Celebrating Empathy in Finance
By Bobbe Duncombe, Lead Adviser
How allowing my feminine nurture to rival my financial nature is paying dividends.
So many incredible stories about women abound around this time of year in celebration of International Women’s Day, and as a woman in a largely male profession, it’s time to add my small contribution to the #breakthebias conversation.
It’s a story of emotions and following your heart in a sea of heady data points and technical jargon that is the industry I work in – wealth advice. The story’s incredibleness is only measured by the lives I get to impact for the better, and if you think that was corny, wait for it, mine included. If you are a feeling woman or a sensitive bloke in a STEM field, my musings may encourage you to progress in your heartfelt work. If you’re neither of those things, I hope this account offers a piece of the ‘bigger picture’ puzzle you may have been missing concerning a female client or family member.
The bigger picture is what I stopped to contemplate when the words Celebrating Women’s Achievement struck me from the IWD web pages. If we are to celebrate the achievement of women truly, then we can’t just focus on the awards of today. Zooming out is paramount.
As Elizabeth Dennis, Head of Private Wealth at Morgan Stanley, so poignantly put it in her article Women, Wealth & Investing-A Story of Evolution, ‘the progress is stunning when we consider how much female investors and leaders have had to overcome… just a few decades ago, women investors were regularly overlooked by financial advisors and researchers or viewed as a monolithic group.’
I could stop there and let that thought cliff hang; it is already eye-opening enough. My story goes on, because the women being referred to by Elizabeth are the very women coming to my office now.
I’m seeing first-hand the negative results of the routine overlooking my industry helped perpetuate. Since I see a pattern emerging from the wreckage, I’m telling the story about my and my profession’s growth journey.
While historically, women may have been intentionally overlooked due to social standing, Simeon Levin, a colleague and confidante of mine, put the contemporary situation well when she said in her 2022 IWD article You’re only as biased as your blind spots, that women are ‘also often primarily responsible for managing their households and family life. In order to “divide and conquer”, husbands and fathers often take charge of all things financial.’
Simeon then posed the thought-provoking question: ‘Does this traditional split leave women exposed and by extension, families exposed? Indeed, does this unconscious blind spot impact the greater picture of family life enrichment?’
1. Yes, women are left detrimentally exposed.
2. Yes, families are adversely affected.
How women are left exposed.
Here is an untold story. Every week I come across women from affluent families that have been left behind on financial conversations, life-long decision-making journeys and nitty gritty details in their business family settings.
Take a typical female client of mine whom I will call Jackie. Jackie would be routinely excluded from meaningful business family discussions while her brother is schooled on business strategy, financial principles, negotiation and management tactics.
Jackie gets an education and has most of her life’s material needs met, so on paper, life looks great for her. She marries well and begins raising a family with her husband, who takes on all financial responsibility, including owning the relationship with their many advisors. But, unfortunately, their marriage ends in divorce and now Jackie finds herself where Simeon recounted many women do, at an all-time emotional low with looming complicated financial matters, minimal understanding and plenty of intimidation to do anything about it.
Even as I say this, I can feel the eyes roll. Who pities a wealthy divorcee?
Well, take stock of the overall toll this situation has on the family and broader community.
Are families adversely affected?
Also typical for this family situation is where children inherit parental traits and can descend into atrophy. For Jackie, her daughter is caught up in the drug scene and her son is tied to a toxic, controlling relationship. Both are reliant on family wealth, and with Jackie standing to inherit more from her parent’s departure from the family business, her children have become intolerably greedy and demanding.
In addition, Jackie is likely emotionally struggling with the sudden and disruptive solo “success”; she is bleeding money trying to appease everyone and will be stingy with her own needs.
This scenario is not the exception. The sad consequences are broken families and exorbitant wasted resources that could have been poured into companies, charities and communities – where financially educated women will often invest. As Elizabeth pointed out, there is a compounding effect of adverse consequences when women’s financial education is overlooked.
Solutions. Celebrations. Achievements.
What’s the antidote? I believe it starts with Empathy.
Imagine the positive butterfly effect when one of these affluent women receive the compassionate and attentive care of a trusted and financially skilled confidant, educator and friend even:
- Lasting and foundational financial education that leads to self-empowerment, which leads to greater peace of mind and improved outcomes all around
- Children are included in family wealth discussions to the degree they are capable and willing with supportive and just legal structures
- Charters – agreed upon family values that guide future decision-making in healthy ways that build legacy
- Money is wisely invested for generations to come
- Risk is managed and minds are put at ease
- Closer family bonds and repaired emotional circumstances
- Philanthropy and giving become the focus once family affairs are in order
In all my years as a private wealth adviser, hiding my desire to be that empathetic confidante to my clients has only been overshadowed by a necessity to show professionalism and a high degree of technical aptitude.
In the 21st century, I get to fuse the reality of what can occur behind closed, affluent family doors, with my own skill and aptitude for resolving it! So, for my part, the story begins here. After years as a business owner, team leader, wife and mother, I know it’s time to own my other superpowers (gasp!). This glue holds everything together and makes my work and life tick over with fundamental degrees of life enrichment – it begins with Empathy.
It’s not easy to fess up to your flaws or own your strengths, but in acknowledgement of #breakthebias, we, I, have to start changing our narrative to embrace equal status with our male counterparts – it’s up to us to celebrate our progress.
Celebrating Empathy in Finance
Today, whether affluent women receive financial education as part of a progressive family, formal education or through trusted advice in later life, they prove that juggling love and success is possible. As advice professionals, my colleagues and I, who are stepping in to deliver a human approach to fiduciary services, are proving the same.
The celebration story I bring to the IWD table is where people and qualities traditionally considered outside the realm of crucial financial play are embraced because they work. Especially amid the growing tech takeover and family breakdown, this is important to acknowledge and count as human progress.
The time has come to celebrate and embrace Empathy in finance. To acknowledge that tech is not the only way forward, but true human connection is needed more than ever.
I hope my backstory shines a spotlight on some of the female success we’re celebrating today!
*Bobbe Duncombe Dip FS, CPA, B Bus, MPAC, Lead Adviser, has twenty five years’ experience in financial services and runs her own South East Qld based practice. She specialises in helping high-net-worth individuals and families manage their complex financial and life affairs. Bobbe Duncombe is an authorised representative of Fitzpatricks Private Wealth Pty Ltd ABN 33 093 667 595, holder of Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL) No. 247 429.