PHILIPPA: Hello and welcome back to The Pension Confident Podcast. Now, you’ve probably heard of the gender pay gap and you may have heard us talk on this podcast about the gender pension gap. But did you know there’s also a gender investment gap?
Now, there could be many reasons why you don’t invest. Worries about risk, maybe feeling you just don’t know enough about investments. But the data tells us that gender can be a big factor too. The fact is fewer than half of women invest in the stock market compared to 66% of men. Investment website Boring Money reckons that adds up to nearly £600 billion more in men’s investment accounts than in women’s, in the UK. You heard that right - £600 billion. So why can women feel reluctant to invest? Is it about financial confidence, historical inequality or is it something else entirely?
Well, today we’re joined by a panel of experts who have all thought very hard about that. Ayesha Ofori is the Founder and CEO of Propelle; a financial education and investment platform that specifically caters to female investors. Hi Ayesha.
AYESHA: Hi, thanks for having me.
PHILIPPA: Next. We have Anna-Sophie Hartvigsen. She’s Co-Founder of Female Invest; a financial education platform that aims to close that financial gap between men and women. Hi, Anna.
ANNA: Hi, happy to be here.
PHILIPPA: And from PensionBee, here’s Independent Non-Executive Director; Lara Oyesanya FRSA, who as well as being a Barrister of the Supreme Court of Nigeria is also a Solicitor here in England. Very useful for us as she has plenty of senior leadership experience across various FTSE 100 and financial services companies. She’s going to share some of that experience with us today. Lovely to have you with us, Lara.
PHILIPPA: Now, as usual before we start - do remember anything discussed on the podcast should not be regarded as financial or legal advice and when investing your capital is at risk.
So, should we talk about that investment gap? That £600 billion number that I mentioned. We’re talking about ISAs, private pensions and other investment accounts here. That’s from this Boring Money report last year. Were you all surprised by that number?
AYESHA: No, unfortunately. I spend a lot of time researching this and that’s one of the reasons that I set up Propelle - to try and address this issue. So unfortunately, I’m not surprised.
PHILIPPA: I think most people don’t know that though. Most women don’t know that.
LARA: I think that’s absolutely right. Although it’s not a surprise, it’s still a huge number. When you have it that stark, you stop to think, ‘really?’.
PHILIPPA: It’s probably worth asking at this point - does it matter if women don’t invest, Anna?
ANNA: It hugely matters because money is not just for buying things and having fun. Money equals freedom, power, independence and the ability to make the big decisions in life yourself, rather than having them dictated by your bank account. So, when women are falling financially behind, it ultimately means that we have fewer options in life.
LARA: I couldn’t agree more. And can I just add to that by saying it just limits your options? You have fewer choices if you don’t have that ability to make the same sort of investment decisions that men do.
THE FINANCIAL BARRIERS WOMEN FACE
PHILIPPA: When you look at the history of women and money, it’s not hard to see why we might still be thinking that money is men’s business. Did you know it was 1922, only 1922, that women in England won the right to inherit property? Before that, they had to give up all their property rights if they got married. It’s amazing, isn’t it?
AYESHA: Absolutely, and that’s not all. The Equal Pay Act didn’t come out until 1970. That was all about making sure that women were paid the same as men for doing the same role. And one could argue that the gender pay gap still exists. So, has it really solved anything?
ANNA: And then even after that, it took another five years before women were allowed to have their own bank account and before they were allowed to have a credit card for themselves. That was in 1975 which is just hard to believe.
PHILIPPA: It is. Do you know, this is the one that really amazed me? Women were only taxed independently of their husbands in 1990.
LARA: Yes indeed and I do have some personal experience here. I think it was around 1993 to 1995, thereabouts. I was trying to get some money from my bank and they said, ‘Oh, we need your husband’s consent to proceed.’ And I was thinking, as a professional woman in my own right - I’ve been a Barrister and practising Solicitor - ‘I still need my husband’s permission to manage my own financial affairs? No, thank you.’
PHILIPPA: Thinking about financial gaps. Do women just have less money than men generally to save or invest, or are they specifically choosing not to invest the money they have? What do you think?
