Welcome to the Money Maven's Financial Blog

Money Maven Blog by Sheryl Sutherland, Authorised Financial Adviser and Director of The Financial Strategies Group

Recommended Reading

Recommended Reading by Sheryl Sutherland: Girls Just Want to Have Fund$ - Every Women’s Guide to Financial Independence, Money, Money, Money Ain't it Funny - How to Wire your Brain for Wealth, and Smart Money - How to structure your New Zealand business or investments and pay less tax.

The Financial Strategies Group

We think for ourselves and make unique recommendations. We only recommend investments and insurances that are in the best interest of our clients.

The Financial Strategies Group

Most of us spend 40 years working to secure our financial future; the most important investment you can make is to purchase appropriate financial planning advice.

Contact us for a review of your investments and insurances.

Begin to experience the serenity that accompanies financial responsibility and integrity: email sheryl@strategies.co.nz, call 0800 64MONEY or visit our website http://www.strategies.co.nz

Monday, 19 October 2009

Who's Counting?

I am! I am counting the efforts of Hilary Clinton in advancing the cause of women; and I have to say I am full of admiration. She has met with:
• Women South Korean students
• Talked with women chicken farmers in Kenya
• Listened to excruciating stories of rape victims in Congo.
• In South Africa visited a housing project built by poor women.
• Met with women Israeli entrepreneurs
• Met Iraqi war widows
• Met Chinese Civic activists
• Mentioned women at least 450 times in public comments in her first 5 months as Secretary of State.
• Helped found Vital Voices which has trained more than 7000 emerging leaders worldwide.
• Her trips are packed with town hall meetings and visits to micro credit projects and women’s dinners.
Now here is a worthy recipient of the Nobel prize.


Recently the executive director of Unifem, the United Nations Development Fund for Women visited Australia. The director, Ines Alberdi discussed with Australian women the inertia surrounding the deteriorating level of women in senior positions. She stated that there are broadly similar problems in developed countries but in nations such as Rwanda there is still a fight to get women into higher education. In her native Spain as here and in Australia, women are well represented in academia but not many are climbing the ranks of business. Historically the path to equality was thought to be education but in Western societies where women are well educated we still don’t occupy senior roles to any great degree.

Consider these points relating to women’s roles in Japan.
One of the longest-running discrimination cases in Japan concerns six women. They were forced to work as secretaries and watch as men who joined the company at the same time with the same backgrounds went on to become managers. The case has run for 14 years.
• Shintaro Ishihara, the Governor of Tokyo, once told a women’s magazine that women who had lived beyond their ability to produce children were of no use to society.
• There are no female chief executives of Japan’s largest 225 companies listed in the Nikkei Index.
• In one case of workplace discrimination in Japan it was found that a woman would have to work for 32 years at the same company to earn the same as a man who had been there for six years if the two did exactly the same job.
• Only 9.4 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women, ranking Japan 131st in political participation out of 189 countries.
• Only 2.5 percent of professional posts in science departments across national universities were occupied by women.

Unifem should encourage companies to adopt the mandate Norwegians enjoy; organisations are required to have 40:60 per cent ratio of one gender.

As I’ve said before, if Lehman Brothers were Lehman Sisters the worst of the recent financial crisis could well have been mitigated – or even avoided.

Musings and Amusings

A branch of psychology – positive psychology has been researching happiness on our behalf. Happy people, they say, form stronger social bonds, are healthier, are more creative and effective at work and are better citizens. And no – winning lotto does not make us happier what seems to matter more than wealth is “psychosocial prosperity;” characterised by social support, public trust, safety and tolerance in a society combined with individual feelings of being competent, leaning new things and being satisfied with your job and health. So how can you attain happiness? The researchers found that subjects who mediated daily reported more experiences of loves, joy gratitude and other positive emotions. Over time the meditations reported grater self acceptance, better relationships and better health. Can’t hurt to try this.


Why do apologists for the Islamic burka claim it relates to piety and religious faith. The wearing of the burka is a reflection of political and male power. It dehumanises the wearer by isolation her from normal human interaction. She cannot see clearly and her ability to hear is muffled. She inhabits her own personal cell.

