Cara Peck

Cara Peck (Courtesy WISE)

COSTA MESA — Women live longer than men and will spend less time in the work place throughout their lifetime, a financial services expert said Thursday.

That message seemed to appeal to the 50 women who came to listen to "The Power of Her Money," a breakfast presentation put on by WISE, an Irvine-based nonprofit.

The catch came when speaker Cara Peck informed the audience that the majority of women lack a financial plan to carry them safely through retirement.

"The No. 1 strategy that women fall back on in retirement is to work," said Peck, an executive vice president and head of Retail Intermediary Sales for Wells Fargo's Asset Management Group.

"That's OK if you want to work, but it's not OK if you don't want to work," she added. "I'm telling you that you have a choice."

Women face unique financial situations, not only because they live longer and work fewer years than men, but also because of wage differences, their general tendency to avoid risk, and because they are less likely to have pension plans sponsored by their employers, Peck said.

To make matters worse, most women do not talk about finances — especially when they're in a male-dominated environment, she said.

"It has only been one generation that women have moved from financial dependence to financial independence, so it's not surprising that we feel uncomfortable talking about money," she said.

Her advice was that women become accountable for their financial planning, become educated and find a financial advisor they can talk to and meet with regularly. Organizations such as WISE are a good place to start, she said.

WISE, or Women Investing in Security and Education, aims to provide women of all age groups and incomes with a financial education, said founder Helen Olson.

"It develops confidence for women, just knowing that they're not alone," Olson said. "Women have questions and we respect all of them. There are no stupid questions here."

Orange county women fall into many different economic categories, but all women need to have a financial plan when they face hard situations in life, such as divorce, illness or death of a family member, Olson said.

There's never been a more important time for women to take charge of their financial plans, Peck said.

One in three women make more money than their husbands and women-owned businesses bring in $1.9 trillion in annual revenue, but 65% of women do not seek out the services of a financial advisor, Peck noted.

"Does this look like a plan to you?" Peck said, holding up two crossed fingers to the room. "This is not a plan."

For more information and to register for future events and programs, visit http://www.wise-investors.org.