AYESHA: It’s a bit of a combination of both. So, I’d say historically, one could argue that it was the case that women had less because of the gender pay gap. Because women often take time out to be carers, become mothers or care for elderly relatives, for example. And so if women are working for a smaller period of time and earning less, then you could say that they have less money at their disposal to actually invest. But if you look at the data, and depending on where you go, the stats are indicating, particularly in the UK, that women’s wealth is increasing. Some say that by 2025, 60% of UK wealth is going to be controlled by women, which is absolutely fantastic. But if that money is being saved and not invested, then that’s a problem.
PHILIPPA: Are they saving it though? Because I do wonder whether women spend their disposable cash on things like family holidays. If they have kids, they’re spending it on stuff for the kids. It’s more of a domestic thing.
AYESHA: I think women do save and absolutely versus men, women save much more. I think it’s because they feel more comfortable with saving, and investing is something that they haven’t been exposed to as much. And in some cases, women actually think that when they’re saving they’re investing, and that’s not the case.
LARA: I think there’s probably another element to that which is how we’ve, kind of, been conditioned to believe we’re the person that holds the family together. You have to be the responsible one. And one of the things you’re thinking is - when times are difficult, you need to have a nest egg somewhere. But that nest egg is very much in savings rather than investments.
PHILIPPA: So you can get at it?
LARA: Yeah, so you can get at it. But that’s so 70s, that’s so 80s. Now you have a lot of young professional women that are in jobs, if you look at law, for example, you have people in their early 20s as lawyers that have qualified at age 23, 25. They’re earning six figures.
PHILIPPA: So thinking about younger women then, if we had a woman who was, say, 27 years old, she’s got some spare cash. Is she far less likely to invest it than a man in exactly the same position as her, earning exactly the same salary?
ANNA: Yes, she is. And there are two main reasons for that. The first one is just looking at the financial industry, it’s historically been built by men. Today, the vast majority of power positions are held by men and that’s reflected in the culture, in the products, in the communication, all of that, which just isn’t built for women. So that’s a problem in the financial industry. Then, just looking at the rest of the world, we live in a world where inequality starts so early. It’s very well documented that little girls get less pocket money than little boys. Parents are more likely to talk to their boys about how to build wealth and to girls about how to save. When we go through school, we read literature written by men. We get paid less. There are fewer role models. The media portrays women as spenders and not investors. Even when we go down to our bank, it’s so well documented that women get different advice. We’re more likely to be advised to save rather than invest. So that just means that at every single point in our lives, women are treated differently when it comes to money, and stereotypes around women and money are just enforced everywhere we look. So of course, women are less likely to invest. The interesting thing is that when they then do invest, they actually get better returns.
LARA: I have two daughters, they’re lawyers and they say, ‘Oh mum, but it’s too difficult, it’s too technical. How do we go about it?’ So I think there’s a lot to be said in terms of education - making is simple.
PHILIPPA: I want to get into that. But first, I want to go back to that thing that Anna said about pocket money because I think that’s really interesting. I think there’s a sense that this all starts really early for girls. Girls, on average, get 20% less pocket money than boys, don’t they? And I’m wondering, does that play into the way we feel about risk? Because if boys have more cash, they can splash it around, they can risk it. Whereas if we have less, we need to be cautious.
ANNA: But I don’t think having less money necessarily makes you less likely to take risks. I think it’s a confidence gap, because there are so many men who aren’t in a great financial situation who invest anyway. And my hypothesis would be that when you look at who invests in crypto or who tries to be day traders, there would be a lot more men who have less financial knowledge and don’t make as much money, but they still invest. I think it just comes down to role modelling, unconscious bias and stereotyping, and women falling victim to that even though they’re brilliant with money once they get the confidence.
LARA: Or could it be because men have more time on their hands? They’re not multitasking.
PHILIPPA: Because women are doing the second shift when they get home?
AYESHA: Potentially, but I think that, just going back to the topic of risk, one thing that we say is that women are risk aware versus being risk averse. What we mean by that is if you give women information about the risks, about the investments, and they can understand it and make informed decisions, they’ll still go ahead and invest if something’s higher on the risk spectrum. It’s more a case of women wanting to have more information. I’d say men sometimes would potentially have less information and still jump in.
