During a career that spans almost twenty-five years (she earned her CFP qualification in 1990) Eleanor has co-founded a firm, authored two books – “Women’s Worth: Finding Your Financial Confidence” and “The Home Budget Workbook” – and, co-founded a second firm, “Directions for Women”.
Eleanor currently serves as the Certified Financial Planning Board of Standards Consumer Advocate, working to raise the visibility of financial planning and its benefits with individuals and the media. Eleanor’s belief is that, “families of all income levels should have access to professional financial planning assistance and that the financial world is too complex to shoulder alone.”
While technological changes have significantly impacted the financial landscape, Eleanor’s primary concern is the ongoing transfer of wealth to women and the “clumsy efforts of the male dominated industry” in adapting to this trend. One way to solve this problem is to change the ratio of women within the industry itself. As such, Eleanor and the CFP Board are working to more widely promote the financial planning profession, and specifically the CFP qualification, to women, who remain significantly underrepresented.
Read on to find out why financial planning is one of the most powerful ways to improve the lives of individuals and the economy at large, receive some straight-talking advice for each one of us, and the big institutions, as well as learn how the industry can resolve the gender gap.
Eleanor, you’ve been a financial planning practitioner for almost 25 years – what initially attracted you to this business?
After getting my MBA from University of Chicago, I came to Washington and began a good-paying job as an associate for a consulting firm. The firm was also known as a “Beltway Bandit”, a nickname that referred specifically to the circle of such firms around the DC area that worked with the government to design and implement various federal programs.
After a year or so, I was on track to move up to a Project Manager role, but found myself really dissatisfied with my work. My client was a government agency and it seemed like we were writing the same report for this agency over and over again, each time modifying it to appeal to another key interest group. I did not feel like I was contributing anything significant and it frustrated me – I wanted to make a big impact with a responsive client.
At that time, the financial planning profession was just emerging and after reading about it, I knew this was what I wanted to do. So I backed WAY UP in terms of compensation and apprenticed myself to the best financial planning professionals I could find. In about three years, I became one of four partners of a growing financial planning practice in McLean, VA.
What have been the most significant changes to the industry landscape over the last 20 years?
There have been many, such as the emergence over the last few decades of financial planning as a broader and more comprehensive discipline than just investment management. Currently, the most significant change is the role the Internet can and will make in the delivery of financial planning information to the middle class.
Nevertheless, the change that most occupies me is the increasing wealth and autonomy of the woman consumer, and the sometimes ridiculous and clumsy efforts of the male-dominated industry to attract her business. It’s really very simple and it does not involve “pinking up” your marketing material: understand that women are not trying to “win” the game of finance — to them, it isn’t a game, but a desire to provide for themselves and their families.
Women want to be talked to honestly and directly, and they want to understand how and why a particular financial strategy would work for them. First and foremost, they do not want to be SOLD to.
You’re the CFP Board’s Consumer Advocate with a focus on educating consumers on the value of financial planning. CFP research has shown that financial planning can have a positive influence on consumers collectively owing to the increase in confidence it brings and the impact that has on economic behavior. Please could you elaborate on that for us?
We have just emerged from a near collapse of our entire economic system as a result of ignoring some very basic principles that are fundamental to financial planning.
We must, as individuals, as firms, and as governments, not let the urgency of the short-term eclipse the importance of the long term. We need to plan for tomorrow, and not consume all our resources today. Banks and other financial institutions need sufficient reserves to weather downturns; the same is true for individuals and families. We need to set aside reserves in savings and invest in the future as the way to be ready for it. Financial planning is all about getting ready for that future, and thereby smoothing out the incredible highs and lows that our markets and our own lives can be subject to. Being able to weather storms is an important survival skill; consumers who acquire that skill through financial planning behave far more rationally and efficiently than those who don’t.
The CFP Board recently released research on the proportion of women in the profession and potential initiatives to increase that percentage. Why are there so few women and what needs to change?
CFP Board found many reasons why the percentage of women in this profession is so low and has been that way for some time.
Most basically, there is information asymmetry between women and men when it comes to knowledge about financial planning as a profession, what it is that a financial planner does, and what skills or characteristics are needed to become a financial planner. Ironically many of the requisite skills are associated with women. However, the misperception that financial planning is all about numbers and technical analysis still persists. There is also evidence of bias within the profession in terms of a pay gap between women and men with similar experience, as well as in the perception that women, but not men, may cut and run to raise a family rather than sticking in their jobs.
Finally there is the circular problem that because there are so few women in the industry, there are very few role models and professional support available to those women just entering. Fewer women = fewer role models = fewer women. We need to break up that vicious cycle and create a virtuous cycle where women realize that financial planning and being a CFP® professional can be a very satisfying career.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the finance industry what would it be?
I would wave my wand and achieve gender parity within financial planning NOW. In reality it will take many years, but progress can begin now.
Do you have a favorite personal finance pearl of wisdom to share with our community?
I believe that unless, and until, a woman knows her own value, she is not equipped to make good financial decisions. When you love yourself, and know what you want, you will make good financial choices that honor yourself and those you care about. It’s all an inside job.
And, last but not least, what’s your favorite splurge?
My favorite splurge – dare I say? – is a Wendy’s chocolate Frosty. Unfortunately, however, those Frosties became less like splurges and more like staples, so I have had to more or less eliminate them. But if I were asked what I wanted as my last meal on earth, it would certainly be a large Frosty…
Eleanor Blayney is the Consumer Advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, reaching out to consumers to help them understand how financial planning and CFP® professionals can improve their lives. The author of Women’s Worth, a book about how women can make the most of their financial lives, Eleanor worked with individual clients for more than twenty years to help them articulate and plan for their financial goals. As the only woman partner in a four‐partner firm, Eleanor drew upon her female intuition, communication strengths,and facility for sustaining relationships to help build a wealth management firm that has served hundreds of clients in the Washington, D.C. metro area and around the country.
Eleanor holds a number of degrees and designations. She earned an MA in English Literature from the University of Cambridge UK and an MBA from the University of Chicago. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional.Well‐known as a conference speaker and frequently quoted in the news media, Eleanor has played a pioneering role in building and shaping the financial planning profession. She has taught for the College of Financial Planning, and has helped to develop practice standards and ethical requirements for CFP® professionals in the U.S.
Visit Eleanor on CFP Board’s website at http://www.cfp.net/learn/advocate.asp or follow her on Twitter at @EleanorBlayney.