Principles of Wealth: Episode 2
At the end of September, we were excited to launch Women Empowered to Invest, or WEinvest, Bartlett’s new female-focused initiative aimed at empowering women in every area of their life, including their financial lives. The idea for WEinvest blossomed out of a simple question: What more can we do to support our female clients? We took a deeper look at the issues that launched this initiative in Episode 2 of our Principles of Wealth podcast.
2020 was incredibly hard for all of us, but it seemed to be especially hard on women, as the many roles we play were suddenly smashed together… professional, mother, caregiver, volunteer, teacher. As we listened to our clients, we realized, at the heart of it all, women were craving connection. They wanted a deeper connection with their wealth, the chance to ask important questions, gather more data, and make informed decisions. They were seeking connections with others, a chance to learn in community, build knowledge together, share insights. They wanted to know they weren’t alone.
Financial advice is not gender neutral
The tricky part of this is that many of us don’t feel comfortable talking about money with our friends and family. We don’t know who to turn to with some of life’s most sensitive and important questions. Enter WEinvest. Bartlett developed our new program with the understanding that financial advice is not gender neutral. Women’s financial lives are different. Women often get paid less, have more debt, do more unpaid labor, care for aging parents, and live longer. WEinvest is designed to acknowledge these differences and address the needs of female investors in a way that the financial industry has largely overlooked.
An inspiring woman: Widjan Jreisat
There’s a special power in women learning in community with one another, and it’s so important to surround yourself with a circle of women who both inspire and challenge you. One of the women in my circle is Wijdan Jreisat, an attorney with Katz Teller and a strong female in our local Cincinnati community. Advocating for women is literally a part of her job. Wijdan thrives on bringing people together and creating relationships. And I have to tell you, every time we chat, she comes with some new piece of wisdom, whether it’s professional or personal. She has great insights to share, and I am so excited to share our conversation from the podcast with you.
My conversation with Wijdan
[NOTE: My questions/comments are in bold text. Wijdan’s responses are in normal/standard type.]
Wijdan, I am so excited to be able to share your story with others and share some of the insights that you’ve learned from your professional experiences and also your personal ones. So I’d love just to hear a little bit of your background and what really developed this passion for working with women.
So, I actually was born in Jordan and immigrated here when I was 10 years old, directly to Louisville, Kentucky. After attending college and going to law school, I relocated to the Cincinnati area and have been here for about 27 years. I was, interestingly enough, raised in a traditional family, but by a very feminist mother. So, early on I was very much focused on the role of women and in particular any inequities that I saw in how women are treated and, based on both that upbringing and also the fact that I have always been very focused on connecting with others, trying to connect with other people to empower them, to lend a voice, to be the voice at times, but hopefully help them find their own. I have found myself drawn to issues that are focused particularly on women and empowering women, because that has been personally important in my journey, and I have found it very fulfilling to try to help others on theirs.
So as we think about this common story, this plot line that we hear in both of our industries, so often it’s around this idea that women investors are risk averse, that women don’t like taking on risk. Does your experience prove this out or is there another layer we need to explore here?
I would say yes… that obviously the statistics, the research, I think is pretty clear about women’s risk averse strategies typically, or their preference for safer investing, safer decisions, safer options. But I would challenge us to think of it a little bit differently. From my perspective, part of it is that we, as a society, have really socialized and normalized certain things for women that are actually incredibly risky. So when I think about it, I think the very act of having a child, from the literal act of having a child, which is incredibly risky, physically speaking, but more importantly, so frequently women end up stepping out of the workplace.
Sometimes, after a baby, people won’t work at all, and they will simply take the role of a mother and a homemaker, but even if they’ve been working, it is very common for a woman to, if not step away entirely, certainly step out for a period of time to raise children. And I think that is something that is not seen as risky… That is, in fact, so normalized, and is encouraged. And we don’t think of it as the huge risk that it really is, in terms of women’s career progression. As you mentioned, that’s one part, one reason why some would say that earning levels are certainly different, is taking that time away from the career. But I think it also ends up setting up a huge risk for the woman herself in terms of her own progress, not just from a career standpoint, but her own development in terms of how she feels about her role in the family, her role in society, her role in terms of her own independence.
And as we know, so frequently life intervenes, i.e. 2020 being a perfect example of if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. So those plans that you’ve made with your spouse or with your partner to try to plan your life may not come to fruition for a variety of reasons, and you’re left holding the bag. I also see the other factor that I think really affects this is this fear of failure that you see so frequently with women, the idea of the pursuit of trying to be a perfectionist, the fear of failure.
