The financial service industry and its “rocky” relationship with women.
Take a close look behind the doors of any American home, and chances are you’ll find the woman in control of financial matters. Whether it’s the mother of two paying the bills online or the single female executive evaluating her 401K, females have indeed felt much of the physical and emotional brunt of our increasingly shaky economy.
And it’s a fact, despite the misconceptions of many, that women make the majority of household spending decisions and are now contributing more money to their households than ever before. Studies also show that women’s earning power will recover from the recession far more quickly than that of men. But yet, the financial services category seems to continue to struggle to find an effective way to share their message with this oft-misunderstood audience.
“There is a growing and dawning realization that women are not only overlooked, but many times, underestimated by the financial services sector,” explains Bridget Brennan, CEO of consulting firm Female Factor and a featured speaker at S2W – The Selling to Women Tour, which took place Thursday, November 10 at the Chicago Cultural Center. “Women truly serve as the engine of the global community.”
“Whether she’s shopping for a new black pair of pants or for someone to handle her six figure financial portfolio, a woman is going to be out there doing the research and exploring all of her options,” adds Jeffery Tobias Halter, president of YWomen and author of Selling To Men, Selling To Women. “While the man in the relationship may keep an eye on the 401K or pension, the woman has her eye on everything, including healthcare, the family budget and the coupons she’s going to use while shopping for groceries this week. She definitely is concerned with a much broader spectrum when it comes to financial matters.”
With more women in the labor force than ever before and making approximately 80 percent of all consumer purchasing decisions, many experts say financial services companies selling anything from estate planning to banking to credit cards continue to miss the mark.
“The number of single female investors is at an all time high, but I’m just not seeing them targeted as they should,” says Mr. Halter, who will also led the Selling Across Gender, The Sales Process and Application workshop at the S2W conference. “Often, when it comes to the point of sale, the salespeople are just not trained to adapt to gender differences as well as they should. Women need a quarterback in their lives. She wants to know who is going to be there to make her life a bit easier.”
“Before the first big meltdown, companies such as Merrill Lynch and Oppenheimer Funds were doing a number of female-based studies and adapting their marketing approaches in response to those studies,” adds S2W speaker Marti Barletta, founder of Northfield-based The TrendSight Group. “Now it seems like everything is backsliding. The consumer investment industry specifically is paying much less attention to consumers in general.”
And while these facts may be disturbing, perhaps even more troubling are the reasons that the financial industry is failing to reach women. “We live in a world where 97 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies are still led by men,” says Ms. Brennan, who also authored the book Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers. “This corporate culture has kept businesses creating creative from a very masculine point of view. Businesses must step back and understand where they might be experiencing a gender gap.”
While women may indeed be the ‘chief purchasing officers’ at both home and at work, it can often look vastly different from behind the desk of many financial companies. “While female executives seem to have no trouble negotiating on their business’ behalf, they can have a ton of trouble negotiating on their own behalf,” says Ms. Brennan. “Put a couple in front of a financial advisor and chances are that a woman will let her husband take charge. She gives the husband the public role of handling the finances, but rest assured that once the door is closed, women are driving the financial decisions of the home.” And one never knows when the need for financial services is going to come up for females, whether in their professional and personal lives, but especially when faced with a divorce.
“Almost always, a divorce is an unplanned financial event for women,” says Ms. Brennan. “When it happens, there’s a great need for financial advice. I honestly feel that more financial businesses should promote specialists that women can trust to deal with the financial matters that surround divorce. At the end of the day, the service women receive and the trust they feel (from their financial providers) is the most important factor.”