It saddens me that Muslim women don’t revisit their imprisonment at mans behest, part of the male quest to keep women ignorant and housebound. And in case you think this attitude is restricted to those far off Islam nations in the Middle East reflect on the comment made by mufti Taj Din al-Hilali in Australia recently; he excused the rape of a group of unveiled women as an attack on “uncovered meat.”

Finance and Investments

Is the recession over? Economists and pundits world-wide are pontificating – while I might add most of us are getting on with our lives.

According to Warren Buffet, the world’s most successful investor the economy has “sort of plateaued at the bottom.” The Federal Reserve Chairmen Ben Bernanke has said the recession “was very likely over.” The recent surge in the S&P500 (the American Share Market Index) of 58% is certainly impressive as has been the growth in other markets. In addition to this consumer confidence is up, indicating consumers are spending again – and like it or not spending is the pump which primes economic growth; production then increases, profit comes back and investment returns.

There are still signs of doom and gloom the economy is still ailing and unemployment is still high here and offshore. Offshore banks are still very much in recovery mode but, to quote Warren Buffett again the “economy is now out of the emergency room and appears to be on the slow path to recovery. So financial Armageddon did not occur. Well the recession may be over but that is no reason to invest indiscriminately. Buying value is still the key.

Everyday Money

You and I both know that it is easy to make mistakes – we learn from them and some of them are expensive – toy boys for example! But, if you are planning on being financially secure there are some money mistakes you cannot afford to make.

1.) Paying the minimum on credit card balances. I’ve calculated it would take 19 years to pay off a balance of $3,300.00 at 17% annual interest rate. Pay those cards monthly.

2.) Not developing a budget. A budget is a financial road map that lets you see what's coming in and going out. They say women can’t read maps – we can! So take a deep breath and do it. The goal is to live below your income – if you aren’t, look for areas to cut back (sorry) like dining out or buying clothes. The best budget allows for savings and investments.
3.) Not having a superannuation plan. Everyone needs one; don’t be Scarlett O’Hara (I’ll think about that tomorrow) or Cinderella (My prince will come).

4.) When you do invest don’t only utilise a savings account – if your time frame is 5 years or more there are better alternatives for growth – especially now at sale time!

5.) Don’t pay full price for goods like clothing, travel or cars – pre-owned and pre-loved gives better value for money – buy at sale time!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Who's Counting

We like odds of 50 per cent more than probabilities of 25 per cent or 75 per cent. This is why we buy lotto tickets.

What are the odds of dying in a plane crash compared to dying on the roads? Twice as many people die on the roads during a year than the total of those who have died in air accidents. Yet we fear flying more than driving. Air fatalities evoke shock but road deaths are simply another standard news item. We are drawn to the most astonishing event regardless of its probability.

Consider the following odds:
• Being killed by terrorists while travelling: 1 in 650,000.
• Royal flush opening hand: 1 in 649,739.
• Winning anything on a Lotto Lucky Dip: 1 in 20.
• Winning Lotto Division One on a Lucky Dip: 1 in 373,838.
• Winning on one Lotto ticket bought weekly for 50 years: 1 in150.
• That you’ll keep buying and not win the jackpot after 50 years: 149 in 150 (99.33 per cent).
• Winning Powerball Division One on a Power Dip: 1 in 3,070,704.
• Winning on one Power Dip ticket purchased weekly for 50 years: 1 in 1,250 (99.92 per cent don’t win in all that time).
• Being hit by lightning during your life: 1 in 7500.
• Getting cancer sometime in your life: 1 in 9.
• Suffering an unprovoked shark attack: 1 in 6,000,000.
• Drowning in your bathtub: 1 in 685,000.
• Dying in a car crash in New Zealand: 1 in 9000.
• Dying from slipping, stumbling or tripping: 1 in 6548.
• Dying from fireworks discharge: 1 in 615,488.

Obviously the chances of winning lotto are not high, but people still persist in buying tickets.

Everyday Money

A paper presented at the Australian Social policy conference at the University of NSW found that divorce had a substantial impact on women’s incomes and almost none on men’s. But, it appears that men are not happy! Could it be that they are used to having someone doing the cooking, cleaning and organising their social life? Or could it be that they don’t want to pay child support?

