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Our Voices

Wealth Planning for the Not Wealthy

Collage of blue/green background with money floating around and black and white head/shoulder photo of a woman with blonde hair mid length. wearing glasses.
CEO and co-founder, Kristine Beese, Untangle Money | Photo Supplied

Women don’t make as much money as men. Full stop.

That’s true in a very short-term, dollars-to-donuts way– in Canada, as of 2021, a woman makes 89 cents for every one dollar a man makes. In real world terms, this means that if a man has to work 1,000 hours to make enough money to pay for something–a car, a piece of clothing, rent–a woman has to work 1,110 hours to purchase the same item, an amount that comes out to an extra 2.75 40 hour work weeks. 

The matter only compounds when you account for other intersections: as a racialized woman makes approximately 59 percent of what a white man makes, only 16 percent of women with a disability report being paid fairly compared to their peers and trans women make, on average, one-third less after transition than they did prior. 

The larger problem however, is that the buck, as they say, doesn’t stop there–these upfront short falls, along with social expectations and responsibilities around motherhood, caretaking and the culture of wealth and investing itself all conspire to create a situation where women not only earn less on the dollar than their male counterparts, they take longer to catch up and longer to accrue wealth, and are less likely to take “aggressive” investment options to maximize returns,  says says Kristine Beese, founder and CEO of Untangle Money. 

All this, says Beese, not only contributes to the wealth gap between men and women, but can have big impacts on women–who tend to outlive their male partners by a significant margin–on their quality of life and financial stability when it comes time to retire. 

Untangle Money, Beese says, strives to correct for this imbalance by creating “financial plans specifically designed for women and their lived experiences.” 

Cool–so what does that actually mean

Beese, who got her start in more classical financial management working for Bay Street firms in wealth management and investing, says it means looking at the actual culture of financial planning, which isn’t geared towards real, everyday women, but to wealthy, largely white and cis, men–the exact demographic that makes that 11 percent more on the dollar, and makes it earlier on, for longer, than women. You can’t take that tool, she says, and just try to slam women–especially women of colour, or women with disabilities, or working class women–into it and expect it to work for them. 

“The first step is to define your financial goals–but you have to remember that a traditional financial plan is geared towards people who already have money,” Beese says. “When you have money, it’s great to define what goals you have for yourself…but when we start with clients and they define their goals, they (say) things like ‘well, I’d like to have a car, I’d like to go back to school,’ things like property, education–things which, for the middle class, are actually very (financially) tight.” 

When you look at these goals and the income of the average woman and put it into the usual investment and financial planning strategies, it often looks like they not only can’t afford to meet these goals, they “can’t afford to retire,” says Beese. “I think that really shows what happens when you inadvertently take a tool that was designed for really wealthy people and try to apply it to the average person,” she says. 

Instead, Beese asks clients to create realistic portraits of their “now money” and set expectations around that. 

“So, we (Untangle Money) says ‘okay, here’s what you’ve told us about your money, here’s where we envision you’re going to be able to go with that, and here are the drivers that go into that picture–and so we’re trying to get your money to work harder to you,” she says. 

One facet of this is understanding that women have consumer needs and spending that men don’t have, and pay more for basic consumer goods–women’s clothes, for example, cost an average of 8 percent more than men’s clothes, and toiletries like deodorant or razors cost an average of 13 percent more, even when they’re chemically and practically the same product. This is important to think about, because that markup had to be adjusted to account for the lower earning power women have in the first place–that dress shirt that costs 108% instead of $100 was already 11 per cent more expensive for a woman even we account for gender-based inflation, because is only making 89 cents on the dollar in the first place. 

Moreover, “women’s spending is often seen as frivolous,” Beese says; both scotch and manicures–for which Beese herself has been “lambasted for getting” in the past– are consumer goods with social cache, but while scotch is seen as serious purchases, manicures are seen as silly. There are also social ramifications, Beese notes, for not being able to engage in certain kind of spending for women–’attractive’ people make between 10 and 15 percent more than people perceived to be ‘unattractive’ in the same position. While this is true for both men and women, to meet this standard, women have to put in more time–and spend more money–in order to avoid the ‘beauty gap’ standard, which makes these purchases, to a point, personal investments, as opposed to consumer luxuries. 

