Financial Life Design

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Yes, Women in Finance Need a Financial Planner Too


The past year of growth at Mana Financial Design has been diverse and wonderful to foster. We love our clients! In a recent company analysis, we found that female professionals who work in technology or finance make up the majority of our client base. While it makes sense that a woman in tech would seek professional financial advice because of the complexities of stock compensation, tax minimization, and/or an early retirement plan, some might ask why we work with so many women with finance careers. 

After all, shouldn’t women in this career path already know how to handle their personal finances?

That is precisely the messaging both Stephanie and I heard - time and time again - as we built our careers on Wall Street. This alleged connection between our career and personal lives seemed obvious to others. Because we worked in finance - Stephanie in hedge funds and me in asset management - the world expected us to instinctively be good at managing our own money. 

The truth is, even as I was at the top of my game as Regional Director for one of the world’s largest institutional asset managers, I struggled with my personal finances. I had a large salary, I invested in my 401k, and I studied the markets, but that was really it. I didn’t know if I was on track for retirement or how to set myself up to achieve the many goals I had. In reality, I was living paycheck to paycheck and figured I could always make more. I blew through my money as fast as I earned it. My personal history, along with the experiences of many of my female peers in finance, demonstrate that there is a gap between being an expert at a few aspects of finance and being an expert in - or having cognitive control over - personal finance.

My husband works in “film” -- a turn of phrase that could mean anything from selling production insurance to holding a boom pole. “Working in finance” is a phrase to describe a set of careers and activities just as diverse. Finance is a huge industry, making up over 7% of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States in 2018. “Working in finance” might mean working in sales or investing; human resources or banking; the list goes on… These fields might help someone understand a piece of the markets better than most, but it certainly does not guarantee training in even the basics of personal finance. 

The assumption that people in finance should inherently be great at managing their own personal financial situation is destructive. This way of thinking could lead to cycles of shame and guilt for those who lack either understanding or control of their own money and wealth. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, shame and guilt are linked with negative patterns of financial decision making. One of the most common and detrimental beliefs stemming from negative financial decisions is “if I just earned a little more money, I would be able to manage it better.” Objectively speaking, there are a multitude of obstacles working against Americans who want to save more. The key to financial success has little to do with yearly earnings, and everything to do with managing these obstacles under the right mindset. Wealth is a result of financial planning, not the other way around. No one wants to admit what they don’t know. And someone in finance might feel embarrassed to admit they don’t know how to manage their own money -- but at Mana we’re here to say they’re not alone. 

What makes personal finance so hard?

How much do you currently owe on your credit card bill? This is the question psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D asked in her book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending. She asked 30 people to guess the size of their current credit card bill and wanted to see how close they came to the real number. All 30 underestimated the size of their bill! They underestimated the size of their bill by an average of 30%. This stat goes to prove the idea that many of us have a false confidence of our own ability to manage money. And this applies across all industries, including finance.

As Stephanie and I took the leap to quit our corporate jobs to launch Mana, we recognized we were falling into some of the same cognitive traps that we’ve studied in behavioral economics. Even as women who spend their every day living and breathing finance, we too, needed the help. So when we hired each other to act as each other’s family CFOs we humbly realized that even experts can be more successful when we ask for help. If you’re a woman in finance like us, I’m specifically writing this piece to tell you that you’re not alone.

Here are just a few reasons why: 

  1. A successful career in finance doesn’t mean you have to know everything about personal finance. Don’t let stereotypes get you down; instead, let the facts inform your decisions. Although women make up half of the finance industry’s population, countless surveys have shown that a gender pay gap persists for women working across all US Financial Occupations. Over the course of twenty, thirty or forty years, less pay for women in finance means that women must take more action to invest their money in the markets to close that gap. 

  2. Women traditionally keep more of their assets in cash than men. A recent study from BlackRock showed that of all the assets women control, women keep a full 71% of it in cash, while men hold 60%.  If you’re making more money than your expenses and you have choices to make on how you spend and invest the rest of your income, you might benefit from objective advice and guidance on how to maximize your resources to fund the things you most want to accomplish. Cash in the bank gives you flexibility to prioritize those goals, but investing in the market over the long run can bring those goals to life. 

  3. Women in the US spend about 244 minutes or over four hours per day on average doing unpaid work, according to the OECD. Alongside a full time job, you might also keep your household running on all cylinders. Oftentimes, women have more plates spinning then you have hands, so managing your money might take a backseat. Even though studies have shown that women are better investors, for many of us, money can still be scary. So scary that 61% of women would rather talk about their own death than money. If you don’t dedicate the time it takes to manage your investments, your family budget, and/or maximizing the benefits your employer offers, you can be missing out on tens of thousands of dollars of missed opportunities. A financial planner can serve as your professional guide to all aspects of your financial life and deliver peace of mind to you and your family. 

Partnerships in accountability, open communication, and strength in numbers.

If you’re a woman in finance and you’ve wondered if there is another way to deal with your money questions - know that there are resources out there. I’ve learned so much from my thirteen years in the industry. The simple act of having a professional partner to check in and keep you accountable can make a huge difference. Our most important lesson? The best resource is your incredible network of colleagues, friends and mentors. Stephanie and I have developed many invaluable personal connections throughout our career. Despite our success, we firmly believe that it’s ok to reach out and ask for guidance.


Cristina Livadary is a fee-only financial planner based in Los Angeles, California and is the CEO of Mana Financial Life Design. Mana Financial Life Design provides comprehensive financial planning and investment management services to help clients organize, grow and protect their wealth throughout life’s journey. Mana specializes in advising professionals in the tech industry, as well as women who work in institutional investing, through financial planning and investment management. As a fee-only fiduciary and independent financial advisor, Cristina never receives commission of any kind. She is legally bound by her certification to provide unbiased and trustworthy financial advice.