The study found that divorced men’s average income after they had paid child support was A$33,356; while women’s incomes after child support was paid to them averaged A$26,512. Tellingly, the fathers reported feeling more prosperous when married...Perhaps the answer for men would be to keep the children...? Organise their own lives...?


Why is it still acceptable to subordinate women to men? Well, the religions of the world respond, because religious tenets tell us so.

In Northern Nigeria a pregnant 13 year old girl, Bariya, received 180 lashes of the cane after being pimped by her father. The State’s Attorney General who, one presumes, has a smattering of education, said “It is the law of Allah”. In Jerusalem “modesty police” terrorise women who talk to men or show ordinary parts of their body. In some parts of India women are still expected to commit suicide on their husband’s death or go to an ashram.

The Qur’an says “If you fear highhandedness from your wives, remind them (of the teachings of God), then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them.”
Muhammad actually married a prepubescent child and upon being given two slave girls, gave the ugly one to a friend and kept the beautiful one, Maryam to use sexually (this is according to the Hadith, the sayings and traditions of the Prophet).
And worshippers at a Church of England cathedral are being offered a two track communion service with a separate supply of “untainted” communion bread for those who object to its being consecrated by a woman priest.
In Malaysia a Muslim model is being whipped for drinking beer. Her conviction caused a furore in the country where Muslims are rarely punished for consuming it.

We routinely read of women being imprisoned in their homes, having their genitalia cut, being stoned for having sex or being expelled from their family to fend for themselves in a culture which precludes female emancipation.

This level of bigotry of women deserves at least as much attention as global warming, but appears to be well and truly under the radar as far as the world is concerned.

Musings and Amusings

The Tao of Pooh suggests that ideas float around the universe and pop into the nearest head on a random basis – the latest findings in neuroscience validates this theory.

It appears that our brains operate on the edge of chaos. Most of the time our brains operate in an orderly fashion, according to the New Scientist article, “Disorderly Genius: How chaos drives the brain, but every now and then lurches into a blizzard of noise.” The technical term for systems on the edge of chaos is “self organised criticality”. A growing sand pile demonstrates this perfectly. Imagine sand pouring from a large container into a pile – it grows uniformly and predictably until it hits a critical point and collapses forming a new temporarily stable state.

The brain has much in common with this behaviour. Networks of brain cells alternate between periods of calm and periods of instability. It might seem a bit precarious to have a brain that plunges into periods of instability but the article suggests that this disorder is actually essential to the brains ability to transmit information and solve problems.

So the next time you feel confused, muddled and disordered you could simply be an avalanche away from your next best idea!

Finance and Investments

So what is the key to financial success? To make wise decisions you must have the right information, and combine and weigh its various components correctly. You must not ignore valid information in favour of thinking and judgemental tendencies that are dangerous in the investment world; for example, weighting the most vivid and recent information more strongly than heeding the lessons of history. Investors must develop a mindset that helps them understand and adapt to the financial environment. Money is an emotional currency that relates to our individual need for security, power, respect, love, esteem and self-determination. If you don’t know who you are, the investment world can be the most expensive place to learn. The psychic conflict between the temptation of profit and fear of loss makes investing a dangerous game for many people.

To change our financial behaviour we must learn new skills, moulding the knowledge of behavioural finance and neuroscience. Investors must focus on imperatives such as motivation, knowledge and understanding, wisdom and discipline – the focus is not on how to pick shares, get rich in the property market or get rich quick – the focus is on the psychology of investor success.


There have been many articles and even some discussion at the Economic Summit in Davos, over whether the financial meltdown would have been so severe, or would have occurred, if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters. It’s certainly pretty clear that business culture is overwhelmingly male and fuelled by testosterone.

In Iceland, officially a bankrupt country, women are cleaning up the mess. Iceland with a population of just over 300,000, has had the Krona collapse, interest rates and inflation have soared, companies and households which have borrowed in foreign currency are overwhelmed by debt, and unemployment is at record levels, reports the Guardian. Over the last decade Iceland had adopted a new economic order reinventing itself as an Atlantic Tiger, enthusiastically adopting free market reforms and financial engineering. The crisis led to the government’s downfall, the new government is led by an elegant 66 year old lesbian Johanna Sigurdardottir.

