WOMEN MAKE UP nearly half of the American work force and earn more than $1 trillion a year, yet many are stuck in the dark ages when it comes to financial planning. To combat this, newspaper business pages and investment advisors have started reaching out to the female market.
It's ironic that, while women have become a financial force in this country since the 1950s, our culture continues to discourage them from making financial decisions, says Bridget A. Macaskill, president and CEO of New York-based Oppenheimer Management Corp.
Girls learn at an early age that some "knight in shining armor" will come along to take care of them, Macaskill said at last month's Society of American Business Writers and Editors Conference on Personal Finance in Boston. The reality, however, is that women live longer than men, tend to save later in life and to save less, and are more conservative in their investing.
Oppenheimer ? a top mutual fund company which manages $38 billion ? found that while 90% of women and 85% of men don't believe investing is exclusively a man's job, only 12% of women actually make investment decisions. Such startling data prompted Oppenheimer to start its Women and Investing Program in 1992.
"The press and financial services industry have a responsibility to enlighten women on the need to organize their finances, educate them on basic investment principles and empower them to act, either individually or with the assistance of an advisor," Macaskill said.
Mary Helen Gillespie, assistant managing editor for business and finance at the Boston Herald, agreed that women must be targeted.
"The knight in shining armor is gone," she said. "He eloped with June Cleaver. They're living in a town house in Boca Raton."
But the quandary for journalists is responding to the social changes affecting women at a time when newspapers are daunted by their own problems.
"We're trying to change some rules and make some improvements in an atmosphere of shrinking newsholes, vaporous advertising and rising newsprint costs," Gillespie told SABEW members in Boston.
Because of these concerns, editors may be unwilling to give space to such niche coverage. But, Gillespie argued, reporting on women and money can be a revenue and circulation builder.
"I know we're all journalists in this room and we never cross over to the other side," she said. "But in light of the challenges we're facing, we've got to start expanding our product."
The Herald runs a financial column aimed at females that has proved popular with homemakers as well as CEOs. Financial experts are quoted, but the paper has a strict policy of "no selling," Gillespie said. "We make it clear that no one benefits from this information but the reader."
The daily also offers a call-in service twice a year, through which readers can get advice from certified financial planners. The phone bank, which is not targeted to women but has mostly female respondents, takes in about 2,000 calls a day.
Gillespie is amazed at the variety of financial problems out there. "We've seen everything from, 'I have $2 million in treasury bills; should I be in mutual funds?' to 'I'm in jail and need help paying for a lawyer,' " she said. "The range is unbelievable, but the need is there."
And a few years ago, the Herald sponsored a free forum on personal finance that attracted over 500 participants.
Gillespie thinks newspapers are smart in using such means to grab the public's attention.
"If you think you're a journalist who works for a publication, then you're probably not going to have a job in 10 years," she said. "But if you think you're a journalist who works for an information company . . . there are many different ways to distribute the information we have that people need."
By: Tony Case Newspaper business pages attempting to address the concerns of a segment of the work force that earns more than $1 trillion a year sp.