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Although she has spent her career in wealth management, even Dilys D’Cruz was thrown a financial curveball seven years ago when she separated from her husband.
The single mother of three had to completely overhaul her finances as she planned for a future without her then-spouse and supporting her children while ensuring a secure financial future for her family.
“I have experience as a financial advisor but even at that, it was overwhelming,” says D’Cruz, vice president of community banking at Meridian, Ontario’s largest credit union.
So she can relate to a recent Statistics Canada survey on gender differences in the financial knowledge of Canadians, which found women were less likely than men to consider themselves to be “financially knowledgeable” and were also less likely to state that they knew enough about investments to choose the right ones.
“You’d think in this day and age that we’ve accomplished so much, yet women still rate themselves lower than men in financial literacy,” D’Cruz says.
She pointed out that more than 40 per cent of women over age 65 live on their own now, and that the vast majority of women will be solely in charge of their own finances at some point in their lives, so it’s vital to be prepared.
Unfortunately she’s found many women still rely on their partner or spouse to manage their household finances and have little to no understanding of where they are financially. With high divorce rates and longer life expectancy, D’Cruz says many women find themselves in financial crisis when their marriage suddenly ends, as hers did, or a spouse suddenly passes away.
“I think women may not feel as comfortable to ask questions about their money and determine what their financial goals are,” she says.
She’s heard complaints from women that when they go in as a couple to talk to professionals about the family finances, they deal mainly with the husband and sometimes “never even look at her sitting there.”
Aina Martin can relate. The new Meridian client recently left her longtime advisor at one of the big banks because she felt the person was purposely trying to steer her financially in a direction that made her uncomfortable, with investment advice that benefitted her advisor.
Although Martin says she started learning about managing money at a very early age, “it’s still difficult. As a self-employed single mom, it’s hard because you feel you don’t have that backup” of having a partner to help out in money matters.
“I probably know more than the average woman about finances, but I have friends who have left everything up to their partners and it’s kind of sad, because they know nothing about it,” Martin notes.
In D’Cruz’s case, if she had to go back and do it over again the top thing she would have done is “gone in and seen my advisor sooner.”
In her 25-year career in finance, she says she has made it a point to advocate on behalf of women to ensure they are financially educated and prepared so that they have the confidence in their ability to manage through a dramatic change in life.
Dilys has some tips for women to help them gain more financial security and independence.
First, it’s important to get the financial knowledge you need to make the proper investment decisions and feel secure should you have to manage the family finances, she says. There are many resources available today, from Google to free seminars (Meridian gives them along with many other credit unions and banks) and books.
Be part of the financial decision-making in the family. If roles are divided and this falls more on your partner, that’s OK. Just be sure to make it your business, even from a distance, so you know what the finances look like. Ask questions, know where documents are and what investments your family has.
Know important contacts, passwords and account information should you have to access it without your partner there. Make sure that your name is also on all banking information.
Save, save, save
Make sure that you have your own savings plan should you find yourself in a predicament down the road. It’s not easy to think about, but it’s always good to have that insurance.
Ensure you have sufficient insurance coverage, your beneficiaries are properly named and wills are up to date.