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Millennial Women and Planning for the Future

Posted by Lori Vellucci on Wed, Jan 27, 2016

Millennials_investing.jpgMy first real job came with an important-sounding title (Project Director) and all the things grown-ups look for in a position, such as health insurance and a 401K. I was 22 and didn’t know anything about retirement plans; retirement itself seemed to be in the infinite distance. My dad told me, “It’s free money. You can’t turn it down,” so I dutifully enrolled in the company’s program. When I left that job for a bigger title and a better salary, I promptly liquidated my 401K and took the cash. Retirement still seemed really far away and besides, even with my important sounding title, the salary hadn’t been nearly as impressive. Receiving a paycheck just once a month had left me with a lot of credit card debt, and I thought paying that down might be a better use for the money I had painfully put into a 401K each month over the previous several years. 

Since that first step on the career ladder, I’ve enrolled in other retirement plans with other employers, opened a SEP when I worked for myself, and acquired other investment vehicles over the years. Even so, based on many articles I have read, I will likely never make up for not contributing and staying invested in those first early years. 

CMB recently conducted a thought-provoking, nationally representative study on Millennials and money, and I wondered what young women today are doing and if they’re smarter about retirement and investing than I was at 22.

According to our study, overall, women ages 21-30 are driven, idealistic, and interested in furthering their education—more so than their male counterparts.

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Many are confident that if they budget and plan well enough, they will be shielded from financial setback. Further, a plurality feel they will reach their long-term financial goals and the majority plan to have more than just their employer-sponsored retirement plan when it comes time to retire. Most of these young women feel confident that they are saving enough for their future! So far, so good.

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But wait—nearly twice as many young women don’t feel confident making their own investing decisions compared to men, and more than four in ten feel they would invest more if they understood it better.

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While young men and women participate in an employee sponsored retirement plan at about the same rate, women are significantly less likely to own mutual funds, individual stocks, and to have their own brokerage account.

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Certainly, there has been a great deal of reporting on women’s reluctance to discuss financing and investing. Women often indicate feeling less confident in their knowledge, even as they tend to have lower risk portfolios, which perform just as well as those of male investors.

Traditional financial services investment firms have made efforts to tailor content and offerings to younger women, and websites like GoGirlFinance have also sprung up to fill a real void. But are these new sites reaching young women in a compelling and meaningful way? 

As co-author of our Millennials and Money study and partner at Foundation Capital, Rodolfo Gonzalez notes: “The financial services industry is at a critical juncture. We are seeing a lot of companies emerge to address the financial needs and expectations of the Millennial audience. The Millennial consumer expects a mobile, on-demand, simple, and useful user experience as they are the first digital natives. In the future, we can expect to see start-ups emerge to focus specifically on women and financial services.”

Even so, are they reaching young women in a compelling and meaningful way? A very good question.  Not wanting to rely just on our statistically meaningful, nationally representative study, I conducted an office poll...

They feel unprepared to invest on their own:

 “Not confident in my knowledge about investments; seems like a risk.”

“I have thought about trying it, but I feel uneducated on what would be a good investment. I would like to try to dive into investing on my own and experimenting with a small amount of money in the next few years.”

 “I am not at all confident in investing on my own. It is very foreign to me, so (although I feel like I probably should be) I just don’t do it.”

Further, closer-in priorities tended to over-shadow investing and saving for retirement:

“I am most focused on saving for my wedding and a house down the line.”

 “College debt is a huge one, I graduated with over $80,000 in debt, so that’s a huge hindrance to reaching some of my financial goals.”

“In addition to college debt, there’s my car payments, saving to buy a house/condo, and getting married in the next few years.”

 “My college debt is a concern, but mostly I just focus on my day to day expenses (rent, activities, and food). In my mind, any savings I have are designated for travel.”

Many of the young women in the office combine traditional banks with online tools like Mint or Personal Capital to manage their finances:

 “Currently I mainly manage my finances on a pen and paper ledger #oldchool but I check my accounts daily – Bank of America, Citizens, Capital One—and I log on to all loan platforms multiple times a month. I have used Mint before.”

“I use the app Mint to keep track of my finances. I also use apps for each savings/checking account I have (Bank of America, Charles Schwab, USAA) that I monitor.”

“Mint.com is great for monitoring all my accounts at once since it all pipes in, but not for budgeting. I just use Excel to actually manage my finances.”

While these women certainly have dreams of retirement in the abstract, for many it still feels very far away:

“Retirement is so far away for me right now—I just let my contributions go into my account automatically and hope that what I’m doing now will be enough and will be worth it when retirement time comes.”

 “What I’m contributing right now feels like it should be enough, but how can I know what will happen in the next ~50 years?”

“I wish I was more involved with my retirement and could a higher percentage of my paycheck, but I know I’ll have that chance down the line, so I’m not worried right now.”

It’s clear financial service providers, both traditional banks and start-ups, have a lot of work to do to educate, motivate, and inspire young women investors. 

Want to learn more about Millennials’ financial needs and expectations as well as what that means for your industry?

Watch here!

Lori Vellucci is an Account Director at CMB.  She spends her free time purchasing ill-fated penny stocks and learning about mobile payment solutions from her Gen Z daughters.

Topics: financial services research, millennials, Consumer Pulse, webinar