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How the other half live

How the other half live

Financial services brands are missing opportunities with women

Rosi McMurray

Planning Director, Financial Services & Technology

Kantar TNS


Kantar TNS set out to determine whether financial services organisations and their brands are appropriately valuing their women customers, and whether women feel that they are valued customers. We conducted a UK-wide study based on 31,291 interviews and involving more than 650,000 women.

Our first finding was that in striving for equality, the majority of financial services institutions failed to consider that the context in which women select financial services is often quite different from men’s. Their greater focus on putting their families before themselves, and their need for validation and reassurance, can make them appear indecisive and lacking in confidence, whereas, conversely, they have frequently thought through the implications of big financial decisions more carefully than men. This was very clear when we looked at mortgages. Women did worry more about the total cost, the repayments and the upkeep of a property, but two-thirds of men, compared to less than half of women, found that the cost of buying a home was higher than they had expected. In this situation, most men then borrowed more. This demonstrated that women may in fact be more competent than they seem, and men’s apparent confidence can be misleading. It’s important not to confuse confidence and competence, to the detriment of women.

Women’s greater focus on the family frequently translates into risk aversion and this, together with their lower levels of trust in financial services organisations, means that their responses to advertising may be different. Whereas in most categories women’s intuitive response to advertising is quicker than men’s, this is not the case for financial services advertising. Out of the communications for leading UK current account providers, only the Nationwide campaign achieved higher trust scores among women than men, and the unresolved credit card “fraud” shown in Barclays advertising troubled women as it played to their worst fears. This underlines the importance of building women’s trust, right from the beginning.

The study found that women are more preoccupied with everyday money management; both men and women tend to think that women are better at budgeting. However, when it comes to long-term financial decisions around investments and pensions, women’s confidence declines. The investment industry’s attitudes and behaviours are exacerbating a difficult situation, with troubling consequences.

The world of investments is seen as a man’s world by 40 percent of our survey respondents (and a higher proportion of men), while only 7 percent see it as a woman’s world. Only half of women (compared to two-thirds of men) felt engaged and less than a third of women felt they had a good understanding of the sector, compared to half of men. The consequence of these differences is that women are investing less, keeping a higher percentage of their portfolios in cash (memorably described as “reckless caution personified” by Holly McKay of boringmoney.com) and are consequently saving less for their retirement.

In the qualitative phase of our work, we identified two further quite significant barriers to women making bigger investments. Firstly, they saw investment advisers as condescending, self-interested and “grabalicious”, and did not find the investment environment or experience encouraging. Secondly, investment advertising was perceived to be either talking to men or condescending; full of jargon and failing to reflect the world of a 21st century independent woman. The exception was a Nutmeg advertisement showing a very down-to-earth, casually dressed woman with the headline, “Investment millionaires don’t look like they used to”. Both confident and less-confident women could relate to this, either because it was them now or it presented a realistic aspiration for them.

Whilst the majority of women are concerned about having under-provided for their long-term wellbeing, only a very small minority feel empowered to do something about it. Disappointingly, the human face of the financial services sector, financial advisers, are not ameliorating the situation. The lesson here is: empower her, don’t diminish her.

The various disconnects identified in the Kantar study indicate that the majority of financial services organisations do not take account of the different context of women’s lives compared to men’s. Consequently, they lack a core human insight, and need to value their women customers more highly in order to achieve much greater mutual value. A calculation from TGI decile analysis, identifying 10 levels of confidence and engagement, suggests that if the financial services industry could increase women’s level of engagement in the sector by just 10 percent, this could realise an additional £130 billion in investment by women.

Three key messages for financial services brands:

  • Get inside her head to understand her context
  • Step into her world, don’t make her step into yours
  • Take her seriously; it’s the least she deserves