Why financial freedom is the buzzword among Gen-Z women

It is the most important form of independence for women. And yet, sometimes, the most successful ones do not seem to have a balanced relationship with wealth

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Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Thu 27 Apr 2023, 5:26 PM

If the world is full of possibilities, financial education is the key to unlock those opportunities. And yet, many (if not all) women continue to see their earnings as being supplementary to what their partners make. Changing this mindset is key to the independence a modern woman hopes for. The silver lining is that today we have the resources needed to be able to think on our feet when it comes to wealth management. Akshay Sardana, who apart from his role as vice president of strategy and international development at the Continental Group, also champions financial literacy among women, talks at length about how women, especially Gen-Z, are coming into their own when it comes to wealth creation and multiplication. Edited excerpts from an interview.

What led you to champion ‘financial literacy for women’?

A woman’s wealth journey presents its own unique challenges that needs to be addressed in a more modern and progressive way. These different financial needs can make their situation unique to navigate the financial world. Women leaders are switching jobs at an unprecedented rate, according to McKinsey & Company. The demand for flexibility and desire for purpose are some of the reasons. As these job changes will inevitably alter women’s career paths, they will also affect their wealth.

Women still face challenges such as the pay gap, interrupted careers due to child-rearing or flexible work, longer life expectancies and cultural expectations. Without a strong understanding of personal finance, these unique life events raise barriers to the creation of wealth. For example, women may need to prioritise saving for retirement, healthcare costs, and long-term care more than men, so financial literacy is essential to ensure they have the resources they need to meet these requirements.

We increasingly talk about gender pay gap and yet, you would find that even among the most evolved and successful women, talking and demanding equal pay are not very common. Why’s that so?

Unfortunately, there is still a prevalent societal expectation that women are not involved in any dialogue around money and wealth. Women are often expected to prioritise collaboration over competition; therefore, they may feel uncomfortable advocating for themselves and negotiating for better pay, even when they know their own worth.

Transparency is still not ingrained into the culture of corporations. Without clarity it becomes hard to tackle the issue of equal pay. We are seeing this change for the positive with more and more companies willing to have an open dialogue.

The gender pay gap is a complex issue that cannot be solved by women alone. It requires systemic changes, such as pay transparency, non-discrimination policies, and flexible work arrangements, among others.

What does financial education entail for women who are homemakers and, in a way, are doing unpaid work in a domestic setting?

Financial education for homemakers should be tailored to meet their specific needs and challenges. It should include practical skills, building financial literacy, and empowering them to make informed decisions about their finances — now as well as in the future. This starts with the fundamental concepts, from the attitude of ‘save first, spend later’ to understanding your liquidity and debt requirements. Most important is that they have an open dialogue with their partners about their overall wealth journey, making sure their long-term family goals and values are aligned. The reality of life is that we may outlive our partners and will need to understand the basics of managing our financial affairs to ensure our family can continue to live a life of dignity.

It can be as simple as educating yourself on practical skills, such as how to manage household finances, pay bills, and handle expenses. Or be more involved in choosing suitable financial solutions, such as savings plans, credit cards, and insurance policies. It is imperative to learn how to budget and save for the future, participate in the financial planning decisions and understand your investment behaviours over time. This knowledge and experience will help women make informed decisions about their finances and feel confident in managing their family’s money.

Where does the UAE stand when it comes to increased awareness on finances among women, given the diverse demographic?

The UAE has made significant strides in recent years towards increasing financial awareness and education among women, reflecting the country’s commitment to empowering women and promoting gender equality.

One such initiative is the “Women’s Financial Inclusion” programme launched by the UAE government in 2017. It aims to provide women with the skills and knowledge they need to make informed financial decisions and to participate more fully in the economy. The programme includes a range of services, including financial education workshops, training programmes and access to financial solutions and services.

A recent article in Financial Times claims that female financial education — “fin-ed” — is fast becoming an exciting space in the fintech world. Is that true for the Middle East as well?

Fin-Ed is an exciting space in the fin-tech world, including in the Middle East. Fin-tech companies are increasingly recognising the importance of addressing the unique financial needs and challenges that women face and are developing innovative solutions to help women gain control over their finances. It is important to recognise some of the shortcomings of these platforms or apps as they don’t always focus on improving financial literacy and inculcating positive habits around money and wealth.

If the general longevity of women is higher than that of men and they continue to remain underpaid as opposed to the men, how does it impact them later in life?

A higher life expectancy requires a longer investment horizon and can affect your long-term investment strategy. Women need to play an active part in shaping their pension planning so they can still realise their dreams in 10, 20 or 30 years. The gender pay gap can make it more difficult for women to build up a nest egg that will last throughout their retirement years.

Additionally, women tend to have higher healthcare costs in retirement, partly because they live longer than men and are more likely to require long-term care. Pension or end of service benefits may not be sufficient to fund these additional expenses or the retirement strategy they envision.

The combination of longer life expectancy, a higher proportion of part-time work amongst women in the region and a more cautious approach to investing can have significant implications for women’s financial security in later life. It is essential that women take steps to plan, making this a great time to review or set long-term financial goals. Regularly reviewing your financial plans alongside your career progression is essential to ensuring your money is working toward both your short- and long-term goals.

As per global reports by Wells Fargo (Women and Investing, 2022) and Fidelity Investments (2021 Women and Investing Study), women are more conservative about their investments. Is there considerable truth in that claim?

The Fidelity survey shows a 50 per cent increase in the want to be actively involved in their family financial planning. However, women still keep significant savings in cash because they generally want to protect themselves against the unexpected.

When it comes to investments we have seen with our clients and confirmed by multiple UBS reports, women are less reluctant to take on financial risks and have a more cautious approach to investing. This can be a hindrance in accumulating sufficient wealth to meet lifetime goals towards legacy, retirement, and philanthropy. Finding the right investment approach is important for improving the financial wellbeing and understanding how investment behaviour differs allows us to deliver the experience and wealth advice that are better suited to address these needs.

Women are leading the way in entrepreneurial wealth creation and now have a multi-generational time horizon. This will have a positive effect on their approach to investing and place more importance on their need for flexibility.

Has the pandemic changed women’s attitudes towards finances?

The pandemic has had a significant impact on women’s attitudes towards finances. Many women have become more focused on their financial security and are taking steps to improve their financial situation. We are seeing many prioritising their wealth planning needs and having a more open dialogue with their partners or family members. They are looking for ways to secure the wealth they have worked so hard to build, reduce their expenses, or build up their emergency savings. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of having a solid financial plan in place, particularly in times of uncertainty.

This is the age of gig economy, we’re told. Has it altered women’s relationship with money?

The gig economy has both positive and negative implications for women’s relationship with money. While it offers new opportunities for flexibility and income generation, it also presents unique financial challenges and requires new skills and strategies to navigate successfully. Gig workers often lack benefits such as health insurance and pensions or end of service benefits, and may have irregular or unpredictable income streams. This can make it difficult to plan for the future and build long-term financial security. The increase in flexibility and autonomy could allow for woman to focus their additional time and resource to structure an adaptable financial plan that addresses their financial goals.

How are Gen-Z women’s attitudes towards finances different from that of their predecessors?

Gen-Z women’s attitudes towards finances may reflect their unique experiences and values. They may be more focused on achieving financial independence, using their money to create positive change, and leveraging technology to manage their finances. More of these women tend to invest with purpose — in ideas that positively impact the lives of others. We see that they are more likely to challenge the status quo and are truly using their wealth to affect positive change.

anamika@khaleejtimes.com


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