And it is women now who are heading up banks and companies. Prominent among the forty-something women is the singer Bjork who, with two other women, has set up an investment fund to boost the economy by investing in green technology. They state they have five core feminine values:
1. Risk awareness, they don’t invest in things they don’t understand.
2. Profit with principles, that is not just economic profit, but a positive social and environmental impact.
3. Emotional capital, they do an emotional due diligence.
4. Straight talking, the language of finance should be accessible not jargon infested.
5. Independence, they want to see women become financially independent which gives women the greatest freedom to be who they are.

Exactly the values we adhere to at Women’s Financial Strategies.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Finance and Investments

I am amazed at the number of investors who are pouring money into two of the worst investments in the last 50 years; cash and bonds. If you are thinking of pulling out of the share market I beg you, reconsider.

Sure we don’t know about the markets future but this last period, and currently, is the best buying opportunity I have seen in the last 25 years. The media headlines, as usual, do not reflect this reality.

So don’t stick your money in a sock if you truly believe the end of the world is nigh you are best to use it to buy bottled water, tinned goods, seeds, fortify your home and lock the door.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Everyday Money

You may think that in these straitened times philanthropy is the first thing we should reduce or cut out as we attempt to make ends meet. But, in an article featured in Portfolio, it was demonstrated that “... people grow wealthier when they give more.” The study from the Social Capital Benchmark Survey examined philanthropic behaviours and household income plus other factors such as age, religion education and more. It found that higher income related to higher charitable donations and that “more giving doesn’t just correlate to higher income; it causes higher income.”

This sounds crazy I hear you expostulate, but giving is usually linked with other behaviours. For example, donors are usually confident in their financial situation, have some level of knowledge regarding tax and most likely have a financial plan. Secondly donors are generous people, a characteristic which others find appealing. It is likely therefore that these generous people attract higher salaries or are more successful in business.

Maybe there is a kernel of truth in that old saying; you get back what you give out.


Why don’t we spare a thought for those collectors of contemporary art who are now inhabiting a classic investment bubble. Forget about the share market, the sub prime crisis, the tottering financial system and the world economy.

A recent article by Ben Lewis claims the bubble is about to pop. He cites the example of British house prices which took six years to double at the start of this century, contemporary art managed it in one, 2006-2007. Over the same period old masters only went up 7.6% and 17th to 19th Century watercolours actually lost value. In emerging economies the growth was eye watering; China was up 983 per cent in one year, in Russia 2,365 per cent in five years, while its stock market only increased by 300 per cent.

So spare a thought for the nouveau rich who fuelled the bubble and who have seen the value of their other assets go into freefall, their art collection is due to follow.

As Lewis puts it “like the Dutch merchants and their tulips, the obsession of the new rich with contemporary art is likely to be remembered as the epitome of the vanity and folly of the age. The bulbs are still in the ground but the spades are poised.”

Musings and Amusings

Following in the footsteps of Grecian courtesans that notorious woman Catherine d’Medici introduced Italian style by wearing high heels (she was rather short). Since then women have been crippling themselves in the search for the advantage kick-arse shoes give the wearer.

Latterly nine inch heels with four inch platforms have been gracing the feet of the ultra thin models we are supposed to emulate. What is it about our shoe fetish? Many of the most seductive styles can only be worn safely when lying down; a prophetic position perhaps? Feminism surely takes a back seat where high heels are involved. I was interested therefore, to read some comments from an article by Germaine Greer on this fashion which is surely not a fad:

Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer – “One can’t help but feel powerful, beautiful when wearing them.”

Alexandra Shulman, editor, British Vogue – “Men do find them attractive – wearing heels is certainly not all about women and other women.”

Plum Sykes, novelist and fashion journalist – “It’s really only for gay men and other women.”

Camille Paglia, academic and author – “It’s a shrewd social strategy to see and be seen. But long term mutilation of a crucial body part is inevitable for the compulsive fashionista.”


There have been many studies demonstrating the earnings gap between men and women; however a recent study by the Department of Sociology at Queens College in New York showed that full time female employees in their 20s were earning more than males same age, in large cities like Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and New York. In Dallas 20% more than men, in New York 17% more.

But, and you knew there was a but, after age 30 women were no longer ahead.

