Clued in... High networth women have access to substantial investment funds. The last thing they need is gender stereotyping on their investment strategies. Image Credit: Agency

Oprah Winfrey once famously said: “Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down…”

It is good advice for wealth managers starting to wake up to the immense purchasing power of women across the Arab world, who want advisers that will be with them through their entire financial journey.

Numerous studies have compared the investing habits in recent years, especially as the market has started to awaken to the growing economic empowerment of women more generally. It has created the perception that female investors tend to be more conservative than their male counterparts and that they typically have a longer investment horizon.

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They are also often seen to be more risk-averse and more-goal oriented than men in their investing style. Clearly, caution is needed here if the consultant is to avoid falling into the trap of preconception and prescription when offering financial advice to new clients.

Whether or not you buy into generalizations of this kind, it is hard to argue against the industry’s historical patriarchal bias and the urgent need to change it. An inclusive approach is therefore needed to ensure that wealth managers remain relevant and responsive to all their clients irrespective of gender.

Substantial wealth

Nowhere is the changing economic empowerment of women now more visible than in the Gulf. Women’s wealth in Saudi Arabia alone is estimated at $224 billion, according to a Boston Consulting Group report. That is roughly equivalent to the GDP of New Zealand.

The same report projects that women’s wealth in the Kingdom will achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1 per cent up to 2023. In the UAE, women’s wealth is estimated at $103 billion and is expected to achieve a CAGR of 8.3 per cent over the same period.

It represents a massive opportunity for advisers tuned in to the specific factors at play in this region. While the rise of women’s wealth is a global story, there are specific factors at play in the Middle East, which is seeing a much more dramatic shift in female financial empowerment.

Far greater visibility

Education has been a one of the driving factors in that trend with women now outnumbering men at the university level in 15 of 22 Arab nations. The advancement of women is now also becoming part of broader economic plans across the Gulf states in particular, such as the Saudi Vision 2030 agenda which aims to provide a million jobs for Saudi women by the end of the decade.

At the same time, women have become more visible at board level throughout the Middle East and increasingly represented in industries traditionally male-dominated.

Still, outdated assumptions about the roles of men and women in the home and in society persist within the financial services sector. Redressing such imbalances demands more than devising marketing campaigns that simply target women with a pre-conceived notion of how and where they want to invest their money.

When attitudes become institutionalized, you need to start by changing the institution.

Patriarchy, in all its subtle as well as overt forms, needs to be uprooted and replaced with a culture of open and inclusive communication that keeps in lockstep with the needs of the individual client.

It’s a way of doing business, not a marketing strategy and for it be effective, everyone needs to get on the bus.

- Isabelle Jacob-Nebout is Head of Wealth Management of CA Indosuez (Switzerland) SA.