Top Swedish Banker Takes Aim at Wealth Gap Between the Sexes

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(Bloomberg) — The chief executive of Sweden’s biggest bank wants to retrain financial advisers to help female clients catch up to their male counterparts in accumulating wealth.

© Photographer: JANERIK HENRIKSSON/AFP Svenska Handelsbanken’s CEO Carina Akerstrom presents the company’s third quarter results during a press conference at the company’s headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 23, 2019.

Carina Akerstrom, the CEO of Svenska Handelsbanken AB, says the goal is to go over the investment habits that women often have and that tend, on average, to lead to smaller savings when they retire.

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In general, evidence suggests that “women like interest-rate” products, while “men like stocks better,” Akerstrom said in an interview. She also notes that women are more likely to do what their advisers recommend than men are.

The upshot is that women have fallen financially behind. In Sweden, female savers have almost 30% less in retirement income than men, according to a March report by the OECD. That puts Sweden slightly behind the average gap in the rich world, which the OECD estimates is 26%.

Part of the reason is that, even in egalitarian Sweden, women still do more childcare and other household chores than men, which leaves them less time to make money. The Swedish Institute estimates that women in the country make about 10% less than men each month.

The smaller income that women generally start off with then appears to be invested more conservatively. The Swedish Investment Fund Association says women tend to be less comfortable taking on risk, and more concerned about parameters like sustainability. Their male counterparts, meanwhile, are more likely to look at things like fees.

The findings coincide with a growing awareness of the so-called shecession — a recession that’s hit women harder than men. According to the European Commission, not a single country is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. In a November report, the commission estimated that the rate of joblessness among women due to the pandemic was 1.8 times higher than among men, resulting in a 9.1% spike in the female poverty rate.

Akerstrom says she doesn’t want women to be forced to accept riskier investment strategies to catch up to men. “But you can definitely balance your investments better if you get better advice,” she said.

Financial advisers at Handelsbanken will in future be expected to take all these dynamics into account, with the clear goal of narrowing the savings gap between the sexes.

An “important education” for savers is explaining the benefits of a balanced portfolio, Akerstrom said. That is something “we have to do together with all our advisers in the bank.”

(Adds reference to the Shecession)

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