The growth in women’s earnings has only occurred in the last 7 years, that the average earnings reduce after 30 is probably caused by women reducing or ceasing work to bring up families.

Still, these results augur well for our daughters since there is a definite narrowing of the gap and an increase in education for all women.

For more on women in NZ and the gender gap refer to page 3 of my latest newsletter by clicking here.

Who's Counting

I am pretty sure it was Winston Churchill who, when confronted with statistical proof growled; “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” His assertion is still pretty valid many decades later. Statistics are supposed to define what is true, false or merely anecdotal but; statistics can fool us. In fact as Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan points out, it is probably fooling governments right now.

When he talks about the limits of statistics he becomes outraged, “My outrage” he says, “is aimed at the scientist-charlatan putting society at risk using statistical methods. This is similar to the study of the doctor putting the patient at risk.” His view is that those who are putting society at risk are “no true statisticians” merely people using statistics either without understanding them, or in a self serving manner.

I fully endorse these views and exhort you, next time you are presented with ‘definitive statistics’ look very carefully and cynically at who is using them, and for what purpose. And if the mathematical or statistical analysis eludes you take comfort in the words of Einstein “Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.”

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


As the French say everything changes, everything remains the same. A recent headline in the Sunday Star Times caught my eye “DIVORCE LAW: MOTHER’S DON’T GET A FAIR DEAL.” Law Professor Mark Henaghan says that stay at home mothers left with little earning power when their marriages break up are not getting a fair deal from the courts.

As one English judge famously put it: “The cock bird can feather his nest precisely because he does not have to spend all his time sitting on it.”

Henaghan explains; “If one party goes on earning $500,000 a year and the other is on a benefit then even if you’ve got 50% of the property you’re still quite a long way behind the eight ball, in terms of economic equality.

After divorce women come off second best financially. A woman’s income drops 24% on average; a man’s drops 6%.

This is simply one of the the areas where women’s economic power is repressed. For more on this read Girls Just Want to Have Fund$.

Musings and Amusings

I am certainly amused. It appears that the myriad of studies advising women not to drink for fear of increasing the risk of getting cancer, especially breast cancer, are based on questionable research.

The leading study was one created by one Naomi Allen of Oxford University. There are, it appears, several flaws in her results.

Firstly, her study is an observational one; that is it is based on self reports about the drinking habits of women. Thus it relies on women’s recollections of their drinking habits.

Secondly the study is weakest kind and not in any way close to a randomised controlled trial. None of the reports were checked thus the study can’t verify its data is accurate.

Thirdly consider the results; cancer in non drinking subjects was 5.7%, and those women who had at least one drink a day and up to 14 drinks a week, 5.3%. The teetotallers had a higher incidence of cancer than the drinkers! Even women who had 15 or more drinks a week had a cancer incidence of 5.8%! These figures are hardly statistically significant.

I’ll raise a glass to that!


Why when talented successful women flourish are there those who are ready, to pull them down. Are they a perceived as a threat? Or is it simply envy which motivates the detractors. The term "successful woman," it seems to me embody a conundrum; success may lead to exclusion by peers; and if success is eschewed ones own personal and professional fulfilment is put at risk.

Finance and Investments

The fund promised high and unwavering annual returns, but you had to know someone to get in on it. And that was really all it took to attract credulous investments, that and the sterling reputation of the banker behind it, a financier revered in privileged circles.

“I’ve looked into it” is how one investor reassured a friend who wondered what would happened if the fund should fail. “Name up everywhere, immense resources, high connections, government influence – can’t be done.”

It’s not Bernard L. Madoff’s fund, it’s the one created – and wrecked – by Mr Merdle, the legendary London Banker who brings masses of wealthy, well-meaning people to ruin in Charles Dicken’s classic “Little Dorrit.”

The picture Dickens drew is one which has been repeated throughout history. I am guessing that you gentle reader don’t want to appear in this scenario. Here are some suggestions for you which should make you pause before you jump in.

Generally Accepted Investment Principles
1. Investors should establish an emergency fund invested in short-term safe assets and not held in retirement accounts.

2. The percentage of assets invested in stocks should decline as an investor ages. A popular rule of thumb is to subtract a person’s age from 100 and invest that percentage of total assets in stocks.

