Tracie Howard taught herself online trading. Howard, a former director of sales for American Express, started from scratch with zero knowledge of the stock market. “Trading used to seem like an exclusive boys’ club,” says the Hoboken, New Jersey, resident. But with the glut of information newly available
on the Web leveling the playing field, she has started the trek toward financial independence.
“I always had money in my 401(k), but that felt remote,” says Howard, an unmarried writer who has a three-book deal with Penguin Books, the first of which is Revenge Is Best Served Cold (co-written with Danita Carter). So she pulled her money out of the plan, and-along with some funds from an investment property in Atlanta that she recently sold at a significant profit-became an active trader. At 38, she has finally developed a “personal relationship” with her money. “I feel so much more independent than in the past, and more unafraid of getting into financial information.”
More and more women are on the same track as Howard, and the progress has been steady. According to OppenheimerFunds, women earn $1 trillion annually, and the National Association of Securities Dealers reports that 47% of all investors in the U.S. are female. Sixty-seven percent of the members of the National Association of Investors Corp. are women, and 54% of its investment clubs are women-only. The average individual member’s portfolio is valued at $243,666, and the lifetime annual earnings rate of female clubs is 32.1% for 1999 (up from 17.9% for 1997). That’s an almost 9% advantage over male clubs’ earnings, which gained 23.2% in 1999. In fact, statistic after statistic heralds the fact that women are taking the financial driver’s seat (see “Battle of the Sexes”).
But it’s also been a slow road to financial independence, with more work to do. According to an Oppenheimer survey, although women now wield formidable earning power, they still earn 75% of the dollars earned by men, and of the elderly poor, 75% are female. Many women are still unfamiliar with even basic investing principles (45% of those surveyed didn’t know the meaning of dollar-cost averaging). And women remain less prepared for their financial futures than men-even though they will outlive them by an average of seven years-because they not only start to save later, they also save less.
African American women have to navigate an even greater divide. Only 48% of black women surveyed by the Employee Benefits Research Institute of Washington, D.C., have saved for retirement vs. 70% of all women surveyed. The 1999 Ariel-Schwab Black Investor Survey reports that in every category of investment product-including IRAs, mutual funds and brokerage, and money market accounts-black women were last in terms of owner-ship. When asked about their top reasons for not investing in the stock market, female respondents to black enterprise’s Financial Survey cited feeling that they don’t have adequate funds to invest (59.2%); fear of losing money (25.4%); and lack of access to financial advisors (16.9%).
GETTING PAST THE HURDLES
What prevents women from developing that