Ask an American woman to describe Wall Street in one word and the answers you'll get are primarily negative.
Let's make that 'strongly' negative.
Terms like "condescending", "arrogant", "confusing" and "self-serving" tend to pop up quickly in such conversations, leading financial industry insiders to wonder why women feel such a toxic vibe about this industry at large.
The data back that sentiment up.
A new study from Pollara Strategic Insights for WorthFM that surveyed 1,500 women across the nation reveals open hostility toward the financial industry:
* 91% feel financial firms' materials are more about selling than educating
* 87% perceive Wall Street jargon makes investing more confusing than it should be
*75% find it difficult to stay on top of all the financial information and investing options available
*71% say Wall Street is not in touch with women's financial needs and concerns
*63% perceive investing as confusing
That's a big problem for Wall Street, as more and more women take control of the family and household finances. The same study shows that 89% of U.S. female adults are involved in their household's investment decisions; 84% were, are or expect to manage their finances solely; and 70% want to be a financial role model for their children.
"These results are not at all surprising to us," says Carla Dearing, CEO at SUM180, an online financial planning platform designed specifically for women. "Our research shows that women have been opting out of financial services because existing products fail to address our primary financial concerns."
For women, those concerns include not being a burden to their children, not outliving or even fully spending their savings, ensuring financial protection and maintaining a decent standard of living, Dearing says. "Yet the investment industry continues to focus its messaging on 'wealth management,' 'retirement,' 'invest now' and 'beat the market,'" she adds. "The industry, in short, doesn't offer products and features that address women's concerns."
"Adding fuel to the fire, the financial services industry is interested only in women who have assets to invest, because that's how it gets paid -- and that message comes through in every article, website, advertisement and tweet," Dearing says.
Industry critics say Wall Street executives may be tone deaf towards female investors, because women remain poorly represented throughout the industry. "Yes, Wall Street is not friendly to woman," says Cary Carbonaro, author of The Money Queens Guide For Woman Who Want to Build Wealth and Banish Fear. "Only 23% of certified financial planners are woman. Most woman want to feel comfortable about their money decisions and collaborate. Money is emotional for woman and most men don't understand that -- they don't understand how females think about money."
Not only do many Wall Street professions not understand what women want with their finances, experts say, they don't communicate and work well with them, either. "The industry is run by men and dominated by values and rules of patriarchy," says Nathalie Laitmon, publisher of the SuburbanMisfitMom.com blog. "Even when we were working on Wall Street, we as women had to play by the big boy rules and that automatically compromises collaboration and transparency."
Not all responses are harsh. Oraynab Jwayyed, a money management consultant in Oklahoma City, says "hate" may be too strong a word to express how women view the financial services industry. "Women don't hate Wall Street; they have a tough time understanding it," she says. "Before the 2007/2008 market meltdown, Wall Street was wrought with jargon and analysis that wasn't easily understood by the average person. The market crisis only intensified this challenge, because the crisis introduced a higher level of skepticism to a already negative perceptive about the industry."
"Knowledge is a powerful tool and the reassurance that they have what it takes to manage their own money and master the mysteries of Wall Street," Jwayyed adds.
What do men have to say about the issue? Some agree that women have a negative attitude toward the financial industry, and say they have a good reason to feel that way.
"The culture and history of Wall Street is so geared towards male stereotypes that it's not surprising that women don't trust it," says Ben Birken, a financial planner with Woodward Financial Advisors, Inc., in Chapel Hill, N.C. "The prevailing attitude is one of aggressiveness, boasting and machismo. Not only do I agree with the summarized findings of the study, but I find it difficult to fathom that more men aren't turned off by this attitude when it comes to real financial planning."
Clearly, the financial services industry has some work to do in cleaning up its image with American women.
With more women calling the shots from a household finances point of view, it's hard to believe Wall Street has waited this long to change its stripes.