3. The percentage of assets invested in stocks should increase with wealth because wealthy individuals can generally tolerate greater risk.

4. All investors should diversify their portfolios across asset classes, and the equity portion should be well-diversified across industries and companies.

5. The optimal asset mix might differ from standard recommendations because of risk preferences.

6. Time horizon, risk tolerance, income stability and other factors influence asset allocation.

The term ‘Generally Accepted Investment Principles’ derives from the term ‘Generally Accepted Accounting Principles’ or GAAP, which refers to accounting standards or rules used in preparing financial statements.

Who’s Counting?

I am counting – but only to five. Here are five simple rules for asset allocation (The jargon for not putting all your eggs/investments in one basket).

Rule 1: If you need money in the next 12 months keep it on term deposit or in a savings account.

Rule 2: If you need money in the next 5 years put it in a safe investment like government stock or corporate bonds. If you can’t do this directly use a managed fund.

Rule 3: Any money you don’t need for the next 5+ years should be invested in the share market. Shares, on average, have returned over 10% annually from 1926 to 2007 so try not be frightened.

Rule 4: Always own shares. Over the long term equities are the best hedge against inflation.

How much should I invest in shares you say - use the following guide from William Bernstein’s The Intelligent Asset Allocator:

For example if you can tolerate losing 35% of your portfolio in the course of earning higher returns, 80% of your portfolio should be invested in stocks; 30% loss = an exposure of 70% to shares; 25% loss = an exposure of 60% to shares; 20% loss = an exposure of 50% to shares; 15% loss = an exposure of 40% to shares; 10% loss = an exposure of 30% to shares; 5% loss = an exposure of 20% to shares; 0% loss = an exposure of 10% to shares.

Rule 5: Don’t hide in a cave (even if your gut is instructing you to do so) until someone sounds the all clear on the economy – it won't happen and you’ll miss out on the profits a recovery will bring.

Everyday Money

According to economists we are all supposed to be rational about money; to see it as “fungible” a medium which we can use to exchange for any commodity we desire. Each of us has a different relationship with money, the ways we describe money are incredibly varied. We say “money talks,” but it is the way we talk about money which is most revealing.

When we talk about money we usually refer to it as dirty stuff, the root of all evil. Women don’t discuss money; cash is hard, women are soft. Women can be appalled when they have to ask for money, that’s the sort of thing prostitutes do – exchange money up front for a service to be rendered in the future. But money does count and is important to us.

Money is the stuff of life. It is the measure of all the services you enjoy. It is money that changes hands in nearly all transactions, the end result of the selling or value process. Money is your friend. It signals the worth of your abilities; money is power, marking you as a person of substance. Make peace with money by changing the language in your head.

More about this in Girls Just Want to Have Fund$ and more about our irrationality in Money, Money, Money Ain’t it Funny.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Who's Counting

1 mother + 2 kids + 0 husband = Family.
In the US in 1960, unmarried mothers accounted for about 5 percent of births, now they are almost 40%; about half are women on their own, the rest with partners. More and more women are choosing to bring up their families along or to have a child without a partner. Single parent families now make up about 40% of households. This makes the emphasis society places on the traditional nuclear family.

1 mother + 2 kids + 1 husband is an equation that could become more rarefied in the decades to come. Will the children of single parent families themselves become single parents or will they try to create the “traditional” nest they themselves didn’t have?

One good thing about statisticians they will always continue to count so the identification of trends will continue to intrigue those of us who enjoy counting – but not necessarily accounting.

Everyday Money

Many people are feeling intense anxiety over jobs and money during this period of uncertainty. If you are one of these and are struggling to cope here are some ideas to help your state of mind:

• Firstly establish what money is: it is simply a medium of exchange, it does not reflect self worth. If you cannot live in the way you have in the past, or have to downsize, it does not measure your value as a person.
• Money does not define success. If you think it does examine the messages you have received about money such as those you assimilated as a child, and reflect on your peer’s attitude to money.
• Visualise and verbalise your worst case scenario, this will reduce the fear factor – reflect on the saying “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.”
• If you need to take action write a timeline and stick to it, don’t let events overtake you. (Much more on this in Money, Money, Money Ain’t it Funny).

