This article was first published in Women’s Agenda on the 10th of December 2019.
A divorce strategist, career coach, and pay negotiator on speed dial – it’s the support squad that every Australian woman needs, and the latest initiative to support women build wealth by Verve Super, Australia’s first super fund for women.
Lisa was 39 when she and her husband separated. At the time, signing her divorce papers felt like a weight had been lifted, ”I just wanted the whole thing over, I felt exhausted, I didn’t want to argue anymore and the settlement seemed ok to me”. Yet now, more than a decade later, she’s realising that she did not get a fair deal out of the agreement.
Lisa’s story isn’t unique. It’s a story that divorce strategist Jacqueline Wharton has heard many times before. According to Wharton “one of the biggest mistakes you can make when separating from a partner is not receiving professional advice early on to think things through strategically”. Yet Wharton says, “in the early stages of separation, women often rely on the advice of friends and family. Often women just don’t know which professionals to trust”.
According to a report released recently by Verve Super, Australia’s first super fund dedicated to supporting women build long term wealth, the financial implications of divorce continue to impact most women throughout their lives.
Verve Super CEO Christina Hobbs, has spent years studying the super gap between men and women, which currently sits at 37 percent, and she considers divorce to be one of the key life events that leads to the significant differences in wealth between men and women in their later years. Divorced women in Australia have on average 70 per cent less super than married women.
According to Hobbs “the retirement savings gap is largely attributable to a few key life moments: divorce and separation; the time that women take-out of paid work to care for children; and the years it can take women to rebuild their careers when they re-enter the paid workforce”.
Hobbs adds that “in addition to these significant life events, there are also the critical ‘micro-events’ of pay-negotiations when women typically fair worse than their male peers, and these moments also have a serious cumulative effect on a woman’s capacity to build wealth over a lifetime”.
It was the realisation that women often feel poorly supported to navigate these complex and important moments in their lives, that led Verve Super to team up with Wharton and a host of other career coaches and financial mentors, to offer free one-on-one support to their members.
The initiative is labelled a wealth building ‘Support Squad’ and it will be the first of its kind for any Australian super fund. The Squad aligns squarely with Verve’s mission of supporting women to build wealth through innovative research informed approaches.
But Hobbs is at pains to remind us, that it is not the life events themselves, or women’s ability to navigate them, that is the real problem. Rather it’s that women still face significant discrimination and disadvantage in our workplaces and financial system.
“We need a fairer retirement system for women. We need policies and workplace cultures that foster pay equality and encourage a fairer distribution of paid and unpaid work between men and women,” says Hobbs. But in the meantime, Hobbs believes that “there’s a lot more that can be done to support women to navigate some of the most financially challenging and complex moments of their lives”.
Looking beyond the problem to provide real support for women
Verve Super began working on the Support Squad concept after surveying its members about the moments in life when they felt most financially exposed. The initial Squad offering includes a divorce strategist, a pay negotiation expert, a career coach, and a family-focused financial coach to support new parents.
Verve Co-Founder Alex Andrews explains that the idea was “to create a tribe of support, so that at critical moments when women can really benefit from expert advice, they can pick up the phone and have a free conversation with an independent professional”.
“A quick role play with a pay negotiator or an hour-long project management session with a divorce coach if you are thinking about divorce or separation, could have a lifelong impact for many women,” says Andrews.
Wharton agrees, “it’s wonderful that a super fund is thinking about wealth holistically and taking the financial impacts of divorce seriously. Providing free access to a professional support person is a great initiative” she says.
According to Hobbs, the Support Squad is only possible because of Verve Super’s single minded focus on supporting women.
“We’re able to offer this service, and tailor it for women because supporting women to build wealth is at the core of our mission and everything we do” she suggests.
Through the Support Squad, Verve Super is again demonstrating its ability to shake up the financial services sector to better serve women. And with the coaches and mentors already supporting women like Lisa to manage the complexities of divorce, pay negotiating and preparing financially for children, it appears that the initiative is already proving itself a success.