“There’s nothing more discerning about getting your nails done than buying a fancy bottle of scotch,” Beese says. 

“One can actually (see nails) as an investment, but when I talk to a financial advisor, they see that as a discretionary spend.”

This is more true of some industries, such as customer service or sales, than in others, adding that, for example, when she was a server she actually had a contract that said she was required to meet a certain standard of grooming in order to keep her job. This is especially true for racialized women, who–in some unfair, racist, and biased workplaces–are often expected to meet a white-centric “standard” of beauty around their hair for example, which has additional social, economic and temporal costs. 

“When we talk to black women, for instance, and they talk about all their hair maintenance, that is not discretionary (spending),” says Beese. “And so (Untangle Money) includes recurring hair maintenance as part of the cost of living that you incur (in your financial plan).”

Lower earning power and higher costs of living aside, women have another big problem when it comes to their financial and retirement goals, which is the culture of investment and finance itself. Women, says Beese, are culturally perceived to be less successful with money and investment than men–but we aren’t talking about anecdotal evidence, we’re talking about numbers, and the numbers say that not only is that not true, but that women are, overall, better with their money than men in the long terms, says Beese. In fact, when men and women invest at a similar level of risk, women’s investment portfolios outperform men’s by 1 percent; essentially, at a certain risk level, if a stock is expected to give a 4 percent return on investment in a man’s portfolio, women are seeing 5 percent–which is a bigger deal than it sounds, because that 1 percent return is compounded annually. 

What does that mean, in real world terms? Imagine you have 100 cows and your friend has 100 cows. After selling calves to meet your costs, you have four cows extra in your herd to start off next year, but your friend has five cows–a four and five percent increase for each of you, respectively. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but after five years you have 117 cows and your friend has 121; after 10 years, you have 142 cows, and your friend has 156. 

This one percent overperformance is so significant that, for a professional investor like Beese, it would be “career defining.” 

“If we consistently outperform the market by one percent, that makes you an incredible investor,” she says. 

Women, however, tend to be attracted to–and steered towards–lower risk, lower reward investment strategies, says Beese. On the surface, this seems like a safer bet–and one which might offer a cash-first safety net, even if it comes at the cost of paying off interest heavy debt–but have long term repercussions, especially when you consider that women make less, start generating investable wealth much later, and will live longer than their male counterparts. Part of what Untangle money does, Beese says, is take these things into account and give women all the information they need, including options that might look riskier up front, but have higher payoffs to help generate the cash needed to close that gender pay gap and shore up funds for the future–investment strategies women may have been taught to consider to “aggressive” for their own portfolios, but which men are encouraged to make. 

Upfront, women-focused financial planning aside, Untangle Money has a social, as well as economic focus, says Beese. For one thing, the company only creates financial plans – it doesn’t sell you any stocks or other investments, because that creates situations Beese feels can lead to “conflicts of interest.” For another, the company–acknowledging that their primary clientele is middle to upper middle class women at the moment–has several tiers of access in order to try to make their services more widely available to a broader set of income brackets, although only one of them is up and running at this time. 

Untangle Mini ($500+HST), the entry level program currently available, offers the “basics” for middle-class women looking to take control of their finances, plan for the future and get grounded in the basics of investing. Untangle Maxi ($2,500+HST) is a more advanced program with greater focus on investing and long term planning; it’s not currently available, but should be ready for purchase soon. Untangle Auto is an app that will provide all the same tools as Mini and Maxi, but with more capacity for the user to proceed at their own pace, checking in annually to observe their progress and set up notifications to make sure they are meeting their goals. 

Beese says she hopes to have Untangle Auto up and available by next International Women’s Day. At $50, the app is geared to a more lower-middle or working class bracket–the group of women Beese says she most wants to reach and help take control of their finances. Beese says she recognizes that the Maxi and Mini programs aren’t really useful to these groups, because in order to invest money, you need to have money to invest, and the Auto program is designed to make that easier and more realistic for a broader set of women. 

“Our goal is to get a financial plan into the hands of every woman in the world,” says Beese. 

