Growing up in the United States, I got very little finance education from my parents and far less from school. I was told credit was bad and saving was important, but that was about the extent of what I learned.
When I speak to my peers who grew up in Australia, the story sounds similar.
Their investment knowledge and retirement preparation is made up of the limited superannuation information provided by first-time employers. And unless they go out of their way to do something about it, many of them remain in the dark.
While young people – and women in particular – have a responsibility to increase their financial literacy, it’s not always that easy.
Resources are limited and often difficult to understand. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, making it hard to determine what advice to take.
That’s where these three women in finance come in.
Each has a different role within the finance sector, but they are all working towards the ultimate goal of helping women manage their money, earn what they deserve, and establish financial security.
Molly Benjamin: finance speaker and entrepreneur
Molly Benjamin is a speaker, entrepreneur and the founder of Ladies Finance Club, a series of events, online workshops, and courses devoted to helping women take control of their finances.
Like many women, Benjamin stumbled into the world of finance by chance.
Her background was in events and marketing which eventually landed her a role at a global bank in the UK. While there, Benjamin realised both she and the women around her knew little about finance, despite the work environment.
“I knew we needed to start educating ourselves, but the books were boring, the men were patronising; it was all very male, pale and stale,” Benjamin said.
She saw an unfilled niche, so she began hosting events out of her living room as a way to educate herself, and provide others with a fun and relevant approach to financial guidance.
“There’s all this information out there but it has a very high barrier to entry. There’s a lot of jargon that people aren’t familiar with and it can be a bit intimidating,” she said.
“So, we’d get awesome women to break it down for us, explain the importance of investing, and how to take control of your finances.”
Initially, these events were a side hustle while Benjamin maintained her day job, but she quickly outgrew her living room and eventually went full time with Ladies Finance Club. However, the transition wasn’t easy.
“I had the token morning nausea,” she said. “I think it’s really hard to step away from a full-time pay cheque.”
Her advice, for others inspired to go out on their own, is to start slow and proceed with caution before going all-in.
She notes that the same goes for investment.
“You don’t want to just jump into it. Before you get started investing, you want to make sure you’ve paid off any high-interest debt; get rid of any ‘buy now, pay later’ loans. Then you need to establish goals and match your investing strategy to them,” she said.
In both business and finance, Benjamin believes you should never put all your eggs in one basket.
“At the end of the day, unfortunately, women have more to lose. When we retire, we have way less control over our financial future. It’s important to spread the risk.”
Nina Hendy: business and finance journalist
Nina Hendy is a business and finance journalist and content creator. From a young age, she was set on a career in journalism – particularly as a freelancer.
Her journalism career began in media and marketing but eventually led her down the path of business and finance, which is now her speciality. She didn’t embark on this path with any sort of financial background, but she learned as she went.
“As a journalist, you can pick up and run with any subject,” Hendy said.
“People think finance is this big, scary sort of topic, but it’s important. It’s part of everybody’s life. So, I take these concepts and make them really simple to understand.”
Hendy’s role is not to educate her readers about finance, but to ask her interviewees the questions needed to inform them and break down the information into terms they understand.
“It’s a really useful way to learn,” she said.
As is common in the world of journalism, Hendy’s target audiences vary from assignment to assignment. She does not write specifically for women, but she is driven to help them establish financial literacy.
“I want to make sure women are educated on things like superannuation,” she said, noting that by the time most Australian women get to retirement, they have about 37 per cent less in superannuation than men, thanks to career breaks and raising families.
“A man is not a plan,” she said. “I think we have to take responsibility for our own career and future and retirement.”
Of course, the fact that women earn less than men on average also plays a part, which informs Hendy’s belief that women need to value and demand appropriate compensation for their work.
“I think a lot of women don’t feel worthy of making sure they’re getting paid adequately for their time and their experience,” she said.
“I do this job because I love it and it gets me out of bed every day, but I also expect to get paid well for what I do.”
Melissa Browne: finance author, speaker, business owner
Melissa Browne is an author, speaker and entrepreneur.
Up until last year, she was an accountant at a firm she’d owned for 18 years while writing books and growing a successful finance site on the side.
But at the end of 2019, Browne sold her firm, turned in her financial advice license, and pursued full-time entrepreneurship.
“I realised that with the strength of the numbers that I had and with my understanding around business, I could actually make more of a difference to small business than I ever could just doing their tax returns.”
Now, she provides value to her community through online courses, workshops, and educational resources.
“I intrinsically believe that the financial advice world is broken,” Browne said, explaining her decision to leave her accounting firm.
“It’s so hard to serve your clients properly. Doing it via education is a way that instead of fishing for them, I can teach them how to fish.”
Because she is no longer a legal financial advisor, Browne has faced restrictions in her work.
“I can’t recommend products. I can’t recommend insurance. There’s a line there that I simply can’t cross,” she said.
But what she can do is help women build their businesses, establish multiple streams of income, and educate them about concepts like risk versus reward. She informs clients about the sharemarket and passive versus active investing.
She even encourages them to leave their lives as “wage slaves”, working “stupid hours for not enough results”.
“Everything that I do has been designed to make people realise that this is actually simple if we demystify it and if we pull the layers off it and talk about it in a really clean, simple way.”
Browne said there was a brief period of doubt over whether she’d be taken seriously in the industry if she simplified the language around finance. But the importance she saw in empowering women helped her overcome that insecurity.
“I would love to see more people are getting into finance because they want to create change and because they want to transform people’s lives,” Browne said.
“I think women especially bring that perspective where they want to make a difference. So, the more women that are involved in finance, the better.”