Choosing to challenge male solutions to retirement planning

international women’s day is passed , but the challenges persist


Many women are brilliant with money, most household budgets are managed by women and women are better risk-takers, rarely exposing themselves to the kind of catastrophic breakdowns in personal finance that are such a curse on us men. These were lessons learned from last night’s three presentations by the OECD, Scottish Widows and the International Longevity Centre. The presentations were delivered  at a joint meeting of TPNW (The-Pensions- Net-Work) and its sister organization TWIN (formerly known as The-Women’s-Insurance-Net-Work)..

But for reasons that may be linked to their caution but are probably because the system is set on “male”, women struggle to earn as much, make investment decisions and become financially self-sufficient in later life. We were under Chatham House rules and I can’t say what was said by whom, but the OECD’s latest report on improving outcomes for women is here, Scottish Widows ongoing survey into pension’s gender gap is here and work done by the ILC on women in Gen X- the forgotten generation is reported here

For me the meeting came alive with a short but energetic intervention from Jo Cumbo who I’ve now heard on three platforms (TUC, FT and TPNW) in as many days. Jo has become a leading authority on what women face, not least because she faces most of the challenges she talks of personally.

Surprisingly to me (and I suspect the Zoom crowd), Jo did not go down the “financial education route” – which I suspect is trying to shoe-horn women into a pension savings system designed by and for men, but instead called for financial products whose solutions suited women but which did not make impossible demands upon them , in terms of choices.

I spoke with Jo about this afterwards and she was at pains to point out that she does not think these choices, primarily choices at retirement, are in themselves wrong, but that they play to the strengths of men whose natural risk taking and self-confidence on strategic decisions, lends them to decisive action. A spokesperson for the annuity book of a major insurer commented at the meeting that most annuities are bought by men and only a tiny number are purchased to continue for spouses and partners.

Jo’s proposed solution was that the financial services industry developed collective pension solutions which women could be a part of by default. She spoke specifically about CDC though there are several workplace protection and investment schemes which operate on a similar basis.

Recognizing that their are difference in the way that women can and to conduct their finances is as important as recognizing biological differences. It does not however explain the systemic unfairness in paying women less than men to do the same job.

There were plenty of examples of women doing their jobs as well if not better than men on the panel and in the Zoom crowd

Square pegs – round holes.

It was really encouraging to make the connection between collective solutions and financial vulnerability. I have been worried by many of the answers to the pension gender gap which currently seem to focus on

  1. Dependency on a stable family unit (the male provides)
  2. Dependency on the state safety net and especially pension and universal  credit

Jo argued that women were not advantaged by the individualization of pension products and I’d be interested to know from financial advisers whether her view that the choices around long-term investment are mainly taken by men, holds true. It is of course hard to know when couples decide who is pulling the strings but I suspect that most advisers tend to think of most of their clients being male.

If you had the stamina, immediately following the meeting was ITV’s Tonight’s “Spend or Save- making your money work”  which paints a picture of women managing money matters at the savings level. It has Ros Altman repeating the  call for women to invest in their futures and I hope she will consider Jo’s points.

Rather than try to “educate” women , isn’t it easier to give them pension solutions – not more problems?

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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