Rita Silvan, editor-in-chief of Golden Girl Finance, speaks with Barbara Stewart, CFA, the author of Rich Thinking, a global research project that challenges outdated stereotypes about women and money. You can download the latest edition of Rich Thinking here.


GGF: Congratulations on the 10th anniversary of Rich Thinking. After doing more than 800 interviews, in over 28 countries, and producing 500 pages of research, what’s changed in the past decade regarding women and money?

Barbara: The biggest thing is that the whole conversation has changed around women and money, even advertising has caught on. For example, in the U.K. Starling Bank had a campaign geared to women. It said, “You’re not bad with money. You’re just with a bad bank.” Financial institutions have finally realized women are the number one target market. The biggest flow of money in history is coming to women.

GGF: After a decade of myth busting through research for Rich Thinking, what other myths still need to get busted—or have you busted them all?

Barbara: There are still pockets in the world that haven’t caught on. For example, in Japan, it’s difficult for women to get involved in finance in a public way, so they do so behind the scenes. FX Beauties is an online trading collective, mostly housewives, who trade digital currencies in order to get better returns than those offered in low-interest bank accounts. At one point, the FX Beauties accounted for 30 per cent of all retail currency trading volume.

GGF: The good news is the gender gap in financial literacy is narrowing. However, according to a recent BMO survey, two-thirds of millennials keep their RRSP savings in cash, despite the fact investing in the stock market over the long-term has been a successful wealth-building strategy. What’s up with millennials?

Barbara: My research came to a different conclusion. I interviewed over 200 women across 24 countries, including millennials, and just under half reported having more than 50 per cent of their investable assets in stocks; a quarter had over 75 per cent equity exposure.

GGF: According to your survey, the most common reason women invest is to fund their future retirement; second place is to be financially independent. Yet, the latest data from Statistics Canada shows that women’s share of RRSP contributions hasn’t really budged since 1989. Today it stands at 39 per cent compared to men’s 61 per cent. Why aren’t women saving more?

Barbara: The traditional asset mix doesn’t tell the whole story. We have to look at the overall investment portfolio. For example, a small RRSP might mean that more assets are invested in a non-registered account or corporate/ business accounts. Another point is, if you split up with your spouse, you have to share the RRSP. The divorce rate in Canada is 50 per cent. So, this could be on some women’s minds. Most people don’t have a prenuptial agreement. For example, this is my second marriage, nobody knows. Why would I put money in a RRSP? I actually don’t have a RRSP.

Also, women prefer to invest in causes that matter to them. That’s a key finding of my research over the past 10 years. It means their money goes there, not necessarily RRSPs. For example, women invest quite a lot in their own businesses. My own choice is to put my money into travel and the production of Rich Thinking because that’s what matters to me.

GGF: If you could give women one piece of advice for long-term financial success what would it be?

Barbara: My advice is always the same: “At every age, just get started investing. Don’t overthink it.”

GGF: One of your interviewees mentioned her father’s advice to always have ‘FU Money’. What are the criteria for creating a FU Fund?

Barbara: What not to do is to start studying to learn everything you can about finance until you’ve mastered it to start investing. The first thing is to go out now, this second, and set up your investment account, whatever it looks like. Keep it as simple as possible. Put any amount of money in it. Buy a stock or ETF that interests you, so you’ll follow it. You can also join an investment club where women share and help each other.

GGF: In your recent report, you summarized 5 ‘top tips’ from the women you interviewed. Which one resonated the most with you?

Barbara: “Speak up”. I grew up in a very traditional British household. Dad pretended to know everything about money. Mom pretended to know nothing. Meanwhile, she was the one who bought Canada Savings Bonds. It was boring but she had all the money at the end of her life whereas, unfortunately, my father put everything in Barrick Gold just before he died, and it dropped 70 per cent. My mom got nothing from his RRIF.

In my home, women did not speak about money. The only reason I did a business degree was my Dad told me it was a good idea and I’m grateful to him for that. It’s been an incredibly long journey for me in the investment industry trying to find my voice.

Now I have one, but I come by it in a very difficult, roundabout way with a lot of failure because I was so shy, and always fighting with my upbringing and with society’s expectations. Even with my CFA designation and having worked for years in the industry as a trader and portfolio manager, I had trouble speaking up. In one job I presented to fifty men on why our company owned a particular stock. I blanked out and my boss had to take over. I ended up leaving that job. It was mortifying.

GGF: When did that feeling change?

Barbara: A few days ago (laughs). I was doing a presentation and it was the very first time I actually thought I was good. I had to do the keynote speech for a conference and, as I was speaking, I could feel connected to my own evolution. Something happened that had never happened before—I was relaxed and spontaneous. I never had that courage before. I used to over-prepare for everything.

GGF: What’s your favourite mantra?

Barbara: You become what you think about. In the ‘80s I worked in sales for Xerox. The sales team would always get these motivational speakers. One of them would say, “You become what you think about…most of the time.” It stuck in my brain and I remembered it again when I started to do public speaking. Before doing a talk, I give myself a private pep talk of six statements and this is one of them. Some of the others are: “I think I’m going to have a great time”; “I’m only doing this because it’s fun and I’m into it”; and, “I owe it to the people I interviewed to share this amazing content”. It’s about how important this message is for all women everywhere. I really believe that.

GGF: Thanks for being so open about your personal journey to speak up and own your worth.