Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR
Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR

“Women save, men invest.” This has rung true for centuries and is unfortunately still the predominant theme tune of the financial services industry. This Women’s Month, we find out how the pandemic has affected women’s financial confidence and wellbeing in SA, as well as how to make investing more inviting, inspiring and inclusive for women.

Apart from the obvious impact on human health, the pandemic has made another aspect of life crystal clear — how fragile we all are economically. With the resulting unheard-of scale of job losses, that desperate side hustle has been in full flow just to purchase the daily basics. On the flip side, those lucky enough to have kept a steady monthly income, and those who have benefited from working from home in cutting down on discretionary spend such as the daily commute, work clothes, coffees and lunches, have been inspired to save what they can. 

Sadly, this “pandemic stash” has largely been accumulated by men, who have squirrelled away twice as much as women in the UK. A higher proportion of men across all age groups aim to transfer those savings to investments, while women tend to leave their money in savings accounts, 75% of which earn low to no interest. 

In line with this growing financial awareness, there’s also rising social consciousness and a reprioritisation of “stuff” and a move to more purposeful, sustainable spending, particularly prevalent in the younger segment. We need to work together to build a stronger saving culture and promote the benefits of investing to close the confidence gap. But truly understanding the effects of the pandemic means we need to dive deeper than financial impact. 

Studies show women’s self-esteem continues to be below that of men, particularly in the younger generation. That’s significant, as financial independence makes a substantial contribution to self-esteem, which allows us to have choices, personally and professionally, and is only compounded by the sense of physical and emotional entrapment brought on by the pandemic.

The gender pay gap has widened, with the percentage of female “high earners” in the UK still less than one in five. As financial independence is a prerequisite of overall wellness and alleviating stress, this presents an opportunity for the industry as a whole to better communicate the benefits of investing over just saving. After all, we’re all trying to make our money go further. But saving behaviour isn’t completely driven by income, as the higher the salary you get, the more you’re likely to spend. 

1+1=3: Grabbing the financial education opportunity

Encouragingly, Kantar’s Covid-19 Barometer lead for SA, Stacy Saggers, says: “Kantar’s nine-wave study, conducted among 500 connected South Africans per wave, reveals that more than half of SA men (52%) and women (54%) are likely to start or increase investing their money.” Note that in the SA context, investment is likely to encompass saving behaviour across platforms, institutions and bank accounts.  

But half of those surveyed globally admit they don’t know enough about the topic, with a strong misperception that you need more money than is required to invest. This goes both ways, as many say they’re not considering investing as they feel the industry simply doesn’t understand them. Because while financial services overall are largely seen as gender neutral, especially compared to more polarised industries of auto (male) and baby (female), both genders feel the realm of investment and niches such as cryptocurrency have greater male bias and better understanding of men than women. 

Women’s online searches also tend to lead to websites with brighter colours and a more conversational tone than the technical jargon on the sites men reach. In solving this challenge, we need to focus with empathy on how the content, imagery and tonality of financial services’ communications perpetuates this separation and gender bias. The question of money produces an emotional reaction in women. It’s often a complex reaction of shame, insecurity and not feeling valued, largely based on past exclusion from the sector. But that doesn’t mean we’re looking for more flowery language and pink text. Stereotypes hold no value unless we turn them on their heads. 

This way of thinking starts at an early age, so we need to spend less time teaching our youth about parallelograms and more on financial planning, explaining the meaning of compound interest and paying taxes. We need to empower and enable people to have their own financial autonomy by talking about their goals and helping to frame the conversation about money management. By holding the conversation in the right places, the knock-on effect will benefit everyone. But there are still two tasks to win with women in the long-term financial wellness space.

First, in the world of wellness, we need to invite women in, ensuring we have the openness and inclusivity needed to break down barriers in the world of the everyday family financials. Then, in the less relatable world of wealth, we need to inspire greater female financial confidence. Banks do so by showing women as accomplished achievers enjoying their success, but that this can seem unattainable. Instead, we need to show a tangible, relevant benefit to making these banking behaviour changes.

Typical depictions of female financial confidence tend to reflect genuine needs in the category, but brands tend to cluster and focus on “include me” and “reward me”, rather than “free me”, “reassure me”, “challenge me” and “equip me”. To tap into the white spaces, we need to better understand what the world of finance looks like for women and how they’re talking about it.

