Women need greater support to engage with and understand their own wealth as well as their partner's, including preparing for retirement, writes Laura Miller.
Women's relationship to wealth needs a huge boost - or we risk half the world being left behind even as we make leaps forward in equality in other areas.
What we are now beginning to see in areas such as mandatory reporting of gender pay gaps within companies, is that transparency is the key to unlocking truth, and the first step to change.
But while businesses are being forced to shed light on why women earn less than men at work, at least some of the hidden problems behind the lack of gender parity when it comes to wealth begin closer to home - in fact, in the home.
A healthy three in four (75%) women maintain a complete understanding of their personal finances over the course of a relationship, according to research by Netwealth, a wealth manager. But this awareness often fails to extend to their partner's wealth or their joint wealth as a couple.
Nearly one in three (30%) women do not believe they have a complete and accurate picture of their partner's financial situation, with approximately the same percentage thinking they have only a partial picture of their joint wealth and finances.
Netwealth chief executive Charlotte Ransom said hiding the full state of a family's financial affairs puts women at risk.
"We always encourage women to maintain financial engagement and awareness regardless of their marital status," she argued.
"It is encouraging the majority of UK women have a complete understanding of their personal wealth, but by failing to extend this to their partner's finances and their total wealth as a couple, women are leaving themselves financially vulnerable and exposed in the event of a split."
Typically, it is the woman who suffers the most in heterosexual couples following a divorce - often being the party with fewer financial assets. Women are more likely to take time off to care for family, and this can often result in lower earnings as well as a smaller pension pot in retirement.
Tellingly, nearly two in five divorced women regret not maintaining greater financial autonomy (39%) and greater financial engagement (37%) over the course of their relationship, according to the research.
Men fare far better, with 44% stating they have already saved or expect to save enough to achieve a comfortable retirement, for example, Netwealth found.
Fidelity International associate director Emma-Lou Montgomery said women need to start planning and not wait until the worst happens.
"Giving some thought to what you would need in retirement should your marriage break down admittedly isn't the most romantic of things to do, but it's important to be realistic."
More than half (56%) of married women do not have any ‘Plan B' arrangements in place, research from Fidelity International found.
According to the government's own Wealth & Assets survey, one in ten married women admitted they plan to rely on their spouse's pension in retirement, for example, even at a time where divorce affects around one in two couples.
Worryingly the same government research found 17% of married women surveyed had no pension of their own at all. Even those who do have much less saved; a typical woman has a pension worth just a third of a man's, according to research by Now Pensions, at £51,100 compared to men's £156,500.
Over-reliance on a partner for financial stability is all the more concerning with the rise of co-habitation, where those who are unmarried would have no automatic rights at all to the other's wealth in the event of death or break-up.
It pays to do a small amount of disaster planning, just in case life is not always so rosy - from considering a pre-nup to building a secret emergency fund to fall back on if the worst-case scenario occurs.
Montgomery added: "Ensuring you're financially independent, both now and potentially in the future, will mean you are prepared no matter what happens.
"This is particularly crucial for women, who are still more likely to take time off work to begin a family than men. Taking a career break can easily put you at a financial disadvantage and overreliance on a partner's pension in the future leaves you vulnerable, should the worst happen.
"Aside from making arrangements early on to ensure both parties are protected, partners who continue to work can also help boost their partner's pension by making contributions for them during any time off work."
Women in Investment Festival
The Women in Investment Festival, in partnership with sister publications Investment Week, Professional Adviser, Retirement Planner and Investment Europe, is a one-day festival that seeks to serve as a beacon for the benefits of a truly diverse industry for all, whatever gender, colour or creed. Although it will naturally talk to and celebrate the achievements of women, we also believe we should showcase the role men play in the equation, and highlight examples of best practice where their support is helping to drive change for true gender equality.
It takes place on 3 March 2020 at The Brewery in London and we are currently running a discounted super early bird ticket price. Head over to the website for full details.
This week’s top stories included the rejection of an automatic guidance amendment in the Pension Schemes Bill, while The Pensions Regulator posted a sharp increase in the use of its powers.
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Local Pension Partnership Administration (LPPA) has become the latest organisation to join the Pension Scams Industry Group (PSIG) forum.
Two-thirds of UK fund managers are reducing investments in companies that fail on diversity and inclusion scores, according to a survey by Edelman.
England and Wales have seen a fourth successive week of increasing excess death figures as the countries battle through the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.