You see studies about women not applying for a job unless they meet a 100% of the criteria. I think that comes into play in this as well. When you think about it – I had to look this up today, because I’m not a sports person, but my nephew is a huge baseball fan – batting 300, as I understand, is a great average in baseball. But batting 300 is basically a 30% success rate. So if you think about it that way, when you think about investing, which obviously you have to be able to bear some of the downsides, you’ve got to take those opportunities. There will be ups, there will be downs, I think so frequently, versus, say, a boy who’s been raised to think that batting 300 is actually great, if you are a girl who’s been socialized to, again, be afraid of failure, to try to meet all the criteria before you can try out for the job, those kinds of narratives that keep playing in our brains prevent us from being more willing to take the rock and roll of the market or the rock and roll of general investing, that I think you do need to take in order to really be able to maximize the benefits there.
That’s a really interesting point on the untold perceptions that are out there. It’s not something that someone just comes out and says, but when you really take a step back and think about it, it’s absolutely there. And I’d say from our perspective working with female clients, oftentimes it’s the lack in depth knowledge that they’re craving. And once you can sit down and spend the time to walk through the holistic plan and to really dive into the why behind the investments and the way it’s going to work and the expectations that we should set up front, then they can build that plan and stick with that plan and build it for the long term. But you’re exactly right, you can’t expect to be perfect 100% of the time. That’s just not the way that mother market works. So that’s a really big part of it is this idea of the access to information, setting that right expectation, and just thinking about how have we normalized certain risks and maybe played up others.
Building on that… There are a lot of sensitive topics in the work that we do, and one of those that I know you deal with quite frequently is the dreaded discussion of having the money conversation before marriage. And this might be a first marriage, it might be a second marriage later on in life, but the word that often comes up is prenup. And it’s such a scary word. But as you think about that, how do you coach your clients to have these sensitive conversations around money with their spouse or significant other before entering into any legal agreement?
You’re right. There is nothing less sexy or less romantic in a relationship than talking about a prenup. So most people feel like, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing? At the same time that I’m excited about my wedding planning. I’m now discussing this.” But to me, and as I sit here today, I’m happy to tell you that I am married happily married for 26 years, I think one of the keys to any successful relationship is always communication. And as you said, one of the keys that you find in working with clients is really an understanding and a discussion about the why of what we’re doing things.
To me, when people have a conversation about a prenup, it’s really about talking about what their understanding, expectation, and desires are as to their financial needs. So frequently you will find that one of the most significant factors in the failure of most marriages, is money issues, one way or the other, whether it’s too much money, too little money, disconnected approaches to money, inconsistent desires about money. All of those kinds of things frequently lead couples to part ways.
So the prenup conversation, I usually tell people, is an opportunity for you and your soon to be spouse, at a time when both of you are in the right frame of mind, when you are it to do what’s right by each other, to listen to the other and hear what is important, what is significant, what worries you. What are the things I expect going out of this? What does this look like if we take some of these chances and risks together, such as one of us staying out of the workplace for a period of time, or maybe one of us pursuing a different job than we might otherwise pursue, what does that look like, and how does that play out?
And I recast that conversation as really a preliminary discussion about your expectations about money and how you handle money in the marriage, because so frequently those money issues will also play out into the relationship dynamics. How you handle the money ends up affecting how you handle each other in the relationship. So when you think about it in terms of setting the stage and setting the expectations for that, ideally finding out that you’re both going to be on the same page, and if you’re not, having the opportunity at the outset to talk about that, to understand why you each feel as you do, to try to be accommodating of and caring about the concerns and the issues of the other person, that frequently ends up building a stronger foundation going into a marriage.
So when people say, “Well, if I talk about a prenup, doesn’t that mean that I’m already halfway checked out of the marriage?” The answer is no. It’s really about building a common understanding as you’re getting ready to make a major decision in your life, which is joining together with this other person and making sure that the two of you have had the important conversations.
Another part of our work in the law firm is obviously estate planning. So, the end of life discussions. The fact of the matter is these are not comfortable discussions to be had. Most of us don’t want to think about things going wrong. We don’t want to think about what happens at that point. But when you prepare for it, and more importantly, when you give some thought to how you want thungs to go and do that in a way that is intentional that is thoughtful, that is governed by input and insight from those that you care about, I think you tend to be a much better decision-maker in general.
That’s a really good point on just the power of communication, that you may decide that no prenup is necessary, but at the same time, just having those what can be sticky conversations up front so that you can build that baseline and then move on from there. And I do find it it’s best that it’s not just one big conversation. “Hey, we hired this lawyer. We’re going to go in and battle this out.” It’s more of those small snippets over time, take it bite by bite. That’s the idea here is build that foundation so that when these difficult things come up, you really have a baseline to grow from.
And you’ve done it at a time when the two of you are on the same team.
Absolutely. So, you mentioned this idea of estate planning, and I think that is another topic that comes up all the time, and as you said, it’s one that is not fun to talk about. But at the same time, having these conversations, whether it’s with our spouse around what we want our own legacies to look like, or with our parents around caring for them, the financial factors involved, what they want… what are your tips for starting those conversations?
