A League of Their Own

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Once a month, Dagobert's Daughters meet. There are 10 of them, their number limited by common agreement. There's an increasing number of their children, but no men are present. The group's name comes from a German extortionist (recently released from prison) who extracted millions from German corporations in the 1990s while leading the police on a series of high-profile chases.

Anke Humpert co-founded the Dagobert's Daughters investment club in Berlin in 1998 after reading about some grandmothers in Illinois who started a similar group, the Beardstown Ladies. "I was having a baby and getting ready to make a career change, and I realized it was time to start thinking about finances," says Humpert. She bought a book, drew up a partnership agreement and hung out a "ladies only" sign. As for the name, well, says Humpert, "it had a subversive edge we really liked."

At the beginning of each month the Daughters meet to decide which shares they're going to buy and to set entry and exit points. Each of the 10 started with a $250 contribution and puts $25 in the pot each month. One member is always assigned to monitor their online trading account. "There are only two criteria for joining," Humpert says. "You have to be a woman, and you have to have e-mail." The trend to such clubs has not been lost on investment service providers, who are finally waking up to the fact that the law requiring German women to give up their property rights upon marriage was repealed in 1953.

Fund manager Metzler Investment lures women with soft-sell seminars that stress long-term growth and security. Last August, German content provider gatrixx AG started an online financial advice service for women called Frauenfinanzseite (Women's Financial Page). It promises jargon-free analysis and career tips. The Daughters are one of more than 40 women-only clubs already registered with the site and out of nearly 6,000 investment clubs registered with the German association of shareholder protection, more than 300 are for women only.

Yvonne Reichmuth, who edits Frauenfinanzseite.de, says the site is reaching married and older women, but that younger singles are still not logging on. "You should hear the way young German girls talk at the university," says Reichmuth. "They think their job can be like a hobby and their husbands will pay for everything." Eventually, she says, reality sets in. "They get a few years older, and they realize that men won't carry them through life."

The growing number of investment clubs that exclude men has caught the attention of Germany's women's magazines, which half-jokingly tout the advantages of intuition over analysis. "I don't know that there's a common sense for investing that women have," says Dagobert member Inga Gerke-Gans. "We do our homework, and I've been told women are more conservative than men." Why can't men join? "We felt that they'd tend to dominate the meetings and that women would stop talking," says Gerke-Gans. Metzler Investment's surveys seem to bear out the conservatism. "Women tend to earn less, so it makes sense that they'll be more careful," says Christina Ullrich, who leads Metzler's women's advisory project. She adds that women who attend the seminars often tell of banks "asking them if they have their husband's permission to buy shares."

Almost 40% of respondents to a recent survey by the company said women in general manage money better than men do. Nearly 60% of older women on pensions gave men a decisive thumbs-down. Fewer than 10% said they trust men with money more than women. U.S. experience indicates the respondents may be right.

Finance professor Terrance Odean at the University of California, Davis recently completed a six-year audit of 37,000 household trading accounts and other sources and found that wives outperformed their husbands by 1.4% per year, and single women were 2.3% ahead of single men. The reason: overconfidence leads to overtrading, and men are more likely to be overconfident. "Both men and women detract from their returns by trading," Odean explains. "Men simply do so more often."

The Dagobert Daughters' total pot now is more than $6,000. They estimate that they earned 30% on their money last year, but are still learning the intricacies of valuation. "One member dropped out, and we had to figure out how much was hers," Humpert says. "That's when we realized this was more serious." Although making money is important to them, learning how to make it has even more value. "The goal of forming an investment club is to learn to handle our finances," Humpert says. "Our lives are more zigzaggy than men's — just think of what a child does to your rhythm." Still, it's always nice to show the men up now and again.