Publishers Note:  Untangle Money participated in the Fifth Wave  Initiative, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media and commerce sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to a minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse level

Related Reading


Group think was the real cause of the 2008 financial crash. “As someone who had a front-row seat,” she explains, “there were no evil geniuses pulling the strings.” Just guys who all look and think alike, and as a result, “didn’t see it coming.”–Sallie Krawcheck

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Activism & Action Our Voices



(Illustration: Arts and Business Council of Philidelphia)

Feminists are never born. They are forged in the fire of experience. Sallie Krawcheck’s story, as told to an audience of 370+ mostly women business leaders at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto on Jan. 12, is a case in point.

Sallie Krawcheck, now 51, a celebrity ex-Wall Street CEO-turned entrepreneur, led a charmed life growing up. Her father was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. She was a homecoming Queen, cheerleader, track star and member of Tri-Delta Sorority; she received a full scholarship to complete her undergrad in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned an MBA from Columbia Business School. Both parents raised her to believe she could do and be anything if she worked hard. She believed them.

And for awhile it seemed true. But once in the workforce in her 20s, reality hit. Having the “balls” to endure sexism was still part of the job-not of part the past. Krawcheck recounts how photocopies of penises were left on her desk each morning (apparently just for laughs). Years later, having built a stellar reputation on Wall Street as a gifted analyst with legendary work quality, integrity, and ethics, Krawcheck was fired twice, both times from high-profile public roles. And she is pretty direct these days about why: She was fired because she was a woman, or more accurately, because she brought a woman’s perspective to the CEO suite.

Up until then, she had not considered herself a feminist.

“In fact, if you had asked me four or five years ago, based on the business books coming [out] about women, [I thought] we were on our way! We were going to have a woman President in the White House! Well, that didn’t happen. Today, we have a misogynist in the White House.”

Today, Krawcheck believes that progress for women has stalled, and in some areas, even been rolled back. She questions whether having women on corporate boards will make a difference—if those women also think like the men around them. She is convinced a new approach is needed to advance women’s equality to the next level.

What is Krawcheck’s “New” Approach?

In her new book, Own It: The Power of Women At Work, Krawcheck starts with the idea that women need to stop pretending to be men.

In Krawcheck’s view, the old practice of acting and thinking like a man to get ahead and stay on top has only served to perpetuate pervasive and often noxious “white-men group think”, which, in her view, was the real cause of the 2008 financial crash. “As someone who had a front-row seat,” she explains, “there were no evil geniuses pulling the strings.” Just guys who all look and think alike, and as a result, “didn’t see it coming.”

For Krawcheck, the antidote to this kind of destructive group think is diversity. Yet, the reason even companies that embrace diversity policies fall short of promised potential is that corporate leaders “count” diversity versus truly “listening”, rarely reward or are truly open to diverse points of view. Krawcheck believes women also hide or hold back their differences, and in so doing, actually undermine the potential diversity might deliver. For diversity to work, someone actually has to say something, out loud, that challenges the status quo or calls out questionable behaviour. And that, Krawcheck says, doesn’t happen often enough.

Feminist anti-essentialists would take issue with Krawcheck’s view that women are intrinsically different from men, but she holds that we need to learn to leverage the “six things we naturally have going for us.” These include: relationship skills, love of learning, proclivity to think about the long term, being more risk-aware, better at managing complexity, plus giving weight to meaning and purpose when making career and money decisions. Krawcheck says we don’t need more empowerment. We HAVE power. We just need to believe in its legitimacy, potency, and use it.

She also says women need to initiate the “courageous conversations” required to foster real change. As for fear of reprisal, Krawcheck reminds us that women have more options than ever before to take their talent elsewhere—and perhaps even become a freelancer or entrepreneur (though I am sure that with time, she will soon learn that these options are not gender barrier free either, nor do they necessarily result in better personal financial outcomes).

Finally, Krawcheck suggests women need to get control of their finances, learn to invest what they’ve earned and may soon inherit, and leverage their growing financial clout to create change. Money, after all, still talks.

