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Some like Sipps hot

Marilyn Monroe and her musical friends in drag may have tried to hitch themselves to millionaires to secure their long-term futures but most of us still believe that love, not money, is the reason to make the trip down the aisle.

In any case, despite the number of National Lottery millionaires and those with bank accounts swelled by Chris Tarrant&#39s TV show, there simply are not enough of them to go around. So, what are the best solutions for long-term financial security from a female perspective?

Living up to a reputation for frittering away their money, research by Barclays Bank reveals that women spend a total of £56m on things they do not really need, such as CDs and leisure, although men are worse, spending £76m on non-essentials. So why are women still largely ignored by the financial services industry?

In 1997, the TUC&#39s Women and Pensions Awareness Campaign received 140,000 calls in two weeks and showed that one in four women were not sure if they needed a pension.

Recognising the problem, the FSA launched its own investigation and, last spring, published its findings in a document entitled, Women and Personal Finance – The Reality of the Gender Gap.

This study showed that the difference in pension ownership between men and women in the 16-20 age group is 2 per cent. The gap rises to over 20 per cent for the 25-34 age group while, in the 55-64 age group, men are twice as likely as women to own a pension.

The FSA was so concerned about its findings that it launched a fresh initiative at the beginning of this year, Piling on the Pounds, which is aimed at helping women tackle their personal finance issues.

Why should there be this enormous gap in pension planning by women? Is the financial services industry simply not attuned to their needs?

There is no doubt that the industry is male-dominated. According to the IFA database, Matrix, of 29,505 registered IFAs in the UK, just 4,012 (13.6 per cent) are women. This is a strong indicator of the balance throughout this sector. Is it the male domination of the field that leads to women&#39s needs not being recognised?

In my opinion, this is only one aspect of a more complex problem. Despite their independence in their working lives, many women still leave planning for their long-term financial future to their partners. Psychologically, many women still have not made the mental leap of taking control of their retirement planning. Maybe some still believe that it is not their responsibility.

However, particularly in the light of increasing divorce and greater independence, more and more women are slowly realising that they are responsible for themselves throughout their lives. Government figures show that 73 per cent of women believe that maintaining their career is the only way to ensure financial independence.

This is not to suggest that people no longer believe in joint responsibility for long-term financial security. Also, it is not a cynical move, just a natural progression in the evolution of female independence. Just as many of my generation were warned by their mothers that they should always maintain an ability to earn a living, the next generation are encouraging their offspring to make their own pension provision.

So, what do women want? Advice, certainly, but apparently not from IFAs. According to Sun Bank, men are more likely to seek advice from an IFA whereas women are more likely to go to their existing bank or building society. Only 20 per cent of women seek advice from an IFA, according to the FSA. This is an issue that IFAs need to address.

Women also need flexible products as their career structures are often more complex than those of many of their male counterparts, perhaps involving periods of part-time employment and career breaks.

A self-invested personal pension is just the sort of tailor-made product that will suit female needs and lifestyles. With the help of financial advice, a Sipp product offers women the opportunity to take control of their retirement planning, giving them access to a broad range of investment opportunities. The right product will also offer them the flexibility they require.

The female market is a huge untapped area for IFAs. The Sipp market is expected to grow by 20 to 40 per cent over the next few years and my bet is that the emerging female market will drive a large chunk of this business. The challenge for IFAs is to change the way women see them and provide the type and level of financial advice they are seeking.

The financial services industry may only now be waking up to the needs of women but history shows that most of us are fairly savvy when dealing with money. Hollywood screen siren Katherine Hepburn once said: “If you are given a choice between money and sex appeal, take the money. As you get older, the money will become your sex appeal.”


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