I will share with you that, first of all, if I had a superpower, I suppose it would be that I take on difficult conversations easier than average. So, with that in mind, I recognize these are not the kinds of conversations most people look forward to. I think, again, it’s coming at it from a place of love and caring. In my own life, I have had to think about this in terms of my aging parents, my in-laws, lots of people around me who are getting to a point where we need to be having those conversations. And usually, I think it’s easier to talk about it in terms of legacy. What do you want to see happen? What does that look like for you?
I just went to a funeral yesterday. Those are the kinds of terrible things that happen that also create an opening for you to say, “You know what, what do you see happening? I don’t want to be in a position where if something happens to you, I don’t know what your wishes and desires are.” Or talking about it, whether it’s to your own spouse or thinking about it in your own mind. Ideally you want to be planning for these things and trying to get the information, and more importantly, try to get people thinking about how do you want things to go. I think most people want the autonomy and the control. That’s something that we’re all looking toward and working toward in our lives, is to be able to be in control of our own lives as you get older.
So, I think one of the hardest things to try to accept is that you may not be in of position where you can do that for yourself and giving up some of that control for the better good, if you will, can be a very difficult thing. But I think when you think through it in terms of, “This is a way for me to determine and be autonomous about what it is that I want, whether it’s how I want my money spent, how I want my arrangements made, how I want my life to play out…” Again, recognizing we can do all the planning we want, and at the end of the day, things intervene. But at least the more opportunities that you have to set in place those expectations and communicate to those in your life, I think the far more likely that you’re going to be happy with what the end result looks like.
It’s about pushing ahead through the discomfort, because at the end of the day, you’re going to be far more uncomfortable if you never had the conversation or if nothing was ever done about it. And I do find so often that having the conversation relaxes everybody, because so frequently, there’s a lot of stress and a lot of fear with the ambiguity of it all. When I approach something with a client, I frequently understand that the ambiguity is, frankly, 90% of the problem. Sometimes just knowing what the road looks like helps to calm you down. Even though you may not get to the end of the road today, you may not know how you’re going to navigate the road, at least having the lay of the land and understanding what the options are gives you a little bit more comfort and a little bit more power.
That’s a great way of thinking about it, just laying out that guide path… Benjamin Franklin has a quote that is something along the lines of, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. And we all know that great plans often go awry, as you were saying, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. But at least having that roadmap there that you can flex off of over time. So talk to us a little bit about the positive side of planning and how you have found that the proper planning can really help your clients develop their passions.
Well, again, I am a big believer that we make better decisions when we have more information. When all is said and done, more information means better everything. But the reality is, as I said, whether it drives down your anxiety or at least gives you opportunities to reflect and think about other things, the more information you have, the better you can explore what your options are. So whether it is something like really stepping back and trying to think through what are the ramifications of me stepping away from my career, whether it’s for a few years or maybe permanently, and what does that look like, and what kinds of things am I giving up, but also getting in exchange? And I think so frequently those types of decisions are made with a very short timeframe in place. We’re very focused in the moment of how do I manage what I have to manage right now. And we don’t step back to say, “Okay, that will make my life a lot easier this year, but what happens playing this out and seeing the ripple effects of it?”
I also think it’s the opportunity to think big and think about the things that you want to do. In a perfect world, by focusing your energy on what where you want to go, you are able to better plan for it, but you’re also more likely to get there. I think, so frequently, and especially the last two years, being able to step back for a minute and just think about where do I want to be, not just continuing to do the things I need to do just to get through today, to get through the week, to get through the month… Next thing you know, here we are in October of 2021, and wait a minute, what just happened? I think taking that time and trying to focus on it, but then also looking at it as an opportunity for you to do other things beyond yourself.
So for me, for example, I don’t think of myself as a particularly materialistic person, but one of the ways that I have really focused the wealth conversation in my life has been about what that wealth can do for others. What that wealth can do, both in terms of providing for my loved ones, but more importantly, also being able to do more within my community to really be transformative in a way that it would not be possible for me to do otherwise. So when you think about it in terms of those opportunities to step back and find something that you really care about and dig in on to really move the needle on this issue. Sometimes that is getting involved at a policy level to be able to do things, but sometimes it really is just being able to provide the funding, the dollars to really push something one way or the other, and being in a position to try to do that by better planning on your part and focusing on that transformative gift.
Yeah, having that north star out there, the reason why behind what it is that you’re building and working to achieve, whether that’s as an individual or as a family unit. That’s really powerful. Thank you so much. Wijdan for joining us. This has been so much fun and I know that we could sit here and chat all day.
Well I really appreciated the time and I look forward to continuing the conversation.
I really hope this discussion gave you a taste of the sorts of topics we’ll be tackling and conversations we’ll be having as we continue to cultivate WEinvest. And, I hope it piqued your interest! I promise, there’s much more to come. To learn more you can visit our website at www.bartlett1898.com/WEinvest.
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Thanks again for joining us!
The information in this podcast is educational in general in nature and does not take into consideration the listeners personal circumstances. Therefore, it is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized financial, legal or tax advice to determine which strategies or investments may be suitable for you. Consult the appropriate qualified professional prior to making a final decision.