Share |

Women and Wealth: The new wealth paradigm

Over the last two generations great shifts have occurred in the expectations and opportunities available to women, and ultra high net worth women are no exception. We have emerged from a world where gender expectations were set and adhered to, into one where they are fluid and challenged. Women now take prominent roles in the family business, inherit equally with their male siblings and create their own wealth.

The Women and Wealth Research Survey 2009 looks at the unique group of women who have lived through, and pioneered, these changes. It asks how societal changes have affected women working in the family business, how they have been influenced by their parents and their children and how these women have forged a place for themselves within the business. It looks at the role wealth plays in the lives of affluent women, what they want to achieve for themselves and how they see their legacy.

Only by understanding the distinctive views and desires of these women can advisors hope to meet their needs and serve them better. The traditional patriarchal system has been replaced by one in which women play a prominent and equal role and their advisors must adjust accordingly.

Adjusting expectations

The women surveyed are more involved with their money than ever before. While only a few generations ago all the wealth was held and controlled by men, the balance has shifted so more of the wealth is made and controlled by women. Sixty seven percent say their level of involvement with their money is high as shown in chart one, while a whole 87% say they feel like a full and equal partner in taking financial decisions, shown in chart two. They can enjoy a level of control over their own assets that even their mothers' generation would have struggled to gain. It is now common, if the family wealth is on the woman's side, the husband would have little to do with family business decisions unless he actually worked there.

The women in the survey often acted as pioneers, forging themselves a place in the family business that had not previously been open to women. Those around them were made to accept the changes happening in society as a whole and adjust to the new role of women within the family business.

Several factors have lead to these adjusted roles and expectations. Great shifts in society as a whole contributed to the changing roles, but there are issues that affect ultra high net worth women specifically. Firstly inheritance no longer automatically goes to the males in the family, brothers and sisters have begun to inherit equally. Women have also become increasingly involved with the family business, so contribute their own wealth to the family. The life expectancy of women is better than that of men, so wives will often inherit their husband's fortune's as they tend to live longer.

All of these factors have contributed to women becoming more involved with their money, assets and the family business. 

Freedom not power

The women surveyed see their wealth, more than anything, as a source of empowerment. It is a way for them to achieve their goals and it gives them security. But it is not how they measure the success of their lives, showing one way in which they differ from their male counterparts. There are no statements or comments from the survey which mention money as a source of power.

Money enables our affluent women to be self-reliant and pursue their own personal values, without defining them. Seventy eight percent said their wealth affected them as shown by chart four as it gave them more choices in life, but many felt it important to stress that money has not altered their core identity.

The desire these women have for self-reliance and independence did not generally come from the examples of their mothers, as most were raised in households with traditional views of women's roles. Instead they have developed these desires from the changed world they came to inhabit and the work they are engaged in.

You would expect women of ultra high net worth to be exempt from money worries, and although they do not have the same worries as the majority of the population, 45% say they do still worry about money as shown in chart three. The luxury they do gain from their wealth is security, so although they may worry, they are more assured than most that their family and their children can be provided for. This is especially important for those women who have seen their family struggle, or endured any economic hardship of their own. All the women in the survey recognise that not having to worry about the basic needs of themselves and their families is a privilege of very few.

Philanthropy and social responsibility

Philanthropy is traditionally associated with the world's wealthiest families, and the women of this survey consider it a very important aspect of their lives. They understand that their wealth is a privilege, and that with it comes great social responsibility. Ninety five percent say their family is involved in philanthropy. The women do not see their wealth as a personal possession, but as a way to initiate positive change. It grants the freedom for women to support the cause they deem most worthwhile and this gives a sense of making a real and
significant difference.

Philanthropy began, for most of these women, as children and they all encourage their children to engage in giving responsibly. Some talked of working together as a family to help their community, or working on a joint project. Many families have foundations, especially when there has been wealth in previous generations, and they use this as the vehicle for making a difference.