LARA: Absolutely. And this huge responsibility of, ‘I can’t afford to be reckless if I know that I have to hold the family together’ or, ‘I have to make sure that I have a nest egg’.
HOW DO WE GET WOMEN TO INVEST?
PHILIPPA: So, exploring the idea that women are prepared to do it as long as they know what they’re getting into and attitudes to risk. Because, as the data says, women have a lower willingness to take risks than men. It’s 82% for women. It’s 69% for men. What are good ways to understand risk when we invest? I think that’s the barrier, isn’t it? What are the elements that we need to think about when we’re thinking about our risk appetite? There are things like age, aren’t there?
AYESHA: Absolutely. It’s things like age, it’s investment time horizon. The longer you can invest or the longer your money can be an investment, they say typically you can take on more risk because you have the time to withstand any downturns in the market. But one interesting thing that we’ve looked at, particularly when it comes to women, is what are the main drivers behind what they feel about risk? We digested it into several key components. But two interesting ones are what we look at as financial risks - how much you can afford to lose? And then what we call more the psychological risk - how much do you feel comfortable losing? The gap, with women, between those two things is much greater. So, even though women can afford to invest in something and actually take on the risk, they just don’t feel comfortable with it. And so they’re more likely to go with how they feel rather than what they can actually afford to do.
PHILIPPA: That’s really interesting, isn’t it? That distinction.
AYESHA: Yeah, I always say the best thing to try and deal with is to just start. If you can actually start investing - even if it’s a small amount, and get comfortable with it - as you start to get the documentation through, you can start to read them and become more familiar. Then eventually, you can start to invest more and more. It’s about dipping your toe in and experiencing it.
PHILIPPA: Just going back to that thing about women understanding they can afford to lose the money but still not wanting to. I’m intrigued by the motivations there. Is it that we look further down the road in life than men? That we’re thinking, ‘Yeah, I don’t need it now, but I might need it later’. Is it about anxiety? What’s that about? Why are we worrying about that more than men?
AYESHA: I think it’s because when you save, the idea is that whatever money you put in, you go back at a later date and you get that money back out, it’s still there.
PHILIPPA: And you don’t necessarily do that with investing?
AYESHA: Exactly. With investing, you put money into an investment and you’re expecting it to grow over time, but equally it could fall. So you’re not necessarily going to get back what you put in. I think it’s the comfort levels around that, which is what potentially skews women more towards savings than investments. It’s knowing that it’s still going to be here. Yes, it may be less than if I’d invested, but it’s still going to be here, and that’s what we need to work on.
LARA: I think that’s absolutely right, but there’s also what I’ll put in the category of value proposition. Because when you think, ‘I don’t know whether I’m going to make the money, I might lose it. Is that of value to me? Should I be risking it? Yes, I’ve got the money, but why would I want to lose that?’
PHILIPPA: So we’re more worried about losing it than we are excited about growing it?
LARA: Yeah, I think it’s still part of this responsibility idea. That you look at yourself and think, ‘is that actually a responsible decision to make when I might lose it?’ Compared to, ‘Ok, it’s not earning a lot of interest’.
PHILIPPA: So obviously, on this podcast we’re not in the business of telling women they should risk their money if they don’t want to. But, we touched on financial education. And I think that’s the issue here. I don’t want to tell women they need to educate themselves, but I think we do know that if we understand what we’re getting into, we’re more likely to at least consider it. Would that be fair enough to say? So, when we think about financial literacy and education, you’re all in that business, what sort of tools are you offering women?
AYESHA: So we’ve started by offering financial courses that are very comprehensive, that start at very fundamental levels, but that also become more complex. We want to cater to women who have never invested before, but also those women who may have started, but have gaps in their knowledge. We’ve also built a lot of financial tools and calculators to help make the education more practical. We see that as a great first step to investing. But what have you guys done?
ANNA: So we’ve done a lot of the same. We use role models, we talk in a language everyone can understand. Not on a lower level, just without the jargon. And then, we also make it about more than money, because I think for a lot of women, they aren’t necessarily comfortable saying, ‘I want more money’ or ‘I want to build wealth’. So we make it about freedom, we make it about independence and we make it fun. We use a lot of humour in our content as well. I think that’s really worked to engage women who never thought they’d be interested in investing, but then suddenly they’re drawn in, they feel comfortable. They see so many women who look like them and before they know it, they have an investment account.
