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Where are the female investors?

Unfortunately, it's true, I don't receive many Portfolio Clinic requests from women. However, when I do, I make sure that they get a slot in the column as we're really keen to show that investing is for women, too.

This week it has been really refreshing to be able to feature a female student, Emma age 21, in Portfolio Clinic. She has very clear ideas about her investments and what they need to do to fit with her life plans. And she’s not the first female student to write in about her investments - two years ago we featured Neha age 19 who was managing a portfolio of investment trusts. These are the lucky ones, whose parents have had the money and the foresight to pass on investments to their children. However, I’m hoping that their cases signal a change in attitudes to investing among young women.

The more mature female investors featured in Portfolio Clinic have included Anne, aged 66. She had been using an independent financial adviser to manage her individual savings account (Isa), but had decided to go it alone and do the investing herself in order to hopefully pass more money to her children. She described herself as: "Moderately adventurous and versatile with regards to investment risk."

We also featured the case of Susan aged 53 who aimed "to sort out a decent pension pot" of at least £1m over the next 12 years.

She said: "We have had Isas since the early days, but were unable to contribute much to them until I inherited a substantial amount three years ago.

"I need to grow what we've inherited aggressively. I don't mind volatility, but really need to maximise growth over the period.

"I take care of our investments because I'm detail-oriented but decisive, while my husband is good at the tax angles and can explain all the ins and outs of how some of the products work."

But let me try to answer your question - why are these cases of female investors so few and far between?

Research out this week from TD Direct Investing found that 38 per cent of the British public - over 19 million people - feel as though they don't have enough knowledge, confidence or money to invest for their future. The firm calls this the 'Naked Investor' phenomenon - and it seems to affect more women than men.

The study reveals that only 21 per cent of women currently have an investment portfolio, versus 34 per cent of men.

Sarah Pennells, founder of SavvyWoman.co.uk says: "Women I talk to are interested in investing, but many don't know where to start and are worried about 'getting it wrong'. In the past, the investment industry didn't see women as their target customer, although - thankfully - that is changing."

Lauren Peters, wealth management adviser with Helm Godfrey says: "Women are more comfortable, generally, with tangible assets, such as cash and property. But I think we are on the brink of a shift. Mortality rates tell us women will outlive men and the baby boomers, who own 80 per cent of the wealth in this country, will have to move their wealth down a generation over the next 20 years or so. Women need knowledge and women are keen, more than ever, to be involved and make money decisions."

What really are the barriers? I spoke to two female 'naked investors' this week to find out.

Lesley Day is 56 and runs a recruitment consultancy firm. She says: "Although we live in a very modern age there's still a male dominance of the industry. We're not as educated as we should be.

"I've been trying to start investing and I don't think financial products and the people in the industry are targeting women of my age - the over 45 and over 50s age groups.

"I'm not confident about talking about investment. The more you know and the fact that with all investments there is an element of risk, puts the doubt in me. With the stock market I think it's actually about working out your different levels of risk and having somebody to talk to about it."

Michelle is 32 and is an assistant manager. She says: "I would love to invest, grow my pot, but I just don't feel confident enough to do so - and I'm worried about whether what I invest in might go under. I tried investing once but I didn't have a clue what I was doing and I actually can't even remember what happened next. That scared me and I didn't go through with it in the end. The concept of investing actually has the opposite effect. Rather than enticing me, it makes me feel stupid.

"I think it's a case of too much information. The market is saturated with bad advice and with the internet offering almost too much, it becomes an overload of information. It actually puts you off investing. You feel torn by all the possibilities and don’t know where to go."

On further questioning, Michelle revealed that she invested in a pension through her employer but doesn't see it as the same risk as investing because "they make the decisions for me". Yes, an employer might select investments for the scheme and give a decent pension contribution to cushion any market falls but you're still investing and dealing with volatility. Why should it then be so hard to pick another investment?

What exactly do women really want from a female-friendly information source? Lesley and Michelle struggled to articulate this. I'll have a try. Brochures in pink? A manicure while you get your financial advice? Get a grip. Wouldn't this be insanely patronising?

Perhaps it is another female to talk to you about it? In which case there are plenty of female independent financial advisers (IFAs) out there.

Our recruitment consultant presumably makes decisions every day to do with work and her children. Investment is just another decision. It is just something essential that you have to do in life.

What's the alternative? Wait another five years with your money in the bank? Wait another 10 years? Wait for the next market crash? Wait until you die? If you want a comfortable retirement, or to reach any other financial goal, the best time to start is now. Just dip your toe in the water if you are 'nervous'. You don’t have to invest everything in one go. Accept that you're not going to get a perfect result but that your outcome is likely to be be pretty good if you have a decent time invested in the market.

 

SIMPLE WAYS TO GET STARTED

A passive fund that tracks the world's stock markets in a very broad sense is an easy way to start investing.

Legal & General International Index (GB00B2Q6HW61), at a low cost 0.13 per cent is a good option. The fund aims to provide growth by tracking the performance of the FTSE World (ex UK) Index.

You could mix this with HSBC's FTSE 250 Index fund (GB00B80QG052), an easy way to get diversified exposure to the UK market; it has an ongoing charge of just 0.18 per cent.

You could also consider an exchange-traded fund such as the iShares Core MSCI World UCITS ETF Acc (SWDA) which aims to track the performance of the MSCI World Index as closely as possible. Its charge is 0.20 per cent.

Global sector investment trusts are effectively a one-stop shop for diverse exposure to equities - and sometimes other assets.

They are also very useful for investors with small portfolios, for example those starting a stocks-and-shares individual savings account (Isa) who don't have enough money to meaningfully allocate across several regional and country funds.

Witan Investment Trust (WTAN) is a global trust that is also a member of the IC Top 100 Funds that we think would make an excellent starter investment.