We are in the business of educating our clients on the importance of retirement planning. But research has shown that a one-size-fits-all approach to communication isn’t the most effective tactic. And while it’s impossible to customise messages person by person, it turns out that it’s quite easy to customise them by one big factor: gender. It’s widely accepted that there are differing preferences in communication styles and learning techniques between most men and most women. The question is: How can you adjust your message in a way that’s enlightening, not alienating for your female participants?

The risks of not being prepared

Before I answer that question, I want to reinforce why this topic is so important. Women have longer average lifespans than men, and retire earlier, with much less Superannuation than men, yet tend to underestimate how much they need to save for retirement.

Avoiding labels

At this point, you may be thinking that I’m going to suggest a series of women-branded workshops or educational flyers stamped in pink.

But I’m not.

When Invesco Consulting began the process of creating a workshop for women, we tested numerous options for titles with specific references to women, and one of the first things we heard from women is that they do not want to be singled out by their gender. In fact, any title that included a gender reference — such as “What Women Know About Money” or “The Female Financial Advantage” — consistently scored in the bottom 20% of engagement.

Why? Because women often view these approaches as carrying a subtle suggestion of inferiority, as if the “women’s version” was created for those who don’t qualify for the regular workshop. We found that a better approach is to create educational workshops and materials with the preferences of women in mind, but which doesn’t highlight them as “special” or “different.” In other words, simply work to meet the needs of your women participants — without labeling them.

Three key principles

This is the approach Invesco Consulting took when creating our investor education workshop “Your Prosperity Picture” (notice the lack of women-specific labels in the title). We found that there are three key principles that resonate with many women investors, and we incorporated these in our program:

Principle 1: Provide experience before explanation

Principle 2: Align life goals with financial goals

Principle 3: Be positive

Principle 1: Provide experience before explanation.

According to the Public Administration & Policy – APAC Journal, 3 women tend to be “Relational Learners” while men are usually more “Independent Learners.” We found that beginning a workshop with an interactive activity (instead of just launching into a presentation) can be a great way to tap into that learning preference for many women. But what kind of activity? In a column I wrote — “What will retirement look like?” — I discussed the power of visualisation exercises. Science has shown that if you visualise a particular goal that requires financial resources, such as traveling or pursing a hobby, it helps condition the brain to look for information and resources that might help in achieving that goal. Walking investors through a visualisation exercise that focuses on their goals can be a great way to begin a financial workshop.

Principle 2: Align life goals with financial goals.

One study has shown that women who feel their financial advisors have successfully helped them align their investment goals with their life goals are 41% more likely to be satisfied. In “Your Prosperity Picture” workshops, we do this by walking investors through the process of creating a visual financial plan that illustrates their short-term and long-term goals, and organises them by the amount of financial resources that will be necessary to make those goals happen.

Once investors are talking and thinking about their vision for their retirement, the next logical step is to connect that vision with your retirement plan benefits. You’ve set the stage to talk about practical strategies geared toward making their goals happen.

Principle 3: Be positive.

I started this column with some sobering statistics about women’s retirement age and retirement superannuation balance. I did that to set the stage for you, the Financial Advisor, but I would not include these in an investor workshop. Our research has clearly shown that negative spin doesn’t sit well with most women investors, and trying to scare them into action can backfire. In fact, the principle of being positive is so powerful that it transcends gender. It’s proven to be one of the most important and consistent language trends that Invesco Consulting has seen since we began doing our language research in 2009.

What does this mean for Financial Advisors? Rather than focusing on the possibility of negative outcomes and how to avoid them, focus on achieving what’s possible. Position your retirement plan as a way to help investors reach their goals, rather than taking a gloom-and-doom approach.

Bottom line

In general, women and men have different learning styles and communication preferences, but women don’t want to be singled out. A workshop designed for these needs won’t include “women” in the title, but will follow three key principles: providing experience before explanation, aligning life goals with financial goals, and maintaining a positive message.


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