Empowering Women in Finance

By Anuja KC/@AnzKc

Photo credit: Urban Outfitters

When I first saw an advertisement pop up in my Facebook a few months back, it had a tag line written in big bold letters,“Invest Like a Woman.” That didn’t sit well with me for the first few seconds, but after clicking on the link and going to the company’s website, Ellevest. I was finally convinced that it was not a derogatory tagline, but a way to empower women to invest. I didn’t particularly view this tagline as a negative inference, but I definitely remember asking myself, “but what does invest like a woman actually mean?” After ruminating for several days, the light bulb went on. It was because I didn’t have any female role model associated with being a successful investor that I could instantly think of when I read that tagline. When I was growing up I seldom saw women proactively taking part in the financial decision making in Nepal. It was not very typical of women to take ownership of financial matters in any household and go out an invest without a male’s approval. Based on my professional experience working in the financial sector for many years in the US, most of the investment decision making is led by male counterparts. The current investment systems that are designed by men. Whereas, women are more sensible and level headed to make investment decisions, but we somehow do not idolize women as investors or consider them as our role models in financial decision making.

Finance and money are delicately held subjects. However, it is inevitable that we talk about financial ownership and investment when we are actively involved in generating income and being financially self sufficient. I am very fortunate like other Nepali women of my generation to be able to say I am financially independent.  This has been a far cry for many women in my mother’s generation. Sense of independence and empowerment in women is definitely fueled by economical empowerment as well. However, when it comes to making investments in financial markets, businesses and venture capitalism, the role models that I want to look up to are very few. I simply run out of names if I were to jot down female investment advisors, top female Venture Capital investors, or a competitive female trader. Shark Tank is possibly the only TV show that sheds some light on female investors like Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner. But it is still a long way to go for South Asian women to be taken seriously as top investors, financial decision makers in this male dominated field.

Especially in the context of Nepal, in recent years startup ecosystems and entrepreneurship has started to catch momentum. There is a huge need for capital investments and angel investors and I am pretty sure if given a chance women investors would definitely be interested in investing, and take risks like male investors. However, due to the deeply embedded notion that women are reluctant to take higher risks they are only confined to invest in family businesses, low scale angel investing or just using traditional financial tools like retirement savings, bank accounts etc, to multiply their wealth.

Gender stereotypes is pervasive in developing economies like Nepal. Based on World Bank’s comprehensive database measuring how people save, borrow, and manage risk in 148 countries, data reveals that women are less likely than men to have formal bank accounts. In developing economies women are 20% less likely than men to have an account at a formal financial institution. Even if they can gain access to a loan, women often lack access to other financial services, such as savings, digital payment methods, and insurance. Restrictions on opening a bank account, such as requirements for a male family member’s permission, restrict women’s access to these services. There have been cases where many women may have had access to financial services, but in name only. For instance, accounts might be opened in the name of a woman, but the decision making authority around the use of those funds often lies with a male relative. So, for financially literate women it is not just about having access to wealth, but also the decision to invest that wealth is mostly controlled by male members.

Due to the overall weak economic condition of Nepal, “Investing in Women” is more of a priority for policy makers than promoting notions like “Invest like a Woman”. But if there is a fair amount of encouragement for young girls and women to be pitted against their male counterparts to excel in academics and take up non-traditional career paths then why not encourage women to take ownership in financial decision making from young age as well? Why does it always have to be men who take riskier investment decisions? On the other hand, we can’t deny the fact that there have been women both in the context of Nepal and globally who are actively working in banking and other financial sectors and climbing up the corporate ladders. However, when it comes to executing independent investments decisions, we need to encourage each other to raise our standards and start taking ownership.

Let’s not wait for someone else to make that choice for us. It’s high time we strive to make “Invest Like a Woman” not just a tagline for some company’s marketing initiative, but a true statement that rest of the world can agree on without flinching.

 

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