And a final thought; the present does not reflect the future. Markets will go up again, banks will stabilise and unemployment will reduce.

Musings and Amusings

In my last Womenomics blog I wrote about women in Zimbabwe protesting. As a cosseted woman in the Western world I can only watch the women who take action against seemingly insurmountable odds with admiration and amazement. A documentary called ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’ recounts the story of a woman in Liberia who was inspired to organise the women of her church to pray for peace during the regime of Charles Taylor; the rebels opposing him created a country where violence, death, and rape were the norm.

Leymah Gbowee’s passion for peace through faith and prayer spread to other Christian churches and then to Muslim woman. Like the women of Zimbabwe and their improbable protest the Liberians organised a demonstration for peace at the open air fish market in the capital Monrovia. These women had no resources but sang, danced, prayed and agitated for peace.

After Taylor’s exile and peace negotiation which nearly broke down the world witnessed their thrilling triumph. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in as the president of Liberia on January the 16th 2006 – the first woman ever elected president of an African country.

Faith may not have moved mountains but what an amazing achievement for women in a country where violence is endemic.


The Davos Forum (see Finance and Investments) had 81 business leaders attending; of the 81 four were women. This disparity is not new in fact women created their own forum, Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society held in France each year. Seperate but equal, I don’t think so!

“The big theme at this year’s World Economic Forum was Shaping the Post-Crisis World,” wrote Ruth Sunderland in Britain’s The Observer. “The idea that that can be achieved while excluding half the population is breathtaking in its arrogance and shows that the male Davos elite remains mired in its own preening self-regard and complacency. They have wrecked the world economy, but seem oblivious to the idea they may not be the best people to rebuild it.”

Surely now we should recognise that it is essential that women are included in the economic decision making. It is simply foolish to ignore half of the world’s population particularly those who do not embrace the macho capitalism which has caused the problems we are facing in the first place.

I don’t believe in eschewing capitalism, but the current style certainly needs revisiting.

Finance and Investments

Gender balance requirements and usefulness are frequently seen as part of the bra burning feminist culture and treated with disdain. Nicholas D Kristoff writes in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times that banks around the world ‘desperately want bailouts of billions of dollars, but they also have another need they’re unaware of; women, women and women.”

This comment follows on from discussions which took place at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (For the uninitiated this is a bunch of old white men who meet to talk about the world economy. Unfortunately no solutions to the dire situation have been proposed).

The consensus was that banks need women to improve the quality of decision making – it is pretty clear that the quality of decision making to date has been shoddy to say the least. An article in the Journal of Economic Theory supports this after an analysis of research in the field of problem solving; diverse groups perform better. It won’t surprise you to know that I subscribe to this view. Women don’t subscribe to peer pressure, have a greater concern for the common good and among other things don’t suffer from over confidence (but more on this in Girls Just Want to Have Fund$). This makes for considered and sensible decision making, obviously sorely needed in the giddy realms of financial institutions. In fact as Kristoff reports the Davos discussions concluded that if Lehman Brothers (a large US bank which is being bailed out) had been Lehman Brothers and Sisters they may not be in the same mess today. There is a whole range of research compiled by researchers such as McKinsey, Goldman Sacs and Catalyst which show women are a huge missed economic opportunity.


Why in 2008 are women still underrepresented in politics? In the USA the land of equality and opportunity we have seen the inauguration of Obama after an incredibly gender focused campaign. Obama’s cabinet does not reflect his rhetoric; less than 25%of his cabinet are women. No doubt the naysayers will claim that there are not enough women with the appropriate skills to take their place alongside the male cabinet members.

But, consider this – the top ten companies in the Fortune 100 have close to 40% women in senior positions – these companies are performance driven in a way that governments are not.

Consider also the gender balance of the cabinets appointed by France, Spain and Sweden – all three presidents have accurately reflected their populations with close to a 50/50 split. Gender balance is a key priority of their governments such as those in the Philippines, Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Liberia, Argentina (and until recently New Zealand) are led by women.

For more on gender balance read blogs Finance and Investments and Womenomics.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Musings and Amusings

Neuroscience, still a relatively new science is examining “the benefits of enhancement” through drugs.

They theorise that cognitive enhancement is already practised by most of us. We drink coffee, eat nutritious foods, train our brains and get a good night’s sleep.

