Women And Financial Services: Work In Progress

Marleen Verhaag

Women represent 50% of the world population, and make or influence 80% of buying decisions. So we may conclude that women drive the world economy, in fact. Yet most companies do a remarkably poor job of serving them.

Back in 2009, Boston Consulting Group surveyed more than 12,000 women from a variety of geographies, income levels, and walks of life about their education, finances, homes, jobs, activities, interests, relationships, hopes, and fears, as well as their shopping behaviors and spending patterns. This research showed areas of opportunity for many businesses, but claimed that the greatest potential lay in six industries: food, fitness, beauty, apparel, health care, and financial services.

Financial services?

As I work in financial services and head up SAP’s Business Women’s Network, I often think about women in financial services, both as customers and as employees. When I work with our customers on the effects of the increasingly digital world and what opportunities new technology can bring them, I like to think about and discuss how female customers are different from male customers, and what that means for customer expectations and interaction.

Barclays research shows that women allow themselves more time to make financial decisions and want to understand the impact of their decisions. For banks, this means that investment products, especially, should be more transparent, and that communication and explanation of such products should be improved. Global Banking Alliance for Women concludes that women have different expectations from banks than men do, as they expect a longer-term and less “transactional” relationship. And relationships entail trust-building, which is not so simple in the era where bank branches are being replaced by websites, apps, and logon screens.

There are companies that get it. For the last 20 years, Australia-based Westpac has been specifically targeting this market, and created a special unit focusing on female customers’ needs. Its sub-brand Ruby includes an online community that is focused on financial education and networking, and supports female entrepreneurs who seek capital and are building businesses. Although it does not primarily focus on selling, the portal does attract new customers to the brand and impacts the company’s top line.

Similarly, one of my pension providers, NN Group (also an SAP customer), created a website in 2014 that helps 30- to 55-year-old women assess the impact of life events on their pensions. The site educates and stimulates women to think and act, offering tips on how to save smarter for retirement, negotiate a pension when applying for a new job, and take care of your financial future when you are self-employed. It is just a pity that I, as an existing customer, never knew about this site until I found a reference to it in an annual report, and I googled to find it.

What is my experience and expectation as a financial services customer?

When I reflect on my personal experiences as a customer, I fully recognize feeling underserved. Online and mobile banking is quite good in the Netherlands, but my insurance company’s service level is incredibly low. Admittedly, my broker did not sign me up with the most edgy company 10 years ago. But a decade later, my insurer still offers no online insight whatsoever for two insurance products that I bought in the early 2000’s, and requesting a statement takes 10 (!) days …  The service is so poor that I doubt that the company knows anything about me other than where to send monthly statements.

So, what would I like? It would be nice to have better insight into my family’s long-term financial situation. Some short-term rewards would be nice, too, related to my (mostly) careful behavior. My insurer should be pretty happy to have me as a customer. And lastly, it always good to feel empowered and in control, which for me is linked to the first point.

Short-term versus long-term

Short-term benefits seem to be the low-hanging fruit, which can vary from discounts and offers based on careful driving behavior, healthy lifestyle, and so on. SAP is wonderfully equipped to market to specific customer segments and combine customer-specific data to relatively small and valued tokens of appreciation, and thus boost customer retention and trust. We have enabled the Vitality program at our South African customer Discovery to show how that can work.

From a tech company’s perspective, it should be easy to work with customer data, but laws and regulations often prohibit the use and combination of data, even if it seems for the customer’s benefit. Still, providing customers with a portal and some basic analytics and simulations for single products like life insurance and pensions is a pretty good differentiator.

But to feel really empowered and in control regarding our personal finances, we should move beyond expecting our financial institutions to bring us insights and incentives based on new technologies.


I recently spent some time investigating this “control angle.”

Last fall, we hosted an innovation session at the SAP Paris Executive Briefing Center with an SAP customer, one of the largest pensions and asset management companies in the world. During the break, I talked to the CEO, who claimed that it is better that the average citizen does not get to control their pension investments. They calculated that if the average person were allowed to invest their pension premiums on their own, they would need to work 7 years longer in order to accumulate the same capital that a professional asset manager can achieve.

Well, that’s very reassuring, and I do believe that asset managers are the investment experts, but how does that help me feel connected and in control of my own finances and financial future, especially with a creeping pensions age?

Former head of Citigroup wealth management business and entrepreneur Sallie Krawcheck blogs about women, finance, and investments. She says, “When we are talking about women’s equality, we think money should be part of the conversation because we feel quite strongly that women will not be equal with men until we’re financially equal. While women continue to lag behind men in pay and promotions, investing deserves more attention in the gender equality discussion.”

Sallie talks about what you can and cannot control in terms of career and finances. Pay raises, for example, are only partially under your own control. There is always a manager who decides whether you are eligible and how big the raise will be. However, the decision to put aside some money and invest is entirely your own. Although our pensions (in many countries) are subject to local regulations and governing bodies, we have the power to control at least some part of our capital build-up and financial independence.

Sallie confirms that women invest less than men, which leads to a very significant gender gap alongside the better-known workplace pay gap and promotions gap: the “gender investment gap.” Women, in the long run, miss out on much more than just the pay raise and the compounding effect of savings. By not investing, they miss the returns on investments, which since 1928, have yielded 9,5% return. If you also consider that women take more career breaks and live longer, the result is that they build up only 2/3 of pension income compared to men…well, you get the picture. This is enough to awaken the financial feminist in most of us.

Taking our responsibility

Returning to what financial institutions can and should do, there is basically a marketing and a customer service approach to this. On the one hand, banks, insurers and pension/asset management companies can do much more to understand and serve their female customers. They can offer long-term insights and analytics along with short-term benefits and incentives, and potentially offer additional products. On the other hand, I would argue that financial institutions have a big responsibility to better support and educate all their customers about the financial impact of behavior, life and career decisions, and to create a more equal society.

I understand that I am talking about this from the perspective of a woman who has had education, career opportunities, and the luxury of having choices. And as an SAP employee, I realize that SAP is quite ahead of many organizations in terms of striving for gender equality, equal career opportunities, and pay equity. So I count my blessings and feel a responsibility to spread the word.

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Here’s just one example of how SAP can help: Insurance and The Internet of Things Powered by SAP Hybris

Marleen Verhaag

About Marleen Verhaag

Marleen Verhaag is a business development expert and management consultant with over 20 years of experience in developing IT strategies and selling and advising on software and technology solutions for international financial services companies. Marleen has a significant track record in strategic, transformational deals, working at the board level and in business partner relationships. Marleen is also the global head of communications of SAP’s Business Women’s Network, an employee-driven network at SAP with over 10,000 members and 60 chapters around the world. The network offers women at SAP the opportunity to share professional insights and best practices, and help one another develop skills, advance their careers to drive SAP’s success.