PHILIPPA: Is that another gender difference then? That women don’t want to say, ‘I want to invest to make money’. They’re thinking, ‘I want to buy this, I want to do that’. It’s about what you can do with the money rather than the money itself.
AYESHA: Yeah, we’ve definitely seen that. And so, the way that we’ve actually built our investment platform is what we call ‘goals based investing’. Because when you ask women why they want to invest, nine times out of 10, they have very clear goals in mind. ‘I want to be able to buy a house in X years. I want to be able to send my children to university. I want to go part-time in X years and still have the same sort of income’. Very, very clear goals. If that can be tied into investing, it makes it much more appealing. That’s what we found.
PHILIPPA: How do we reach a wider breadth of women?
ANNA: So I think we all play a role when it comes to engaging more women in the world of investing. From the media who should be using more female experts, so that you see women talking about money. The banks and financial institutions need women in positions of power to shape products, communication and company culture. Parents and the education system - both primary schools and universities - and bank advisors, who right now give women different advice. So I think we all have a role to play.
LARA: I think that’s absolutely right. And if you look at PensionBee, for example. Look at the amazing way they’ve debunked pensions - the colours they use and the simple language that’s used.
PHILIPPA: Pensions are a great thing to talk about in this respect, because obviously, pensions are investments. But I think perhaps a lot of people, not just women, don’t think of a pension as an investment. Because you know you’re going to get something out of a pension, that’s kind of the deal. Is that where most women are actually investing but they don’t quite understand they’re already investing because they’ve got a pension?
AYESHA: Absolutely. I think a lot of people don’t see it that way. We work with a lot of corporate clients and one of the first questions I always ask is, ‘Put your hand up if you’re saving’ - lots of hands go up. ‘Put your hand up if you’re investing’ - a lot of hands come down. ‘Put your hand up if you have a pension’ - the hands go back up again. So, you can see that they don’t see it in the same way. But also, when it comes to pensions, I still think there’s more work that needs to be done, because we’ve found that when we say, ‘OK, do you know where your pension is? Is it in the default option? Is it in something else? How much money do you have in it?’ - very few people know the answers to those questions.
PHILIPPA: And the power that you have to actually do good with your money as well. Obviously, we’ve talked about impact investing on this podcast before. We’ve talked about ethical investing and green investing. There’s all these issues which are certainly discussed by women or might be an issue for women. And that’s a place, your pension, where you can actually do something actively yourself, can’t you?
ANNA: And not just, ‘Can we do something with our pensions?’, but, ‘We absolutely have to do something with our pensions’ as well. We just wrote a book actually, on the topic, and while I was writing this book, I was researching and what I found was shocking. I knew things were bad, but it was even worse. The good thing is that women are much more likely to be change makers when it comes to social impact and environment. That’s great. The not so great thing is that we aren’t represented anywhere in positions of power. The only way that we can influence these decisions is if we start using our money as power and start setting demands to the companies we invest in, and so on.
PHILIPPA: OK. Here’s another question for you - is there a sense that investing is just for the rich? Do you think people don’t understand you can start really small?
AYESHA: I often say, ‘Do you have a pound?’, ‘Well yes, obviously’, ‘Well, then you can invest’ and then they, sort of, give me blank stares. But, start small, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a lot of money to invest. The beauty of investing is compounding. And what that means is that over a long period, you’re getting returns on your returns and it adds up quite substantially.
PHILIPPA: So, best ways for women to dip their toes in then? I mean if you were just starting. Say you had £10 a month, £20 a month tops. What would you do with it?
ANNA: Invest it. And if you don’t know what to invest in, because no one knows what will happen in the future, then just lean on history. Historically, since the first stock was traded more than 400 years ago in the Netherlands, the stock market has always increased in the long run if you have diversified, which means to invest in a lot of different things.
PHILIPPA: OK. Before we get too carried away, I’m going to talk about things that might trip you up, like fees and charges. So, what should women be looking for there?
