OPINION: What women want – how financial services can break down the barriers to investment

Amy Cashman

Amy Cashman is the executive managing director of Kantar Insights UK.

It may sound obvious given the stereotypes we see of finance in the media, but how the sector engages with consumers is still incredibly gendered.

In many ways, the differences in how men and women treat finances are even starker than they were a few years ago.  The Covid-19 pandemic hit women’s purses the hardest, with those younger and on lower incomes most affected.  While not all women suffered financially, those who were able to set money aside still only saved half of what men did and, of those reserves, surprisingly little was turned into investments.

As well as widening financial inequalities, women’s aversion to investing represents a significant commercial opportunity for the sector – Kantar data in our Winning over Women report in 2021 found that converting just 1% of women’s savings at that time into investment products could have generated £9.9bn of capital.

Investment services need to be working even harder today to understand and engage women, as high interest rates make savings accounts more attractive for this group.  This is being compounded by a cost-of-living crisis which, even for those with funds to spare, is increasing the appeal of accessible savings over higher returns.  59% of women say they’re investing less now than pre pandemic, and that’s compared with a low baseline.

There are of course wide ranging influences contributing to the investment gap between genders, including pay inequality and expectations around parental responsibilities, which mean that many women don’t feel they have enough money to invest.  This type of societal issue isn’t one which can be solved overnight.  That said, there are actions financial services brands and marketers can and should take which will make a difference.


Tailor communications

One of the simplest shifts the industry can drive is around how we talk about investments.  Our analysis highlighted a distinct coldness and greater materialism in the communications surrounding investment products compared with day-to-day finance products.  While investors of any gender will obviously be looking for returns, we found that women respond better to more inclusive messaging focused on ‘financial wellbeing’ and improving other people’s lives as well as their own, rather than simply on ‘financial wealth’.

Confidence is also a significant barrier which better communication can help to tackle.  A third of women don’t invest because they don’t feel they know enough about it – the figure rises to 44% for millennials.  This has a noticeable impact on the way women look for and access financial advice.  They’re more likely to search for products labelled ‘for women’ and lean towards robo-advisers to avoid exposing a lack of knowledge to a real person.  While offering these pathways to advice can encourage more women to consider investing, it also means they are less likely to get the best, bespoke guidance.

Ensuring marketing communications are straightforward and clear can help shift this reluctance.  It’s then down to improving the ability of financial advisers to speak to women in a way which is accessible and easy to understand without being condescending.

Boutique firms, such as Female Invest, which specifically target women, are on the march here, so larger banks need to work to keep pace and avoid losing ground.


Rethink representation

It’s not just the language we use which is contributing to women’s nervousness around seeking money advice.  It’s also the people they see in this space.  In advertising and in the wider media, the financial services sector is one which is still viewed as male dominated – according to our creative testing data, men are the prominent character in almost twice as many ads as women.  Changing the face of finance relies on building an internal culture which develops a more diverse workforce and this will inevitably take time.  How brands portray customers in their marketing and advertising, on the other hand, can be tackled immediately.

Advertising in the investment space often portrays women as independent and financially confident – think Scottish Widows’ brand icon of a self-assured, cloaked woman always looking directly at the camera.  While the intention is to empower, for the many women who don’t see themselves in this way the result is an unrelatable portrayal.

That doesn’t mean that ads should simply depict motherly figures taking care of the family either.  What we need is diversity.  If we look outside of the sector, there are clear examples of how brands appeal to and empower their target audiences without falling into polarised representations.  Dove is the perfect example with its focus on the breadth of real beauty, but this approach naturally won’t work for every business.

The key is understanding what consumers want and need.  Better research into current and potential customers will help to uncover the differences and changing nature of women’s lifestyles and expectations.

Ultimately, there are societal forces at play in the gender gap in finance, which are outside of marketers’ control and which are at risk of worsening in the current economic climate.  This doesn’t mean our hands are tied.  There is a real opportunity to shift the narrative by breaking down early barriers to investment for women, but this is dependent on building a more nuanced understanding of female customers, and targeting communications based on evidence, not on stereotypes.

The potential rewards for women and for the industry could be significant.

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