Nancy Tengler Special to USA Today: If you don’t know the lingo, ask your financial adviser for clarity
The Boston Consulting Group revealed in a 2009 article entitled “Women Want More” (in Financial Services) that of all the industries that affect their daily lives, women around the world have identified the financial services industry as the one they are most dissatisfied with on both a service and a product level.
My experience matches the majority view.
When my husband and I searched for an investment adviser once upon a time, an old episode of “The Bob Newhart Show” came to mind.
The 1970s sitcom chronicled the life of psychologist Bob Newhart and his wife Emily, a teacher. Emily’s IQ is discovered to be much higher than Bob’s and she is invited to join Mensa. Bob attends the Mensa meeting as Emily’s guest sporting a nametag with his IQ. As he wanders the room, each Mensa member makes an effort to speak very slowly and very loudly, presumably so the less-intelligent Bob can follow along. Though the episode was surprisingly funny, I found it to be less so when I received similar treatment interviewing investment advisers.
Never mind that at that time, I had 20-plus years of experience as a Chief Investment Officer of a multi-billion dollar investment firm, every question was directed to my husband who turned to me with a shrug and asked what I thought. The cue was never picked up by the advisers we interviewed. That’s too bad because the research shows when the “money spouse” dies, the majority of “non-money” spouses fire their manager: No relationship; no trust. Changing managers can be expensive and disruptive, so here are a few tips for women.
Understand the lingo: There should be no mystique to how your manager is investing your money. Many professionals use lingo – don’t let them get away with it. Ask for clarity or analogies when you don’t understand. Since it is your money, it is also your job to inform yourself. In my book, “The Women’s Guide to Successful Investing,” I included a comprehensive glossary of investment terms. The website Investopedia is another great source. Makes notes of unfamiliar terms and look them up. The definitions are in plain English. As they should be.
For example, a commonly cited term used by professional investors is price-earnings ratio (p/e). I often explain it like this: “The p/e measures how much investors are willing to pay for a company’s earnings. The p/e is analogous to a similar real estate term: Price per square foot. Every homebuyer understands that price per square foot varies based on location, interior finishes, quality of the schools, etc. The same is true for stocks and is reflected in their p/e.
Understand your risk tolerance: Hospitals ask patients to rate pain level from 1 to 10. Most people have no problem identifying a level. Ask about risk tolerance and we go blank. Think it over. Assess your time horizon and purpose for the funds. Money invested for college ten years hence should have a much different risk profile than retirement thirty years in the future.
The real test for investors should be when you need the money not necessarily how much of a decline you can tolerate. Most risk tolerance questionnaires focus on market returns. Since stocks have historically generated positive returns about 70% of the time, it may be more important to assess your risk tolerance based on when you may need the funds. I have found that most people don’t take enough risk in their portfolios and the result can be, ironically, the unintended risk to long-term total return.
Don’t allow yourself to be slow-talked by your provider – it’s your money after all. And women have the wherewithal to understand investing basics. As the former governor of the great state of Texas, Ann Richards once said, “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”