Krawcheck’s Feminism

While Krawcheck rejected feminism in her earlier years, today, she fervidly brandishes the term around as part of her personal and new enterprise’s brand ethos. She talks proudly about how her son calls himself a feminist, and she has named 2017 as the year of the financial feminist. She interviewed Gloria Steinem (and noted in her talk that Steinem still has Macrame on her walls). Meeting rooms at Ellevest, the digital advising company for women she co-founded last year, are named after women feminist leaders (G for Gloria Steinem and A for Alice Walker).

Her earlier book, Mind the Gender Gap, is an excellent financial management resource that identifies where women are paying more due to gender, and what to do about it.

However, on the question of how to drive much-needed systems (political, economic, social and cultural) change, Krawcheck seems less sure of herself, her answer toned by an air of resignation.

“Well, we have to take control of what we can take control of,” she said in response to a question from the audience. “I think we have to work on the big stuff (like a parental leave in the U.S.), but we can only go so far.” She adds that we should elect more women, mentor women leaders, and write more often to elected representatives.

But let’s be honest. We all know from decades of doing these things that these approaches haven’t moved the needle as far, or as permanently, as we would have liked. We also know that any progress made can be summarily flattened by one single election or world event.

That is why feminism is not just about dealing with surface issues like corporate glass ceilings, or “living the life one chooses”. Fundamentally, it is about building better economic, social and political systems which as a result of enlightened design, inherently ensures equal political, social and economic power between the sexes, regardless of race, creed, colour or religion, for the benefit of all people and ultimately, the planet.

Will “Owning It” and Using Financial Power Bring on Equality?

Krawcheck’s own story shows she “owned it”, and had financial power. But that didn’t stop the men in charge from silencing her. So the answer is: Not likely.

Notwithstanding, Krawcheck’s advice for women to present authentically is refreshingly different from most of the women’s advice books out there. And it certainly is a break from the type of advice hocked by other female role models in positions of power such as real estate mogul and Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran, who says women should “hike up their skirts” to get ahead, or uninformed dismissal of feminism by women like Canadian celebrity entrepreneur Arlene Dickenson.

I also welcome Krawcheck’s efforts to help women recognize and use their financial power to create social change. And I am encouraged to see a wealthy, privileged, influential women like Krawcheck get ”woke” by reality and, as a consequence, re-engage with feminism. Feminism needs women from all walks of life and points of view to get on board with the movement—especially now.

That said, Krawcheck and others like her also need to remember that feminism is a long-standing, diverse and international movement (in existence since the 1600s) comprised of thousands of small grassroots organizations working for equality with scarce resources.  I hope her philanthropy is well aligned with her new feminist identity

Also, there is no such thing as one feminism, nor a dispassionate feminist. Thus, choosing low cost, high volume strategy for a “women’s centric” product-based enterprise that also aims for outsized investor returns while flying a feminist flag is risky. It reduces the addressable market. Polls (there are many, all similar conclusions) indicate that only somewhere between 18-23% of women openly identify as feminist.

And then there is the wide open ‘net. White male CEOs in secluded 40th-floor corner offices are one thing; radicalized internet trolls, male and female, who are everywhere, and know where you live, are quite another. The persistence, tactics (e.g.: calling for boycotts, generating negative publicity, hashtag campaigns) and recent growth of the women’s anti-feminist movement and men’s rights activism (MRA) movement is also worrisome. Krawcheck’s profile and feminism will likely draw their attention.

Andi Zeisler, author of We Were Feminists Once, wrote “The problem is – the problem has always been – that feminism is not fun. It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s complex and hard, and it pisses people off. It’s serious because it is about people demanding that their humanity be recognized as valuable.”

By mixing business with feminism, I hope Krawcheck, her board of directors and investors know they are in for an interesting ride. Building a business is one thing, but learning how to constructively deal with activism and gender politics is quite another.

As Gloria Steinem said, “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke . . . She will need her sisterhood.”

Related Readings: 

The F-Word and Why We Need to Get On With Embracing Equality” by Valerie Hussey

A Conversation with “We Were Feminists Once” Author Andi Zeisler” by Margaret Webb

Meaning is the New Money“, by Vicki Saunders, Founder, She-EO