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Women venture into non-traditional domains

Poonam Vijay Thakkar, senior marketing professional & mentor of change at NITI Aayog, shares women related trends in the finance sector:

Ravi Lalwani: What does data show about differences between men and women w.r.t. financial services, and how is that different from commonly held perceptions?

Poonam Vijay Thakkar: As per the World Bank’s Global Findex Database, as of 2017, approximately 77% of women in India aged 15 years or older had a bank account. This represents a significant improvement from 2014 when only 53% of women had a bank account. The Indian government’s Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) scheme, launched in August 2014, has played a significant role in increasing the number of women with bank accounts in India.

As of January 2022, the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) estimated that 31.6 million women, or 34% of all mutual fund investors in India, were female. While more men than women invest in mutual funds, the gender gap persists. Since digitalization is at the heart of our country, the good news is coming from the fintech space. Fintech services are increasingly being used in several cities in India as the country continues to witness a surge in digital payments and financial technology solutions.

A report by Google and BCG in 2020 found that the number of women fintech users in India had tripled over the past year, and women accounted for almost half of the total number of new digital financial services users in the country. Another study by Visa in 2021 revealed that the number of women using fintech services in India had grown by 60% in the previous year, and women accounted for 35% of all fintech users in the country.

Various reports suggest that women are underrepresented in direct exposure to the stock market. Especially when it comes to the stock market and investments, men are more willing to take on high levels of investment risk because they know they will be working and making money for a longer time, while women’s careers are still seen as optional because of social norms.

People think of them as the first ones to take care of their families and children, even before their jobs. So, women are less likely to invest in the stock market and are less willing to take risks. They also don’t have the same financial knowledge and confidence as men. Women are less likely than men to use banks and credit unions for their money needs. They also save less or don’t save at all for retirement.

Overall, India has made significant progress in improving the state of women and reducing the gender gap in all areas, including financial services, but there is still a long way to go because, despite these improvements to uplift women, there are still significant gaps in financial inclusion between men and women in India. Despite the increasing adoption of fintech services among women, there are still several challenges to be addressed, including low digital literacy levels and limited access to digital infrastructure, currently coming in the way of the uptake of digital financial services among women in India.

Within the financial sector, which are the areas where women are making rapid career progress? What could be the explanation for success in these domains vis-à-vis other domains?

Women are rapidly advancing in a variety of financial sectors, including compliance and risk management, wealth management, financial planning and fintech. Women are also taking the lead in the field of sustainable finance, which involves investing in businesses and projects that have a positive environmental and social impact. These fields may be less traditional, with fewer entrenched biases and gender stereotypes than other areas of finance.

There are several possible explanations for why women are making progress in these areas, including being more drawn to these areas because they align with their values and interests, and financial institutions actively seeking to increase diversity and inclusion. Women are also leveraging their skills and strengths, such as communication and collaboration, to achieve success in these areas. While various diversity and inclusion initiatives have opened doors for women, the doors to top management must still be opened on merit.

Today in the financial services space in India, according to a report by PRIME Database, as of September 2021, women CEOs represented approximately 5.5% of the total CEO positions in listed companies in India. This means that men represented the vast majority of CEO positions, with a percentage of approximately 94.5%. Are women not capable, or women don’t get the opportunity – that is the question to ponder upon in the new India.

Compared to men, women have a deeper interest in beauty, decoration, fashion, etc. What trends do you see in financial services evolving around these interests?

There has been an increasing trend in the financial services sector for businesses to cater to beauty, decoration, fashion, etc, interests by providing products and services that are in line with customers’ values and preferences. For example, some banks and credit card companies offer cards with bonus points for spending on cosmetics, fashion, and beauty. There has also been a rise in fintech firms with a focus on customer-values-congruent industries like eco-friendly clothing and accessories, ethical investing, and others.

The use of social media and influencer marketing is also on the rise in the banking and insurance sectors. Instagram and YouTube are two of the most popular social media channels used by businesses to connect with consumers who have an interest in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Financial service providers have started reaching a highly engaged audience base through partnerships with influencers in these communities.

How do you see Maslow’s Law being applied in financial services?

Since 2016, I have worked in the financial services industry. Since then, I’ve learned one thing about consumer marketing that has stuck with me: customers don’t buy your products because they want them; they buy them to meet their needs. You can either create that need in the market and position your products as first movers, or you can better understand the psychological needs of a buyer in the current market.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs has always been a key part of how any product or service has been made. This understanding has been especially helpful in the financial services industry. In the FS industry, we try to convince our customers to put their already-earned income to good use so that their already-earned money can now start earning money for them to reach their higher goals in life by beating inflation. In today’s uncertain job market, your savings need to earn income for you to protect you from jolts. Now, the need for safety is more important than the need for comfort.

As a Mentor of Change at NITI Aayog, with a focus on educational leadership, have you observed some things about what motivates and drives India’s youngsters?

There are several factors driving growth, and I’m particularly fascinated by the passion and hunger that young people, particularly in rural India, have to offer. Digitalization and internet penetration have inspired young minds to explore the world beyond their villages and connect with us. We are not only educating but also bringing youngsters up to par with the top 30 cities in India, thanks to all the initiatives, various campaigns, ATL marathons, and high exposure to these young minds participating and learning experiences to them provided by the NITI Aayog Atal Tinkering Labs. The adventure has only just begun. These young people’s ideas are extremely original and powerful.

I’ve mostly seen girl children, particularly in rural India, pick up a slate and consider a career, a position, or a work profile. This makes me especially happy. Boys, on the other hand, want to do a lot of digital integration work, particularly intelligent engineering, to help uplift their villages. All they wanted was to ‘bridge the gap’, and that gap has been successfully bridged on a large scale thanks to our government’s digital efforts. India is being built in small steps.

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