Marketers have a big opportunity to help fix the financial inclusion gap

Women hold an increasing portion of the UK’s wealth yet many lack financial confidence. It is incumbent on financial institutions to remove this confidence gap and marketers have an important role to play.

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In just two years, 60% of the wealth in the UK will be in female hands, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research. And yet, research from Schroders shows that last year, only 5% of financial advice businesses had a strategy for retaining and attracting female clients. That’s a pretty daunting needs gap. Is it any surprise, then, that financial services firms are estimated to be missing a $700bn – at least – revenue opportunity each year by failing to meet female customers’ needs fully?

How did we get to the bonkers place where the institutions considered experts in managing wealth have been so slow to grasp the vast financial upside that the ‘sheconomies’ of today and tomorrow offer? The answer, of course, is that until relatively recently, women just weren’t considered a lucrative enough target market for them.

Traditional disparities in wealth accumulation between the two sexes, and women’s historical lack of financial independence, meant women were simply not on banks’ radars. (I am, of course, being somewhat kind here: let’s not forget that as recently as the 1970s, a woman couldn’t hold a credit card in her name. Overt discrimination, anyone?) Thankfully, times have moved on, so why haven’t banks caught up?

The inclusion gap

Change takes time, and financial institutions themselves can’t fix everything: today, according to PWC, 11 million women continue to be denied access to mainstream financial products in the UK due to far-reaching socio-economic structural issues that negatively affect women’s financial inclusion. Issues such as the gender pay gap, the motherhood penalty and unpaid elder care, each of which impacts a woman’s finances over her entire lifetime, leave her disproportionately disadvantaged.

But one area financial institutions can and must address head-on is women’s comparatively low levels of engagement with the products and services that are available to them.

According to several bodies, such as The Global Financial Literacy Excellence Centre, women are less financially ‘literate’ than men, resulting in lower financial confidence. Reducing that confidence gap via tailored communications and products designed for women (and by women) will make a world of difference to their financial confidence and inclusion.

What a challenger mindset can teach legacy brands targeting women

Know your audience

Emma Springham, CMO at TSB, believes ensuring your information is accessible and relevant starts with data-based insights. “It’s about having a deep understanding of your female target audience. Research extensively, take the data, and develop a hyper-personalised approach to the content and comms you’re serving up. That is how you can help start to build money confidence among women,” she says.

It’s worth remembering that ‘women’ is a far broader and bigger target group than many still think.

Becky Moffat, UK CMO at HSBC, agrees: “We talk about this as a confidence play rather than necessarily a capability play. Using data and insights to understand how women learn, how to talk with them rather than at them, how to build confidence without it being construed as providing advice.”

This is where the quiet superpower of nudges can make all the difference, says Springham. “People are obsessed with their Fitbits to help monitor their physical health – they get the value of those timely little reminders. But what about your financial health? I think we could all do with a kind of financial Fitbit, and women in particular. Nudges like, ‘Did you know you could be saving £35 by doing x, y or z?’, helping female consumers feel more money-confident, and also building trust between the institution and the individual.”

Speak as you wish to be spoken to

It’s also about tone of voice. We know that women often respond best to over-the-garden-fence types of communication, which is probably one reason NatWest’s 2019 ‘A Message to All Women from Mr Banker’ campaign fell so flat, reaching as it did epic new levels of mansplaining.

NatWest tackles ‘patronising’ way banks talk to women in new campaign

However, as Margot de Broglie, co-founder at Your Juno, an education platform focused on the financial empowerment of women, says, it’s not as if marketing can’t get tone of voice right in financial comms to women when it really counts. “Look at buy now, pay later company Klarna’s success in targeting women, with its female-friendly logo, engaging copy and smart partnerships with cool retail brands. But you have to ask: When will financial institutions offering the expansion of wealth, rather than diminishing it, catch on to the market opportunity?”

Perhaps the challenge is that financial services companies typically view marketing’s purpose in the narrowest sense. “I strongly believe marketing can help shift the needle on closing the financial gender gap, but we need teams to think about marketing as a broad church, we need to give the marketing function permission,” says HSBC’s Moffat.

We may lack financial confidence when it comes to the world of finance beyond the household – thanks to historical and even ongoing exclusion and discrimination – but that confidence can be built.

And while marketing deserves to be viewed in more expansive terms – as a potential change agent as well as a sales driver – it’s also worth remembering that ‘women’ is a far broader and bigger target group than many still think.

“When it comes to changing the status quo, things will only improve once women are no longer seen as a ‘niche’ audience,” de Broglie says. “And this is where C-suite gender equality is crucial. It’s only via diverse and representative leadership teams that we can ensure different perspectives and experiences are considered during product development and marketing.”

In so many cultures, women have a long tradition of managing the family finances. We get money; we get figures. Yes, we may lack financial confidence when it comes to the world of finance beyond the household – thanks to historical and even ongoing exclusion and discrimination – but that confidence can be built. Marketing’s potential to help do just that absolutely shouldn’t be underestimated.