Should women pay special attention to certain aspects of wealth planning and financial management? According to Silke Mies the answer is “Yes, definitely.” In our interview, the experienced Julius Baer wealth planner shares her personal tips on what to look out for in each stage of your life.
She’s an early bird, speaks Dutch fluently, and replies “Please ask my husband” when wanting to know about her work-life balance. But seriously, how does she manage to juggle her duties as team head of Julius Baer’s Wealth Planning Advisory Europe unit in Zurich, Germany and Luxembourg and the schedules of two small children? “My husband is a partner at one of the big four consultancies. Nevertheless, we really split up all our duties equally. It’s a combination of this and rigorous planning. Our approach allows both of us to travel and be with our clients.”
Speaking of rigorous planning: Silke advises international clients with complex personal lives on all the different aspects of wealth planning. “I love the internationality of our clientele. No two stories are the same.” And in her almost fifteen years of working in the field of wealth and tax planning, she has heard many of them. She works with members of patchwork families, married couples, and individuals. Nevertheless, she has a particular interest in advising women and regularly speaks at wealth planning events for women. We have asked her what women should consider in the different stages of life.
In your experience as a wealth and tax planner, which factors have the strongest impact on women’s financial planning?
Silke Mies: “Did you know that German women were not allowed to open a bank account until 1962? Nor were they allowed to work without their husband’s permission until 1977. These are just two examples, but the historical role definition and relatively young financial independence of women still have an impact on their financial situation.”
Take the responsibility, communicate in a transparent way, and keep your documents up to date.
Nevertheless, a lot has changed in the past fifty years. Nowadays, men ask for paternity leave and flexible work options, women outnumber men in universities globally, and the overall situation has become more equal. The new generation of women is more confident, wants to work and accumulate their own wealth to have options in life.
On the negative side, however, the International Labor Organization recently found that the global gender pay gap is still 22% per cent. Around three quarters of this disparity can be explained by factors such as choice of industry, education, and volume of employment. But one quarter is still not clear. There are no logical answers. I once calculated that the gender pay gap alone leads to women having 40 per cent less savings when entering retirement compared to men. Statistically, women also live longer but avail themselves of fewer financial resources to finance their golden years. All in all, the following chart gives an overview of factors that influence the financial planning of women:
Given these circumstances, do you have any general wealth planning tips for women?
In my experience, the three most important aspects are:
- Develop a clear idea of what you want in life. What are you saving towards?
- Be transparent and proactively discuss wealth planning topics with your partner or loved ones.
- Ensure that your documents always reflect your current circumstances.
And more specifically, what should women consider in the different stages of their life?
I recently held a presentation on this topic and used a fictitious character, Julia, to highlight the essential points. Julia moves through the following life phases: apprenticeship, university, employment, partnership, divorce, caring for parents, and retirement. Let’s have a look at what is important during these phases.
- Take responsibility: For the first time in your life, you get in touch with your own money. Although it is not a lot, you have earned it by yourself. Most likely, you are now in charge of paying your rent and bills. In this phase, it is crucial to acknowledge one’s own responsibility and develop a mindset towards money management, even if you only look after small funds. Your income will increase with time, but the mindset you establish now will most probably remain.
- Develop a savings plan: Even though your income is small, you should sit down and analyse your income, your expenses, and whether you can save a small amount every month. Furthermore, you should ask yourself what you are saving towards. What is your objective?
- Buy insurances and check whether you can receive financial support: Now is the right time to tackle the ‘grown-up topics’ and check which insurances you need. Furthermore, I always recommend investigating whether your country of residence offers support for apprenticeships, for example.
- Plan ahead: Will you go on an exchange semester? Will your summer internship be reimbursed? In addition to the points mentioned above, you will now have to manage your money more strategically. Gain an understanding of how much money you need at which point in time and develop a financial plan that gets you there. As an example, you may have to take on additional shifts in your student job in spring in order to be able to cover your living expenses during your summer internship.
- Understand the tax regime: One of the universal laws of life is the following: you will be taxed. But whether you go about it in a smart way and inform yourself about the intricacies of deductible expenses, for example, or not is up to you. Invest this time. It is worth it.
- Engage in financial planning: Ask yourself: what is important to me professionally as well as personally? Do I want to go on a sabbatical in two years or have a child in five years? Would I like to earn passive income one day? Now that you have a regular income, you can truly begin to build up your own wealth and develop a financial plan.
- Plan your retirement: It sounds like a cliché, but there are reasons why experts recommend that you start planning for your retirement as early as possible. The earlier you begin, the more options you have.
- Take the lead: Lots of women decide to move in with their partner, marry, or have children one day. Whatever you choose to do, my advice is to not transfer the responsibility for financial management and wealth planning to your partner. Be proactive and take the lead.
- Use the ‘three accounts’ model: If you decide to couple up, the situation changes from a wealth planning perspective. We are now looking at two incomes. In particular, before you get married, I recommend having an open discussion and signal that you want to build up your own wealth next to the family wealth. This can be done by using the ‘three accounts’ model:
Both you and your partner pay your monthly salary into account one. Your shared monthly expenses (rent, insurance costs, school fees etc.) are paid from this account. The surplus is transferred to accounts two and three. The fairest option is to split this amount 50/50, but this is up to the couple to decide. Overall, this setup allows both partners to control their own money and either spend it or save it.
- Sign a prenuptial agreement: It may not be romantic, but the numbers speak for themselves. This June the OECD published a report that analysed marriage and divorce rates in OECD countries up until 2017. The main finding will not come as a surprise: Declining rates of marriage have been accompanied by increased rates of divorce. Two important aspects that women in particular should consider when discussing a prenuptial agreement are the pension rights adjustment (how is the couple planning to even out the missing 40 per cent?) and alimony for you and the children.
- Hope for the best, plan for the worst: A divorce is emotionally challenging. Signing a prenuptial agreement avoids having to deal with additional stress during this sensitive phase. If the right measures have been taken, you (and the children, should they decide to live with you) will receive monthly alimony payments. Moreover, you will be reimbursed for your lower pension if you have decided to take some time off to take care of the children. Finally, you should have accumulated your own wealth and be financially liquid thanks to the ‘three accounts’ model.
- Update the paperwork: Insurance contracts, advanced care directives, the telephone bill - all these documents need to be updated to reflect your new circumstances.
Caring for parents
- Sharing is caring: It may happen that your parents (or in-laws) will not be able to cover their living or care expenses during retirement. It is advisable to give this possibility a thought so to not be caught by surprise. It is easier to handle a situation like this if you have for example agreed to cover these costs from your shared account.
- Focus on the essentials: Although it would be wonderful to pass down an inheritance, first take a step back and focus on the essentials. Calculate the amount of money needed to maintain your standard of living and find the appropriate financial solution to reach this objective. If you then still have sufficient funds to make a gift to your loved ones – even better.
Which trends do you foresee for the future?
Studying in London, going on a secondment in Singapore, and retiring in Italy – our lifestyles will continue to become more and more international. Furthermore, there are so many constellations in which women decide to live their lives today: as happily single, married, in a civil partnership, as part of a patchwork family. As long as you take the responsibility, communicate in a transparent way, and keep your documents up to date, you will create a solid foundation for achieving what matters most to you.