Hashtags related to women and finance on Instagram reveal holistic sharing about money and finances online, with four predominant themes: Being stronger together and celebrating struggles and successes; reconciling roles; lifestyle liberation; and owning the space.

Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR
Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR

So, how can companies talk about financial wellness and investing in the future?

With the lack of confidence in even talking about money, we need to get rid of the impenetrable jargon and talk about everything from budgeting to making a will, having insurance and long-term planning, as the what-ifs often become a reality. 

We need to own our aspirations and acknowledge the different flavours of success. We need to colour those money conversations to reach mass relevance, going beyond the basics of budget management to different levels of risk in investment. We also need to promote the message that people are entitled to use their money however they choose and show the spectrum beyond the “in the moment” spend on consumables to the benefit of saving what you can for the future. 

We also need to be sensitive to the huge schisms of inequality in society and the intersectionality at play. It’s time to grasp our own financial possibilities of choice and autonomy. After all, there’s nothing more powerful than choice.

Five things to communicate to improve consumers’ confidence in talking about their own money:

  1. Realise that you may be an investor without knowing it. Of the 63% of women who have a pension in the UK, only 25% acknowledge that they have investments for the future. This means that 37% of women are unconscious investors. 
  2. Have greater confidence in your ability to manage money. Understand the value of professional advice. Companies can assist by offering employees access to financial advisers to make more informed decisions.
  3. Recognise and invest in sustainable businesses to help them thrive. Women have become more socially and locally conscious during the pandemic, so it’s important to offer opportunities to help these businesses grow for a brighter future.
  4. Talk to other women about their experiences. Identify brands that have treated them well and consider whether that’s also a brand for you.
  5. Develop a longer-term financial plan that sets out your goals and expectations, to boost your self-esteem and financial confidence.

You can also turn to future-anchoring techniques to unlock savings behaviour, where the focus is on saving for something specific rather than generic saving. After all, the language of “rainy day funds” tends to be passive and vague, so it helps to paint a clearer picture of what financial independence actually means and how a savings buffer gives you choices. It’s time to reframe the reason and motivation for longer-term saving and take hold of the conversation and make changes. 

After all, rethinking priorities has created the perfect storm for businesses to build on this unconscious saving habit. 

Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR
Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR

A five-point plan to make investing more inviting and inspiring for women:

  1. Reduce the separation between saving and investing. The financial services sector is quite neutral, so how can we bring the two worlds together?
  2. Change the imagery, tonality and language of our communications to better represent women today. Think about financial wellness, not just wealth itself. Position your brand in emotive territory and consider the most promising themes, relevant to your organisation.
  3. Establish a clear role for your brand in transforming the lives of women, enabling them to exceed their financial and life goals. Represent this clearly and consistently in every encounter you have with them.
  4. As women are value-driven, they’re more likely to invest in their own families, communities and a more sustainable planet. Place greater emphasis on “impact investing”, where the capital generates a measurable and beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return. 
  5. Increase your focus on making younger women feel valuable as investors of the future. Increase their confidence to manage their long-term finances and close the self-esteem gap.

This seems like a simple and worthy five-point plan, but we still need to go further. True change comes from within, so financial institutions need to work from the inside out. To generate broader interest in investment, the industry needs to become more representative internally, in ensuring the workforce is less male-dominated. 

For example, one such initiative from the industry, looking at representation affecting culture and brand, shows that asset management today is male-dominant at 80:20, with the projection for the future shifting only slightly to 65:35. Think about your own organisation’s internal mix. Is it having an impact on your culture and brand? Because, while money still makes the world go round, ethics and values are also at play. 

It makes good financial sense to close the gender investment gap as there’s a mutual financial benefit. Inspiring and inviting more women to invest, results in more financial independence and greater self-esteem, which improves overall wellbeing. Brands need to convert their understanding of the gender gap into more positive actions that will transform the perception of wealth accumulation and give women the opportunity to invite themselves in. 

UK former secretary of state for education Shirley Williams, who passed away at 90, said it best: “Society, while willing to make room for women, is not willing to make changes for them.” It’s time to make that change.

Get in touch to find out about our work on “winning over wealth”, “getting gender right” and the “power of inclusive portrayal in advertising”.

Watch the Winning with Women 2021 webinar recording here >

About the author: Karin du Chenne is chief growth officer, Middle East & Africa, Insights Division, Kantar.

This article was paid for by Kantar.

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