Women’s finances have changed hugely in the last 50 years since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970, yet the way retirement and investment firms engage with them hasn’t caught up. Women represent a whole new sector of wealth, and need new products and services, but they continue to be ignored by both distributors and manufacturers. So what should we do?

Broaden the ecosystem

The recent Yes She Can report by The Wisdom Council showed that women are disengaged with investing – 59% of non-investing women had never thought about investing, and 87% of non-investing women had never been encouraged to consider investing. The ecosystem for financial planning clearly needs to be broadened.

Due to a lack of net worth, most people don’t pop up on an adviser’s radar until they reach their 40s and 50s, and that’s especially true of women, who are more likely to take time out of work to start a family or take on a caregiver role to older family relatives, which has a negative impact on their earnings, pension contributions and savings.

Initial financial advice typically comes via an employer when enrolling for pension contributions or through a mortgage adviser, which doesn’t give them access to crucial, basic financial guidance and means women are often not saving early enough in their working lives.

Whole customer

For advisers, not engaging with women as potential clients can have negative, longer-term consequences.

Typically, men are still the breadwinners for most families, but by failing to engage with the whole family of clients, advisers are potentially writing off future business and clients, by forgetting about wealth transfer. Children inherit wealth and women still live longer than men.  Some 42% of marriages in the UK will end in divorce too – whilst some couples choose to eschew marriage completely and co-habit. The risk here is the financial adviser has no relationship with the whole customer and as such no basis for future business.

It is, therefore, important for financial and retirement planners to engage with whole families as soon as possible if they want to be their first port of call for the new business book or to keep the funds on their platform should circumstances change and the main client pass away. By not engaging the whole family, planners are vulnerable to business transfer.

Technology

For the firm that manages to crack it, the rise of tech, like robo advice, could easily swoop in and pick up the large number of women currently financially homeless and disinterested in traditional financial advice.

It is a low-cost way for them to access pensions and savings, and the danger is once they have built up their net worth they will stick with what they know and continue to shun traditional forms of advice. The very real risk here is that women (and men) and accessing financial products online without the tangible advice and support from an adviser, meaning they’re more likely to buy the wrong products.

There are some adviser software firms who are focusing on a hybrid solution where high net worths can access face to face financial planning, with an automated digital route available for those who aren’t profitable yet, which keeps them within the advisers’ ecosystem. Providers too have a role to play in using tech to better signpost information and to build more relevant products that engage and retain clients.

The power of networks

The Wisdom Council report also outlined how family and social circles play a really critical role in motivating and encouraging women to invest. It found women base decisions around recommendations and referrals that reflect who they are and what people like them are already doing.

We see through our Vitality Programme that incentives and rewards can be a solid way to engage with women and their networks. Advisers and financial services firms who want to attract more female clients should bear this in mind.

The power of networks and referrals is more powerful that adverts in attracting more female business (and less expensive if you do it right!)

Women represent a huge section of the market for financial products and services, but are still disengaged, under-served and in need of good financial advice, especially around retirement planning.

Every sector of financial services can adapt and improve their offering from tech to products to the way we market to them, but unless we do so a potentially huge client base will remain elusive. The firms that adapt first will reap the rewards.

Hilary Banks is divisional director at VitalityInvest