I recently watched an Ellen DeGeneres clip where she makes fun of the Bic pen designed for women. Ellen humorously points out the clichés Bic used in designing and marketing its pen. Their “pen for women” is like any other writing instrument, but comes in cutesy “feminine” colors and is double the price of a regular pen.
This stereotype-based approach has underpinned many of our industry's efforts to understand female clients. We all know the importance of women investors to the future of financial services, and as such, there's been lots of conventional research about why women are unhappy with our industry. According to the surveys, women don't like data, they are more trusting, they don't like to negotiate and they don't feel as confident as men about finances.
LEARNING THE TRUTH
Instead of conducting another survey that validated old assumptions, we decided to conduct independent research that allowed women to tell us about their financial lives in an unconstrained way. What we learned contradicted much of what I've read over the years.
First, a word of disclosure: Discussing the differences between people in generalizations is delicate ground; we are all unique and there are always exceptions. The research was conducted focusing on affluent women with dependents, through a customized phone app, having each participant post videos several times a day sharing highlights and lowlights. The research team collected more than 1,700 videos and categorized them. The data was then validated with 1,000 women. Here are the three biggest findings:
1. Women set high standards for themselves. The “confidence gap” suggesting women are less confident than men is a myth. Our research showed that lack of confidence is not the issue, standards are. Eighty nine percent of women described that they set very high standards for their lives. Over half of their daily ups and downs are due to their ideals either being lived up to or broken. Women do not suffer from a lack of belief in themselves, it just takes more for a woman to feel confident because she often sets higher standards for herself and her life than her male counterparts. We need a better way to integrate her ideals and standards into the way we build plans. We need to live up to the high standards she expects from her adviser.
2. Time is their most limiting constraint. Money is not the most constrained resource for women, time is. The irony is women are stretched for time juggling their daily lives, but they also can set such high standards that they feel like they need to do everything themselves to get things done properly. We found that 33% of daily frustrations were about time, but only 8% were about money. The more affluent a woman is, the more this is true. Our job as advisers is to help make her life easier. Perhaps in office meetings need to be rethought.
3. Women want to be recognized as unique individuals, not treated as a category. Women don't want to be treated like a “special” class. They don't want to have things “feminized” for them. In our study, 94.3% of women want their individual circumstances to govern the financial advice they are given, not their gender. Only 3% of women felt that their financial frustrations were specific to being a woman. Lesson for advisers? Don't stereotype, understand your female clients as individuals with their own unique set of circumstances.
THE WAY FORWARD
As ludicrous as the Bic pen misstep seems, we've all seen a lot of awkward efforts by firms and advisers who think they are catering to women in a positive way. Perhaps when it comes to their financial lives, women are a lot like men but with higher standards. They want their adviser to focus their limited time on the things that really matter. Underneath it all, we are all the same; we are each unique individuals who want to be treated that way, not lumped into a category.
I encourage you to check out a portion of our report here to learn what she's really thinking, which shares far more detail (including some hilariously astute videos). The good news is that if we listen, she may have some great ideas that could make us better advisers for everyone!
Joe Duran is chief executive of United Capital. Follow him @DuranMoney.