AYESHA: So, fees are absolutely one of the key things to look out for. Now, companies should be making their fees very transparent. But if it’s something that you can’t find or you’re not able to easily calculate what you’re being charged, then you absolutely have to ask. Because the numbers might not seem like big differences, but again, over time it matters.
PHILIPPA: Well, they work on percentages, don’t they? So this stuff ramps up. These are significant sums of money.
LARA: To add to what you’ve just said, is the fact that if you’re selecting your own investments, the fees are cheaper compared to if somebody else is making the selection or managing it for you.
PHILIPPA: It feels quite daunting.
AYESHA: It can, but it really doesn’t have to be. There are, absolutely, some funds out there that are actively managed by fund managers and therefore will have higher fees because there’s a team of people somewhere actually making decisions. But there are funds out there such as exchange traded funds (ETFs) that have significantly lower fees because they’re passive funds. So, you can still get a wide range of diversification through funds like that, but the fees tend to be quite low. Again, a great place to dip your toe in.
PHILIPPA: What was the first investment all of you made? I’d be really interested to know. Anna?
ANNA: So, my first investment was in a very famous Danish company, one of the biggest ones that we have. And the reason why I invested in that is that I was 19 years old and knew no one in the world of finance or investing. So it was just one of the only companies I’d heard about when you talk about stocks. So that’s what I bought.
PHILIPPA: What prompted you, at 19, to invest? I’ve got to say I wasn’t investing at 19!
LARA: Me neither!
ANNA: So, I’ve always been interested in money. I started working when I was 13, actually, and I’ve done every blue collar job you could imagine. From sandwiches, to kindergarten - doing whatever, I’ve done it. And that meant that I’d actually saved up a decent amount by the time I was 19. Then when I was 19, I learned about something called an interest rate and something called inflation. The combination of those two meant that the money I worked so hard to earn was losing value in my bank account and I just couldn’t live with that. So I had to do something. What I did first was, I booked a meeting with my bank advisor because I wanted to buy an apartment, because you hear about people buying property. She actually agreed to do a meeting with me and it was around a full hour. She even prepared a powerpoint slide. It was just her going through all of the reasons why I could absolutely not buy an apartment because I didn’t have enough money for it. I just ended up apologising, thanking her for her time. And then I went back and I said, ‘OK, what can I do with less money?’ And that’s how stocks came into the picture.
PHILIPPA: I love that woman. I’ve got to say you were 10 years ahead of me. I didn’t get to any of this until much, much later on.
AYESHA: Same with me. I bizarrely found investing quite late. It’s ironic because I was a wealth advisor for quite a long time, so I spent my time advising other people how to invest and I wasn’t doing any myself.
PHILIPPA: You’re kidding me? That’s really shocking!
AYESHA: Absolutely shocking. But I think it’s something that we touched upon earlier as well. It was just not having the time. My job was incredibly demanding and then I had a young family. Yes, I knew how to invest but it was always, ‘I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it’, and just never got around to it until what, I think, was far too late. But the good news is that I did.
PHILIPPA: And what did you start with?
AYESHA: I was doing quite risky things. My first investment, actually, was in a Russian bank, but I bought something called call options. But, the most mainstream investments I made were in property. I went into property in quite a big way.
PHILIPPA: Residential property or commercial property?
AYESHA: Residential property, and I built up a portfolio that was able to give me financial independence. And actually, that’s how the idea for Propelle came about - because I got to that position where I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, other women need this’. But I said that I completely appreciate that not all women have deposits, so can’t go out and do it in the way that I did. So, how can we make it fractionalised in such a way that women with less money can also invest in property. And eventually, we found a way to do it. The first thing we started to offer was helping women to invest in property type assets from as little as £100, and then Propelle, kind of, just grew from there into other asset classes as well.
PHILIPPA: We’re impressed. I’m hoping Lara started smaller than that!
LARA: I started late. Mine was totally safe and secure, through workplace financial advisors that chose all the stocks and everything. Which actually, frankly, this was in the early-90s, late-80s and it did really, really well. Because those sorts of stocks were going up at the time and it was a time of privatisation, everything was happening.
PHILIPPA: So it was a good time?
LARA: Yeah, it was great. And that kind of gave me the confidence to invest in property and then pensions, and all that. So, it’s about having a well diversified portfolio.
