be proactive advice on pitfalls that come with marriage, childbirth, new employment, and other significant events. We know we need to get medical checkups regularly, and I feel the industry can do more to define the life stages and milestones when financial advice is most needed.


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