March 7, 2016 – March is Women’s History Month! WISER is commemorating the occasion by reflecting on the role women have played, currently play, and will play in the world of savings and investment.
Today, women fill the ranks of the banks and other financial companies that manage our investment portfolios and savings—the things that make retirement possible. They work on the floor of the stock exchange, they are certified financial planners—they’re present at just about every level of the money machine that allows the money you save to grow and help you reach your long-term financial goals. Just like in any industry, that diversity makes the financial industry more resilient, creative and forward thinking.
Of course, there’s still room for improvement. Women are still underrepresented in leadership positions and all of the top banks are currently run by men. Yet women have made incredible progress, and during Women’s History Month, it is worth reflecting back on how very far we have come.
Despite the fact that they were unwelcome by most during their time, a number of women were able to break into the world of finance. Here are three of those trailblazers, and the lessons they can teach us today:
Abigail Adams is most often remembered as the wife to her husband, John Adams, who was the first vice president of the United States and the second president, and the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the U.S. The loving marriage between Abigail and John- a match of two intellectuals- is well documented by the many letters the two sent back and forth. However, there was one topic that caused contention between the two of them (something that might sound familiar to anyone who is married)—money. While John was away on state business, he put Abigail in charge of the family’s money affairs. He instructed her to invest exclusively in land, but she realized that U.S. government bonds would be a better return on investment. Although the couple’s money was legally his under the laws of the time, she was able to put some aside and invest with the help of an uncle, who acted as a trustee. Her personal investments quickly began to accrue more interest than her husband’s suggested ones.
Abigail is a role model for anyone who feels like their voice isn’t being heard when it comes to managing the family’s financial decisions. Although her husband was insistent about investing in land, her idea of investing in government bonds ended up being the better idea. She teaches us that putting all of your faith in your partner to make the right financial decisions is not always a smart idea. Do your research, get involved and make financial choices as a couple.
Hetty Green was born in 1834 to a wealthy family. By the age of six, Hetty was reading financial papers to her father aloud, and by age 13, she was the family bookkeeper. As she got older, Hetty’s interest in finances grew, and she is well-remembered for turning her moderate family fortune into a huge fortune that made her the richest women alive at the time. At its height, her net worth was estimated between $100 and $200 million- the equivalent of $2 to $4 billion today. Gossips at the time referred to her as the “Witch of Wall Street” and the Guinness Book of World Records even named her the “World’s Greatest Miser” for her extreme penchant towards saving;one rumor says she spent half an evening searching her carriage for a lost two-cent stamp. However, as one obituary of her pointed out, the characteristics that many criticized her for would have been considered commonplace in a man.
Hetty’s attitude towards investing and saving that she credits with helping her amass her huge fortune is still valid today. She made a rule of investing conservatively and always having enough money in cash reserves to last through any market tumult.
Muriel Siebert, better known as Mickey, is famous for being the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1967, she founded her own brokerage firm, Muriel Siebert & Co. Inc., and that same, year, she sought to purchase a seat on the NYSE. Doing so requires sponsorship from two current seat holders, and the first nine men she asked turned her down. Eventually, she was able to land the seat, and in 1977, Mickey was appointed as the first female Superintendent of Banks for New York State. During her tenure, she oversaw assets of $500 billion, and not a single bank failed.
When Mickey purchased a seat on the Stock Exchange in 1967, she was the only woman out of 1,365 men. It took another ten years for another woman to join her. Even if you feel like a fish out of water while navigating finances and retirement saving, persevere!
Just like Abigail Adams, Hetty Green and Muriel Siebert, you can make your own financial history—and there’s no better time than Women’s History Month to do it. A great way to start is by visiting WISERwomen.org to learn more about saving, investing and retirement planning.