Taking drugs they say is simply a little further on in the continuum. Wouldn’t you want the surgeon whose mind is extra sharp, a pilot who’s extra alert or the medical researcher whose memory is finely tuned to make extraordinary connections?

Or on a personal level you could make plans for socialising, pay the bills and consolidate your credit card debt, do your job without forgetting your dental appointments or neglecting to pick the kids up from school? Sounds good to me! Coming to a pharmacy near you soon!

Everyday Money

If you are struggling with finances, particularly paying your mortgage, here are some ideas to help ease the burden.

• Sell luxury items or household goods that you don’t need, if you are a two car household reduce to one. Any money you save or make should go to reduce your mortgage.
• Look at ways to reduce your outgoings - is there anything in your budget you can do without.
• Look at how you might increase your income – part time work, take in a boarder, can you set up a small business from home.
• Most lenders will offer you a 90 day repayment holiday if you need one.
• Convert to an interest only mortgage until your situation improves. This will reduce your repayments.
• Extend the term of your mortgage.

Bear in mind the last three suggestions will increase your interest bill and are short term solutions only.

Who’s counting

A conversation overheard in a bar;

Gentleman 1: “I believe in what you are saying 110%. Howard.”
Gentleman 2: “Ugh.”
Gentleman 1: “What?”
Gentleman 2: “Why not 120%, or 130%, or more?”
Gentleman 1: “Okay, I believe in you 140%.”
Gentleman 2: “Anything beyond 100% is meaningless.”
Gentleman 1: “Okay, now I’m down to 90%.”
Gentleman 2:”That’s better.”

You can’t give more than 100% in anything!

Finance and Investments

You have survived 2008 and are feeling shell shocked. Here are some tips to help you through 2009 and beyond – you should of course have a financial plan.

Tip 1 - The share market is still cyclical
It is not different this time, all asset classes have cycles. You just forget about it after five years of positive growth with few corrections.

Tip 2 - Volatility will continue
You cannot call the highs and the lows. Dollar cost average, that is buy every month, set up a regular savings plan.

Tip 3 - Prepare for Downturns
Work out how much risk you can stand and structure an exit strategy into your investing life. The hardest thing for you to beat is not the market but your mindset (for more on this read Money, Money, Money Ain’t it Funny).

Tip 4 - Getting it right is not easy
Even the best get their picks wrong. If you or your advisor is right almost 80% of the time – remember it’s your losers you sell, not the winners! (For more on this read Money, Money, Money Ain’t it Funny).


I have been wondering who or what will bring Mugabe down. An article towards the end of last year made me wonder if it would be women.

The rare demonstration of resistance was fuelled by some 200 women hoisting placards and demanding an end to the cholera epidemic. The women only marched a couple of hundred yards before dispersing, foiling the security services who only found flyers blowing along the Harare footpath.

The contrast between the concerns of the Zimbabwean women and in the Western world is phenomenal. In Australia, concern is growing at the systemic problems which inhibit the appointment of women to senior management roles despite women graduating in greater numbers. The lack of promotion is tied to the time women take out of the workforce colliding with the lack of flexibility demonstrated by businesses. Here in New Zealand the Human Rights Commission says that the evidence of gender equality is now indisputable (for more on both of these issues read Girls Just Want to Have Fund$).

If women continue to defy Mugabe, will they take power, economic power, in a way that we have not been able to?


Why do we always feel so guilty when we eat fat? Fat is one of the most joyous things to eat; think butter on Vogel’s (how could you eat popcorn without butter?), crunchy crackling on pork, bacon (said to be the one food which tempts vegetarians).

Then there are butter based sauces, think French beurre blanc on a whole sole. If you are still with me I can recommend Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook entitled “Fat.” The book is split into four sections: butter, lard or pork fat, poultry fat (mmm...crispy skinned duck and chicken) and beef and lamb fat. And yes – she does complement her fat dishes with herbs, sage is her favourite. She also uses bay leaves, parsley and there are recipes with spinach, pumpkin, rice and fish.

Indulge yourself with her slow roasted pork belly and kale – just don’t discuss this with your personal trainer or nutritionist! McLagan makes a case for fat – she says that as it is so satisfying you eat less of it.