Next generation

Engaging their children in philanthropy is just a small aspect of the role our surveyed women play in educating the next generation. It is very important to them their children are prepared for inheriting money, and that growing up with wealth does not have a negative impact on the children. They all want to teach their children how to manage money, how to budget and the joy of earning money as opposed to just receiving it. The values they wish to pass onto the next generation often closely mirror their own desires to be self-sufficient, empowered and do something positive with their wealth.

Their approach seems to be working because none of the women say they were unhappy with their children's values, and 55% say they were very happy with them. They all mentioned specific problems and hurdles, such as trying to raise children in a highly materialistic world, but these are not issues that only affect ultra high net worth women.

Tradition is something these women have come up against throughout their lives and it often causes conflict. Family secrecy is one of these traditions that the modern family business woman is attempting to combat. While 78% say they came from a family that did not speak about their wealth as shown chart five, they favour dialogue with their children.

This veil of secrecy is not easy to lift, and our surveyed women do not have the definitive answers about the best time to tell children about wealth, or how much to tell them. However they are clear that they want their children to know more than they did, it is the how and the when that causes more problems.

Source of wealth

Our ultra high net worth women came to be wealthy in three different ways, from inheritance, from marriage or by working in the family business and so creating their own wealth. These different paths change the way women experience their wealth. One of the biggest factors in their differing experiences is the age at which they became wealthy. The earlier wealth enters their lives the more they believe they can do with it, so women with inherited wealth felt the need and ability to do the most. It may be that having a longer time frame allows women to think beyond themselves and their family, to the broader possibilities of having wealth.

Those who married into wealth place a higher emphasis on governance of the family and the family business. This may relate to the earlier expressed need for self-sufficiency, security and stability. A formalised governance structure also allows women who married into wealth the opportunity to see what it takes to control significant wealth. This group has the lowest engagement with their money and investments, 36% described their involvement in their family's money as low as shown in chart six.

Women whose wealth is self-generated, predictably, have a greater understanding of their money and the governance structures of the family business. Ninety percent say they have a high level of involvement with their wealth and have a very good understanding of their assets as show in charts six and seven.

Spending power

Ninety percent of the women say they are happy with their family wealth, but they tend as a group to spend below their means. Only 10% say they like to spend, with the majority allowing they do buy nice things when necessary and 20% even stating they are frugal. However, they may spend below their own means, but their lifestyles are still out of reach for most average income earners.

Spending habits are related to how comfortable the women are with their wealth. If it enters their lives suddenly it can take time to get used to and some never effectively make the adjustment. Expectations are also placed on the women and their spending habits by previous generations, especially for inheritors, which they feel restricts their spending abilities.

As expected some women felt much happier spending then others, but all were conscious of using their money thoughtfully, especially to set a good example to their children.

Advisory relationship

Although most of the women in the study were satisfied with their advisors, all saw room for improvement. They want a clear and simplified means to understanding their assets and how they fit into the overall wealth plan. But on a more personal level they want advisors to understand the long-term aims and goals of the family and its wealth, so they can ensure its longevity and have a crafted, updated family plan.

They seek a clearer understanding of what is being done with their assets and why. The main complaints focus on a lack of asset options that are offered by advisors, worries about being overcharged and not enough explanation of their investments.

The women in the study desire an altogether different approach from their advisors. They want someone who will take a long-term, broad view and who is focused on cultivating relationships not completing transactions. Teaching is also considered an important role of the advisor, although teaching women as peers not as inferiors is also hugely important.

Advisors need to take into account the new role women have in the family business in order to better serve them. There is a place for advisors to bridge the gap between traditional and emerging values, if they can understand the specific needs of ultra high net worth women and their families.


The survey revealed much about the role women now play in family business and it also highlighted the areas where they feel change is still necessary. A good advisor relationship is vital to the success of a family business and advisors can become allies of women within business if they properly consider their needs.

Affluent women today are playing a more involved role in their money than ever before, they are taking control and seeking to educated the next generation to prepare then for wealth. This report gives an in-depth insight into how to better serve these women to ensure the continued success of the family business and the protection of the family wealth.


Click here >>