Merrill Research Study Finds Younger Women Investors Twice as Likely to Lead Their Families’ Financial Decision-Making Than Previous Generations

August 26, 2020 at 9:00 AM Eastern

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management today announced the results of a new study which found that younger married women surveyed, under the age of 45, are twice as likely as older married women to be financial decision-makers in their family (63% vs. 37%). The research also found that, throughout the industry, women surveyed feel overwhelmingly positive about their financial advisor relationships, reporting higher levels of satisfaction and that they’re more likely to recommend their advisor than men.

Published today, “Seeing the Unseen: The Role Gender Plays in Wealth Management,” the report takes a multidimensional approach to examine investors’ experiences with financial advisors from across the industry, including the ways in which they anticipate, encounter and manage stereotypes. The research was comprised of four separate studies, leveraging interviews and live simulations, and employed groundbreaking technology, such as eye tracking and heat mapping, as well as lexical and ethnographic analysis. The research found that gender-based biases toward investors persist throughout the industry, and that as younger women take more control of their and their families’ financial lives, they are less tolerant of these biases and demand more.

“The time for wealth management to catch up to and fully address the financial experiences of women is overdue,” said Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “This research is an important step in our ongoing efforts to advance the financial and economic empowerment of women investors. By shining a new light on the stereotypes that still exist, we hope these insights will help the industry at large take a more informed approach to confronting them, and to best serving women throughout their financial lives.”

Key findings include:

  • Overall, women feel positive about their financial advisors. Seventy percent of women surveyed reported they were likely to recommend their advisor, compared to 65% of men.
  • Younger women are changing the industry. Relative to women age 55 and older, younger women are:
    • 4.5 times more likely to consider themselves knowledgeable about financial products and services.
    • Nearly 60% more likely to feel comfortable discussing financial topics.
    • More likely to manage their own finances (55% vs. 75%).
    • Three times more comfortable making financial decisions on their own.
  • Gender biases remain. Nearly one in ten women investors (8% of women and 3% of men) reported they’ve had a negative experience with an advisor based on a gender stereotype. Based on observations made during live simulations between advisors and investors, both men and women advisors committed miscues, including assuming that:
    • The man is the financial decision-maker in a relationship.
    • Women are more risk-averse.
    • A couple’s finances were merged and jointly invested.

    Additionally, eye tracking analysis found advisors focused over 60% of their time on the man when meeting with a heterosexual couple. Women investors meeting alone with an advisor instead of together with their spouse encountered fewer miscues, regardless of the advisor’s gender.

  • Consequences of stereotyping and miscues. After experiencing a negative stereotype, 18% of men confronted their advisor or filed a complaint, compared to 12% of women. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to switch advisors following such an experience (35% of women versus 30% of men).

“We’re listening to women investors and taking action on their feedback and experiences, and hope the rest of the industry also finds this research valuable,” said Kirstin Hill, chief operating officer at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “Later this year, we’ll be publishing additional research on the diverse perspectives of the Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino and LGBT+ communities. In addition to informing future advisor training, we’ll apply learnings from this body of work to several client-facing processes and procedures.”

For more than a decade, Merrill has been researching and surveying women investors to understand their financial journeys and how to best serve them. Last year, more than 20,000 Merrill employees across the country participated in inclusion training sessions with a focus on understanding unconscious bias and cultivating inclusive environments. As part of an ongoing commitment, the firm will deliver training informed by this latest research to all new advisors joining the firm, along with additional training to existing advisors. In addition, we are removing the “primary” designation from joint account enrollment in recognition of the equally important role both partners play in a financial relationship.

“Seeing the Unseen: The Role Gender Plays in Wealth Management” Methodology

Merrill hired Escalent to conduct four separate studies on women’s investing behaviors, combining insights about the intuitive and instinctive part of our brains and the rational, deliberative part of our thought process to measure stereotypes. Methods include one-on-one interviews, in-person interviews and focus groups; a quantitative survey of more than 4,000 investors who currently work with a financial advisor; and live ethnographic simulations, which employed eye tracking and lexical analysis. The investor and advisor participants are intended to be a national representation of the financial industry.


Merrill, which is part of Bank of America Corporation, includes Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Merrill Private Wealth Management and is a leading provider of comprehensive wealth management and investment services. Merrill specializes in goals-based wealth management, including planning for retirement, education, legacy, and other life goals. Merrill Private Wealth Management serves the unique needs of wealthy individuals, families and their businesses through 200 highly specialized private wealth advisor teams, along with specialists in areas such as investment management, concentrated stock management and intergenerational wealth transfer strategies. Merrill is one of the largest wealth management businesses in the world, with approximately $2.45 trillion in client balances as of June 30, 2020. Client balances consists of the following assets of clients held in their Merrill accounts, including assets under management (AUM) of Merrill entities, client brokerage assets, and assets in custody of Merrill entities, as well as loan balances and deposits of Merrill clients held at Bank of America, N.A. and affiliated banks.

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