Women are living longer than men, graduating with professional degrees at a faster rate than men, and representing an increasing percentage of senior executives and entrepreneurs. As a result, women’s influence as investors and consumers of financial services is greater than ever.
Despite this expanding clout, the financial services industry’s marketing to women is largely missing the mark, according to extensive research conducted by Kantar, a global research, data, and insight agency. “Women really aren’t coming to the category confidently and they aren’t feeling engaged,” said Anita Watkins, Kantar’s Global Head of Qualitative and the keynote speaker at the Financial Communications Society’s (FCS’s) November 28 event in Chicago, “Marketing Financial Services to Women.”
“Women still say, ‘this is a man’s world,’ even though they are rising in the ranks,” Watkins said. “We think this could be, from a commercial standpoint, the most significant marketing opportunity that [financial brands] have had in many years.”
Women’s Contextual Approach to Financial Services in the U.K.
To study women’s attitudes about the financial services industry and their reactions to marketing messages from financial companies, Kantar conducted quantitative and qualitative research into women in the United Kingdom, incorporating data from Kantar’s clients such as BlackRock and HSBC. Watkins outlined the findings of the report, “Winning Over Women – A Commercial Imperative for Financial Services,” for the audience of financial marketing professionals.
Based on Kantar’s analysis of how U.K. women and men responded to statements about financial confidence, only 15% of women are in the high confidence segment compared to 25% of men. At the other end of the spectrum, 65% of women are in the low confidence segment compared with 55% of men.
Kantar’s research found that women approach financial services from a more contextual point of view than men. “Women really think about financial services in terms of the end benefits, and that’s particularly in the context of family and relationships,” Watkins said. Relative to men, women are much less likely to think about products and services and much more likely to think about outcomes such as being able to fund a child’s college education or support aging parents, she said.
Analyzing Female Financial Engagement at Different Life Stages
“Winning with women requires a different approach. They think about the world differently and they see the world differently, and the financial sector is no exception,” Watkins said. “At each stage of their financial lives, there are different ways we can approach women and bring them in.”
In its research, Kantar looked at U.K. women’s levels of engagement and confidence at three distinct levels of financial services:
- Everyday banking and insurance: Of the three levels, women reported having the highest levels of competence and understanding when it came to things like managing household finances and overseeing day-to-day financial products like checking and savings accounts. Despite this, women reported having a much more negative response than men to banks’ and insurance companies’ marketing communications. This is especially true for communications that directly address women’s fears about risk, Watkins said.
Kantar also found that women, on average, use a higher number of their financial institution’s products than men do and are more likely to talk about a positive experience with other people. Watkins said that banks and other financial institutions should capitalize on this opportunity to build the foundation of a strong relationship with women and generate positive word-of-mouth. “This is a great place to welcome women to the category and build trust and a long-term relationship,” Watkins said.
- Longer-term borrowing: For mortgages and other long-term borrowing products, women and men reported equal levels of understanding and engagement. But Watkins warned financial marketers to not confuse women’s competence in this area with confidence. “Women feel very competent about taking on a mortgage, but they aren’t always confident about the risks involved,” she said.
When it comes to applying for a mortgage, men are more likely to be surprised by the costs of buying a home. But when faced with a shortfall of funds needed to make the purchase work, men are much more likely to consider alternatives such as borrowing money from friends or family or taking out a bigger or new mortgage. The lesson for brands is stay engaged with women through the whole process mortgage application and underwriting process. This engagement can help women consider other alternatives when hurdles arise.
- Investments, pensions, and life insurance: When it comes to long-term investing, women believe it is still very much a “man’s world,” Watkins said. Kantar’s research found that women report significantly lower levels of confidence and engagement than men, and this is driven by poorer understanding, the complexity of the products, and the fear of not making the right decision.
“What is the result of this lack of confidence and engagement?” Watkins asked rhetorically. “Well, it’s not good for women and it’s not good for financial institutions either.” BlackRock’s data show that women’s investment portfolios, on average, are 40% smaller than men’s and that women have significantly higher cash allocations.
“Even though women are already making great progress in terms of earning potential, this hasn’t yet translated into saving for retirement in a significant way,” Watkins told the crowd of financial marketing professionals. “This is not only a major untapped commercial opportunity for all of you, but I think it’s really a potential challenge for society long term if we don’t turn the tide.”
To better reach female investors, wealth management firms should focus on the end benefits of investing, rather than on products or performance. She also said firms should create content that educates women about investing and look for ways to showcase the empathy of their financial advisors.
To learn more about Kantar’s research into marketing to women in financial services or other industries, please contact Diane Laura, head of corporate marketing for Kantar North America, at Diane.Laura@kantar.com. You can download a copy of the full report, “Winning Over Women – A Commercial Imperative for Financial Services” here.
Panel Discussion: Insights from Financial Brands
Following Watkins’s presentation, a panel featuring marketing professionals from the wealth management and insurance, consumer lending, and derivatives industries discussed how their firms are tackling the challenges of marketing to women.
Here are some highlights from the discussion, which was moderated by Caroline Gillard of the Options Clearing Corporation.
- Jennifer Bennethum Burns, director of marketing strategy and communications at Discover Financial Services: “With women, it’s not just about capturing their minds but also their hearts. You really have to engage and inspire them,” Burns said. She added that life-stage marketing, as well as finding authentic ways to partner with influencers, is especially critical in the consumer finance industry. “The way to help engage women and bring them into (conversations about finances) is to ensure that you are talking to them where they are at in their life stage and helping to give them the tools that give them more confidence,” she said.
- Jessica Titlebaum Darmoni, co-founder of Women In Listed Derivatives and founder of The Title Connection: “Women want to be offered something; they don’t want to be sold,” Darmoni said. “They don’t want products that everyone else is sold; they want a personalized approach.” Darmoni also said marketers need to realize that talking about money can feel very personal and somewhat invasive for women, whereas men may feel more comfortable talking about finances with a stranger. This insight should shape how financial brands should approach their engagement strategies for female consumers and investors.
- Allison Engel, director of women’s market strategy at Northwestern Mutual: Engel said that Northwestern Mutual’s women-focused marketing is centered on the idea of “financial empowerment.” She said that the firm’s educational content marketing is playing a central role in this effort to help women overcome the confidence gap relative to male investors. “How do we arm women with education and give them the confidence that they need … so they can go on that journey (with their financial advisors) in a collaborative sense.”
Listen to a Replay of the Discussion
You can hear a replay of Watkins' presentation and the panel discussion, using the link below.
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