Reaching women: Whether millennials or boomers, they need boost in financial skills, Citizens has found

Not every woman shares Maggie Wall’s story of emigrating from far-away Lebanon. But many do share in the experience that she partly attributes to that background: Being later than she’d have preferred to learning lifelong financial skills.

She’s now well-versed in finances in the way you’d expect from someone with daily exposure to the banking sector, which she gets as head of diverse markets for consumer wealth at Citizens.

She wants to pay it forward; she’s getting the chance to.

One of the ways that’s happening is Citizens becoming the first bank participating in the growth of a tech-enabled financial advice platform designed to aid in financial goal-setting and money management. The team at Wellthi and its CEO, Fonta Gilliam, have envisioned a social media-like software that overcomes some of the disconnect between banks and certain customers, particularly young professional women.

Wall said these women might be as likely to seek financial advice from Instagram as they are to find it from financial institutions. More concerning is the fact that some haven’t felt empowered to take the lead in their financial lives at all, she said.

In fact, nearly all women reported that they expect they’ll be personally responsible for their finances at some point of their lives in a Bank of America study released last year, but only about a quarter felt empowered to act.

“And, for those who don’t, and maybe haven’t been part of those conversations in the past, we want to be part of sending the invitation,” she added. “But, having to learn a new skill, especially one this important, can scare the heck out of you. So, we saw an opportunity to help women who don’t feel confident through (Wellthi’s platform).”

Although millennial women are taking on a larger share by the day of the consumer economy, Wall said she believes it’s also important in the current moment to ensure baby boomer women have the financial skills they need.

The coming years are expected to represent what economists have dubbed the “greatest wealth transfer in history,” with one of history’s wealthiest generations preparing to pass down a record-breaking amount of assets to their surviving spouses or other heirs.

“The fact is, with an aging population, men are — on average when you take a look at stats out there — the first to pass,” Wall said. “That’s usually in the timeframe of three to five years in advance of women.”

Citizens’ financial advisers assist New Jersey women planning for the next phase of their lives through a new wealth management training program. What Wall said they’ve often encountered is some anxiety about what they’re supposed to be doing financially after a crisis such as the passing of a loved one.

“What we hear from women over 40 generally is that they often feel they should’ve been more involved, should’ve leaned in instead of taking a back seat,” she said. “They’re trying to make up for it now.”

In an effort to help as many women in the region that need help with that as possible, Wall said her bank is committed to helping a wide-reaching app such as Wellthi grow. Their pilot program with that software has already added more than 3,000 users with a reported 45% engagement rate.

“This is something we’re certainly hoping to see used more in the future,” she said. “And I think it will absolutely help whatever the next stage of someone’s financial journey is going to be.”