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What financial services need to show they know about women

Read the first blog in our series on Female Financial Equality here.

The financial services industry can feel like a man’s world. This is a core finding of our recent research on Female Financial Equality. Products, services, communications and the algorithms that feed them may look as if they’re geared towards men. So, in a system that our interviewees said can often feel stacked against women, one very easily fixable area is communications (comms), the focus of this article.

Depending on the sex you identify with, the media feeds you two very different narratives about money. On one hand you have men’s comms pushing a masculine world of investments [75% of articles, StarlingBank], risk-taking and money earning. While on the other hand, women’s comms focus on topics such as budgeting for the household [65% of articles, StarlingBank] and how to not spend excessively. In recent months there has been a flurry of articles aimed at empowering women financially, but sadly these represent a small number of communications bucking the norm.

In a market where many Financial Services (FS) brands are struggling to make incremental gains, women, a segment making up 51% of the UK’s population, represent an opportunity for serious growth — consider inheritance or the number of houses and cars where women are the key influencer if not the buyer. Great examples of those organisations that have seized this opportunity are often from the newer kids on the block, the FinTechs, with a new generation of digital financial services aimed at women.

So, where are FS brands falling down when it comes to their communications strategy?

It starts with where and when they speak to consumers. FS brands appear to have a broad-brush media approach: reach and speak to everyone. We struggled to find many nuanced campaigns that spoke to either priorities or concerns of different sexes, especially in spaces where women are known for spending more time, such as social media and the communities within those spaces. Furthermore, different social channels play distinct roles in consumers' lives. These channels are not just a space for entertainment and connection with friends but, more importantly for the financial services industry, they are a place to foster and share knowledge. When FS brands do offer articles and advice that speak directly to women, they are often hidden with multiple clicks needed to find them.

This broad-brush approach not only applies to the where and when, but how FS comms represent and speak to women. So much of the advertising is aimed at men or everybody. It’s unusual to see communications that offer realistic depictions of women, especially when it comes to retirement comms where the imagery of women is often ‘young’ and ‘active’. Or, take for instance, the way the financial services industry speaks about products like investments. These communications often utilise macho language and imagery, which can put women off. This leads to women having lower exposure and knowledge in this area compared to men, often leaving them with the misconception that investments are more like gambling than an opportunity to have a balanced portfolio. This can result in an attitude of “it’s just not for me” amongst women. So it’s no surprise that almost double the number of men actively invest compared to that of women in the UK. Changing the visual presentation and language around investing could offer a big and immediate opportunity for FS brands.

Women’s attitudes towards money are different. Not just because of the way they have been communicated to via the media, but because of their multifaceted lives. Often women can be the primary carers, educators and, in some cases, sole breadwinners for their household. Because of this, her priorities and needs are different — she will be looking for trust, transparency, security and support. This is even more so at the points in her life where her financial needs diverge from those of men, such as becoming a mother or even divorce. And while FS communications do (sometimes) speak to these values there is still more work to be done to build confidence with women to make them feel like they are being seen and taken seriously.

But all is not lost. Some brands are heading in the right direction as suggested by recent YouGov research, which saw a substantial gap between the bank best liked by women, versus the least. However, there is still a significant way to go across the board. Part of this will be down to how they are communicating; where they show up in women’s lives; understanding their priorities and speaking their language.

So, what does that all mean for financial services? How can they embrace comms strategies that build confidence and empower women, to engage this ever important 51% of our country.

Step into her world

Too often in marketing meeting rooms, broad brush strokes of a target audience are used to paint one, or if you’re lucky, two, dimensions of their consumers. FS providers are no exception. From semiotic analysis, we found that women were divided into two categories: women as businesswomen and women as “consumers”. Women were either represented via ‘inspirational success stories’ or, more often and tangentially, out shopping, drinking cocktails or worrying about their finances. But, as we know, this is vastly different from the reality of who they really are - especially for the multifaceted woman who wears so many hats throughout her day, let alone her life. A woman, a mother, a small business owner, an employee, a household manager, a partner, or the 10s of millions that are carers to mention a few. Her earnings ebb and flow through life stages and her priorities shift constantly. FS brands can often seem quite distant and lack the understanding to meet her needs. But when they do grasp what’s going on, what the context is, FS brands finally have the permission and the ability to step into her world. This is not only powerful, but an important and meaningful thing to do. For instance, women tend to seek more validation and reassurance — in all aspects of their lives — they want to know they’re making the right decision, and often social media is a means of doing this. Or the fact that women focus more on others, when it comes to FS they tend to think in terms of “we” and “they” as opposed to “I” and “me” partly because they’re managing the household, a simple flip of language in FS comms that could go a long way in engaging women.

Empower, don’t diminish

Particularly in the space of loans, investments, pensions and mortgages, it is fundamental to do something to break the deadlock and apprehension we’re seeing with women in this area. FS brands need to communicate more clearly that the outcome from investing is more than abstract profit; that it is instead preparing for her family’s future. They need to keep women engaged on a nuanced customer journey. We often hear how women are put off by the application process itself. It is important that through this customer journey their confidence is maintained and they continue to be engaged at every step.

Women’s priorities are different

Let’s be real. Women and men have different priorities. This affects the decisions they make, especially when it comes to managing money, as the issues that matter most to women can often be different to their male counterparts. Whether that’s navigating financial abuse, teaching their children about finances or considering the ethical impact of their bank. Women’s issues and priorities are different and FS brands that look to understand, cater to and provide solutions can not only benefit the consumer but society too.

Double down on female-led digital communities

You might have an ad campaign with 50 or 100 percent women in it. But where is the depth? Where is the community? Where women are lacking confidence and trust in the FS industry, it is often in community spaces where barriers are broken down by education and confidence is grown. Financial groups for women are on the rise, and so much can be done in these safe spaces, where no question is too small or silly — such as ‘how can I fund carer expenses on a separate card’. Safe places where sharing trustworthy sources and warning each other about potentially dangerous sites is commonplace. For FS brands, being part of these digital communities will not only empower but also build that much needed trust within this audience.

Level up on locality

It is not only within the digital space that communities play an intrinsic role in these consumer’s lives. Women lead the way in supporting our local physical communities, making up the majority of leadership roles in this space [Neighbourly 2021]. In this post-pandemic era, the importance of locality and community has become crucial. Supporting and being present within local communities should be on FS brand agendas to meaningfully engage with women — especially as local branch closures continue to rise.

In conclusion

The percieved industrywide postioning of FS as a man’s world, is detrimental to both people and business. Embracing comms strategies like these will be key when it comes to speaking to women in this sector. An brand that does not understand her context, priorities and language will discourage her at the very first step. Playing an empathetic role lends itself to communication solutions that will empower her every step of the way - not only benefiting her, and the relevant FS provider but society as a whole. But whatever the right approach is for your FS brand, it’s important to remember that it is about stepping into her world.

ACNE is Deloitte's creative company obsessed with creating the new, never been seen, heard or thought of before, to help global brands make transformational change.