Personal finance: what rich Asian women want for their money?


Starting today, StarBizWeek features a column on personal finance called Money & You, which will focus on money matters as they relate to YOU. Our two writers will take turns every fortnight to shed light on personal finance matters.

■ Yap Ming Hui is an independent financial advisor and author of five best-selling books on personal finance. He is the managing director of Whitman Independent Advisors, an independent financial advisory firm licensed by Securities Commission and Bank Negara Malaysia. Since 2000, Yap and his team of licensed independent financial advisors have successfully helped numerous clients achieve financial freedom. Yap believes that all Malaysians can fully optimise their wealth using a holistic wealth management approach

Carol Yip, founder of Abacus For Money, believes that if people understand their money mindset, behaviour and money psychology, they can be financially happy and successful. She actively promotes financial literacy and intelligence within families and for women, youths and retirees.

MONEY & YOU By CAROL YIP

WOMEN in Asia are building and inheriting more wealth than ever before. According to Boston Consulting Group (BSG) 2010 report, the percentage of wealth controlled by women in Asia (ex Japan) is rising nearing 30% annually and total wealth controlled by women reached RM2.8 trillion in 2010. Their heightened visibility in financial circles can be traced to more women achieving success in the workforce and a greater number of women actively managing family finances. Kim Sung-Joo recently made her debut on the inaugural Forbes list of Asia’s Power Businesswomen in celebration of International Women’s Day recently. She is the youngest daughter of an energy conglomerate tycoon in South Korea and created her wealth from luxury fashion.

The increasing number of wealthy women is also partly because they are inheriting wealth due to their longevity. Puan Sri Lee Kim Hua, 81, widow of the late casino magnate Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong, is one of the 40 richest Malaysians on the 2012 Forbes Asia list.

Without a doubt, Asian women are creating significant financial visibility. But are bankers and wealth advisors paying sufficient attention to this alluring segment of the market?

Women of wealth

Based on research conducted in 2011 by the Family Wealth Advisors Council, a network of US-based, independent fee-only wealth management firms, the financial services industry has a long way to go if it wishes to provide the kind of service wealthy women say they want. The title of the study of high net-worth American women says it all: “Women of Wealth: Why Does the Financial Services Industry Still Not Hear Them?”

Involving 551 women across the United States with a net worth of US$1mil or more, the study collected survey questionnaire data across marital status, employment status, age and net worth. The research looked at what worries wealthy women:

About 86% of working women surveyed consider obsolete careers and eroding earning power as risks to their financial success;

Married women believe health challenges present a greater risk to their financial security than the death of a spouse;

About 96% of women want their unique circumstances and their entire life picture understood by their financial advisor;

About 80% of women (either married or divorced) believe that they will be called on at some point to help one or more of their children in a crisis;

About 81% of retirees see a potential decline in the economy as a major risk, versus 45% of full-time working women; and

About 57% of married women feel that divorce poses a significant risk to their financial well-being.

With women’s economic clout in the workplace and purchasing power in all consumer and commercial markets increasing, their dissatisfaction with the financial services industry is also growing. The study clearly showed that women do not like to be considered a monolithic group, but want services tailored to their specific circumstances. Evidence suggests that wealthy women in Asia Pacific are also having similar experiences.

Different women different needs

As more women call the shots on money, they also want their wealth advisors to do a better job of meeting their needs. They want the same attention, advice, terms and deals that men get with advisers who provide investment recommendations. But, at the same time, women want advisors to tailor services to them because they have very different needs and expectations than men.

In the BSG survey, women said advisors tend to assume they have a lower risk tolerance than men, so advisors provide only a narrow range of investment alternatives. Some women claimed that advisors for women are too quick to focus on strategies that don’t emphasise on performance, assuming that women are more inclined to make investment decisions based on social issues. With these and other study insights, wealth advisors who service female clients should foremostly recognise that women want to be treated differently. Some suggestions come from the findings:

Women want to be understood as unique individuals. They want an advisor who listens to their needs and is trustworthy. A fiduciary advisor who knows how to create strategic investment allocations based on a women’s situation, goals and risk appetite will stand a better chance of securing their business.

Women are looking for advisors who can provide advance planning, relationship management and investment advice a one-stop boutique financial centre.

The wealth advisor’s gender plays an important part of the financial planning process for wealthy ladies. Female wealth advisors will be able to relate better to their situations and challenges than men.

Women’s investment attitude

It’s no surprise that women’s behaviour as earners, investors and savers is the subject of a large and growing body of behavioural economic research, which has yielded important findings. Women prefer to focus on long-term investment goals and seek holistic advice. When women invest, they tend to look for informed advice and better rate of return than men. Women can be too conservative in their approach, especially given the fact that they tend to live longer than men. Ultimately, from the way they seek financial information and advice, to their understanding of the long term, women’s financial behaviour holds crucial lessons for all financial advisors.

Women may also tend to limit their trading far more than men do. They prioritise by protecting principal rather than taking risks to grow their assets. A study by the University of Michigan’s Retirement Research Center finds that men frequently and unnecessarily trade their holdings. All other things being equal, the male participants trade 56% more than their female counterparts, and the more they trade, the worse their performance becomes “a result of a too-rosy estimation of their own investment skills,” the researchers write.

The landmark study on gender differences in stock investing also finds that men tend to sell too early, or to swap assets for new ones that underperformed what they havve sold. By contrast, women are more inclined to take the long-term view and understand that performance in many cases are best measured over time.

Huge potential

Women’s financial behaviour and preferences across varied situations show major differences from men’s. Women’s financial strengths are significant. So are their challenges.

The provision of tailored wealth management services for wealthy women is much needed. There is a unique opportunity for the financial services industry to design investment, insurance, trust and estate planning products and services that better address women’s needs, psychological preferences, life values and different life stages.

Wealth is a “means of life planning rather than a goal in itself” for women. The one-size-fits-all concept is no longer appropriate. Customised fitting is always the preferred choice to make wealthy female clients happy. Wealthy female clients will be loyal customers when wealth advisors deliver the results they want. A long-term trusting client-advisor relationship will be the result.

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