Deepening Women’s Access to Finance

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By Tosin Alabi

It is the year 2021 and women’s access to education, wealth and positions of authority has not seen significant progress in Africa. In Nigeria, the continent’s biggest economy, the existence of economic and gender inequality is now so intertwined that the life of the average Nigerian woman is profoundly affected by a wide range of discriminatory socio-cultural practices.

The Global Wealth Report of 2018 observed that “women’s share in wealth rose considerably over the 20th century and held about 40 per cent of global wealth”,but how much of that represents women’s share of wealth in Africa? What is the value of the economic future of the average African woman?

In 2017, only two women made it on the Forbes magazine Africa’s Billionaires list. This year, the list is even more male dominated; no woman made the list despitethe evident progress in other regions around the world where increased access to education, and career and family life balance have unlocked greater financial independence and economic wealth for women.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme – #ChooseToChallenge is a uniquely powerful message that endears me to challenge the unfair status quo of women’s share of wealth in Africa. The path to sustainable income and financial independence is still largely uncharted for African women who are still denied education, employment, upward mobility in the workplace, trade opportunities, the right to own or inherit property, and are largely underrepresented in governance.

Thankfully, we now have a younger generation of women, that, despite these adverse circumstances that may delaytheir pace of wealth generation, are eager to be the HNIs of tomorrow. In the RBC Wealth Management report titled ‘The new face of wealth and legacy: How women are redefining wealth, giving and legacy planning’, it was reported that not only are women generating and managing an increasing amount of wealth, they are also directing the economy itself—heading up major corporations and pivotal economic players like the International Monetary Fund.

While this trend seems progressive, research from the Stears Business team have shown that women are still lagging behind men in financial independence and wealth accumulation globally. An alarmingly high number of African women often feel less financially secure and optimistic about their economic futures.In an infographic with data attributed to Stears Business, it was reported that women have lower financial access than men in Nigeria with about 23 per cent debit card ownership for women and 40 per cent for men.

The report also exhibited that four per cent of women have mobile money accounts in comparison to seven per cent of men. These are staggering figures that must be addressed. If women still do not have access to basic opportunities as those stated above, which translate to financial exclusion, how then can we build and sustain women’s share of wealth?

In light of the above, and as the Assistant Vice President at one of Nigeria’s topmost investment firms, DLM Capital Group, I am compelled to ask that wealth managers pay a lot more attention to women, their investment needs, attitudes and portfolios.

Financial services need to adapt to better cater to female priorities as men and women have different investment styles and attitudes.

The BCG 2019 Global Wealth Report disclosed that “women remain largely underserved by the wealth management community as too many financial institutions rely on broad assumptions about what women are looking for, resulting in products, services, and messaging that can feel superficial at best and condescending at worst.”

I believe that wealth managers have a responsibility to recognise that ‘women’s financial and investment avenues’ is a huge business opportunity – and tailor offerings that meet the specific needs and priorities of individual women regardless of class, income, exposure, or marital status.

Today, African millennial women are taking charge of their wealth and earning a greater share of wealth than the young women of past generations. This sort of mindset must be continuously empowered. We cannot continue to refer to women as afterthoughts in the wealth management industry and men as the primary financial decision makers; there is therefore an urgent need to design products and services that do not ridicule women, look superficial or reflect outdated assumptions about the gender’s role in driving wealth.

Wealth managers operating in Africa must understand, that for women, wealth is a means to many ends, not an end in itself. Women are susceptible to certain inflection points in their lives and the financial impacts that come from them – and so tend to fund specific goals that address these crossroads.

At DLM Capital Group, we pay great attention to women’s specific needs and preferences and tailor our services accordingly – this has earned us a large share of this important and growing market.

As we celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, I challenge all wealth managers to address the industry’s deep-seated biases, combined with an inadequate understanding of women’s actual behaviours and preferences. A culture of conscious inclusion and a focus on the individual is needed more than everto get us, the African billionaires of the next decade.

.Alabi, Assistant Vice President, DLM Capital Group, wrote in from Lagos.