OPINION | As an industry, it’s time to talk candidly with women about the structural financial challenges they face, so they can put solutions into place.

Women are at a disadvantage when saving for retirement. On average, they live longer, retire earlier, earn less and are more likely to take time out of the workforce to raise children or care for relatives, or work part-time.

Colonial First State Global Asset Management (CFSGAM) has estimated $158.8 billion would be added to the Australian economy each year if the pay gap and workforce participation gaps were eliminated. If parity were achieved in superannuation savings, an additional $455.7 billion would be added to the retirement savings pool.

There is a lot the wealth-management and financial advice industry can do to help women enjoy a more secure financial future, and support the economy at the same time.

A good place to start is helping women understand the superannuation savings gap. Australian women retire with, on average, 46 per cent less super than men.

This problem is made worse by the fact that longer average life expectancies mean women are likely to need more savings.

According to the CommBank Retire Ready Index, women earning an annual income of about $72,000, who are within five years of retirement, will need $410,000 in retirement savings to achieve a comfortable standard of living. Men in the same situation will need $355,000.

However, women retiring today have an average of $104,734 of superannuation assets, while men have, on average, $197,054.

As an industry, we can do more to better communicate the long-term effects of career breaks and part-time work so women can plan ahead.

At Commonwealth Bank, we know through our Women and Advice program research that women approach financial matters differently than men.

While many women are active money managers and eager to learn more about investment, their focus is often directed to their families and day-to-day activities, rather than on building wealth or creating a comfortable lifestyle for the long term.

This can have unintended consequences, as women could end up relying unnecessarily on financial support from their families in retirement.

Joint research by CFSGAM and the University of Western Australia shows that when it comes to investment, women tend to be more risk averse than men. For example, a key finding of the research is that women over 35 tend to hold lower exposures to shares than men.

This again highlights the need for financial advice that is specifically designed for women, to help them make the right investment choices and to generate an understanding of the risks and benefits of their decisions.

Individual life circumstances and costs are reasons why paid financial advice may not suit every woman.

However, by putting referral programs in place, and training staff to make effective referrals, advice providers can ensure that more Australian women have access to the information they need.

All financial services businesses have a responsibility to help with financial literacy more broadly, whether through school and vocational education programs like Start Smart, or through the many digital financial wellbeing tools like the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s MoneySmart.

There is a tremendous opportunity for the industry to act now to help Australian women secure their financial futures, while opening up investment and economic development opportunities to boost the long-term sustainability of the Australian economy.

The Commonwealth Bank is the principal sponsor of the upcoming Women, Super and Wealth Summit, to be held at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth on April 27, 2017. To register for the summit, jointly presented by the SMSF Association and Financial Services Council, visit www.smsfassociation.com/womens-summit/.  

Annabel Spring is group executive, wealth management, for the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. This article first appeared in the March print edition of Investment Magazine

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