AYESHA: There’s one thing that I would like to say. When I did start investing, people would say, ‘Oh, you’ve missed the boat’ or ‘The market has just gone up’, ‘Oh, it’s not the right time’, ‘You should wait, you should wait’. My view is if you’re going to start investing, which means you should have a long-term time horizon, just start.
PHILIPPA: What do you mean by long-term time horizon?
AYESHA: For me, anything less than around three years is not an investment. And in some cases, people say it’s five. So you should have at least a three to five year time horizon in which you’re not expecting to have to use that money.
PHILIPPA: So, we’re not talking about quick wins here? That’s really clear.
AYESHA: Absolutely. This is about building long-term wealth and investing over a period of time. So, if you need that money within three to five years, then it’s probably not going into your investing pot.
LARA: You’ve got to prepare for the highs and lows because everything is subject to market movements, which you don’t have control over.
AYESHA: And you can’t predict.
PHILIPPA: We’re running out of time here. I just want to ask though - it does seem to me that as women, we need allies in this, don’t we? And I’d be interested to know just a quick line from all three of you. What should men be doing to be our allies? What do you want to see from the financial services industry and what should the government be doing? You can have one each. I’m going to start with Anna.
ANNA: So, I think the first thing that men should do is to just zip it and listen! I think when groups that we don’t belong to describe problems that they’re facing that we don’t experience ourselves, that we can’t relate to - then instead of defending or reflecting by saying that, ‘That can’t be true, that never happened to me, I wouldn’t do that’ - just listen. Take it in and then take accountability, not just for yourself, but also for the groups that you belong to. So when you see some of that behaviour that you just heard happening, then you step in and you hold other men accountable. But I think the first step, and this is so underrated, is just listening.
PHILIPPA: Got it. Lara?
LARA: To me, I think it’s the recognition of the increasing power of women in terms of purchases and being decision makers. They have a lot of money to spend. I think that recognition and then developing products and services for them. And creating the proper regulatory framework for women to dip their toes into investing.
AYESHA: And I think it’s about the government starting with investing as early as possible in schools, in primary school even.
AYESHA: Absolutely, like with my daughter - I teach her about investing. Her tooth fell out the other day and she told her friend that she’s going to use the money to put in her investment account. I was really proud.
PHILIPPA: How much are you giving her?
AYESHA: Remember, it doesn’t matter how much you have, it’s starting small and just being consistent.
PHILIPPA: OK. Well, I’m gonna wrap this up. But finally, if women aren’t convinced that this is something at least worth looking at, should we end on some numbers? Now, investments vary enormously - we can’t say this too often. But say I had started investing, say £20 every month, 20 years ago. Ayesha, if I’d invested that money, what might I have now, potentially?
AYESHA: So, it really depends on your risk tolerance and also the rate of investment. I’m gonna sort of give an answer, but there are caveats around it. But if you were, say, medium risk and you invested it for that period, it could have grown to potentially £8,000 or thereabouts.
PHILIPPA: It’s a lot of money. And if you just put it in the savings account? Had just played it safe?
AYESHA: Around £4,800.
PHILIPPA: Ok. So considerably less. And under the mattress?
AYESHA: Well, even less because even savings accounts today still give you something. I think the important thing to mention and to think about is inflation. Anna, you mentioned this before with your own story.
PHILIPPA: It would have gone backwards in terms of what you could buy with it?
AYESHA: We can see money but we can’t see inflation, so we often forget about it. But it’s really important to remember that it erodes your money. So you have to make it work for you wherever you can. You have to put your money to work.
PHILIPPA: OK. I’m just gonna say again - remember those figures we mentioned, they aren’t guaranteed returns. It’s very important to remember. Investments can go down as well as up. So, what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna put all that information in the show notes for this episode. You’ll find it on your app and we’ll put some links in there for you to check out the calculations for yourself. Thank you very much everyone. A fantastic discussion and so much to think about.
We’ll be back next month looking at why it costs so much to rent a home right now. A very hot topic!
Finally, just before we go, do remember anything discussed on this podcast should not be regarded as financial advice. When investing your capital is at risk.
Thanks for listening.
As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice.