The gender investment divide: thinking beyond stereotypes
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The gender investment divide: thinking beyond stereotypes

Feb 2023
Mar 2021
The gender investment divide: Thinking beyond stereotypes

The original version of this article first appeared in The Business Times.

I don't want pink products. The days of taking a "pink it and shrink it" approach of feminising existing male products are over, and frankly I demand better from the financial services industry.

I want something that meets my unique needs, complex worries, and life goals. Women have been driving change in the workplace, boardroom and the home. But there is still a long way to go when it comes to money and the deeply-held beliefs we as a society hold about it and how — and who — should manage it.

We need to probe deeper into traditionally accepted gender investment norms to close the investment gap. With a third of the world's wealth under their control, women have become a sizeable economic force. So going beyond gender investment biases is not just a gender equality problem, it's actually a business problem, and more importantly a massive business opportunity.

Conventional wisdom is that men are risk takers and women are more risk averse when it comes to investing. The risk tolerance of male clients is higher than female clients' on our digital wealth management platform, where risk tolerance is a key factor in determining the advised asset allocation of clients' portfolios.

At the 50th percentile, our male clients have a 12-month drawdown tolerance of about 40%, versus our female clients at ~35%. But there are academic studies, and insights published on the Endowus platform, that suggest the truth is more nuanced and may perhaps be rooted more in confirmation bias.

chart of loss tolerance difference between genders across the platform

A study conducted by the German Institute for Economic Research found that while men had a higher percentage of their portfolio invested in riskier assets, further regression analysis showed that women would have taken more risk if they had more money, where the level of income was correlated to the level of risk tolerance.

Merrill Lynch research also suggests that men and women may be significantly more similar in their investment behaviour than many assume. Differences that occur appear to be shaped more by social and demographic factors, such as education, employment status, and financial circumstances, than by biological differences. Interestingly, it is the reported level of financial knowledge that made the largest impact on investment behaviour between the genders.

Given the existing disparity in financial knowledge and the gender pay gap, it is unsurprising that more female investors identify as being more risk averse compared to their male counterparts. All these contribute to underrepresentation of women in the financial services industry. But how risk averse people think they are and how risk averse they are in practice can be two very different matters, especially when context is taken into account.

Research conducted by Harvard Business Review found that women were more likely to take risk when their decisions had social as well as financial impact, or what they deemed as "social" risk. In impact investment firms where maximising social impact is a deliberate outcome, a higher proportion of women in top management took significantly more risks in their investment decisions.

While the causation behind this aspect of behaviour may not be reduced to a single factor, it does resonate with wider social research that women seem to prioritise the welfare of their community over individualistic pursuits. This finding becomes especially important with the growth of ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing beyond the fringe of finance as more and more people seek ethical returns that take a company's environmental, social and governance factors into consideration.

It seems that greater representation of women in the financial services industry can be a win-win for all involved. After all, a world that values sustainability and harnesses the strengths of its people, both men and women, is surely one that is worth working towards.

Even if gender investment behavioural differences are overstated, and women are more risk aware rather than risk averse, the investment gap remains a very real problem, exacerbated by the pay gap, caregiver's toll, and the implications of child-bearing on careers.

The pay gap for women in Singapore leaves them earning 16.3% less than men in 2018 when comparing the median pay, and 6% less when adjusted for factors such as industry, occupation, age and education.

Women are more likely to take career breaks or take on the role as caregivers, which unfortunately can still limit career progression, and women's salaries peak earlier. When it comes to creating financial products for women, these are the real factors that need to be taken into consideration rather than whether the plastic should be pink, and if a 3% cashback should be for the department store instead of the petrol station.

The real risk at the end of the day is not only market volatility, but the inability to achieve their long-term goals because of these systemic differences and ultimately, fall short of living the life they want. This makes investing even more crucial, especially as women statistically outlive men.

As the world celebrates International Women's Day this month, an important event to honour women's achievements and recognise the need for a gender equal world, remember that one of the best ways to celebrate it is to rethink gender stereotypes, take control of your money, and close the investment gap.

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This article is for information purposes only and should not be considered as an offer, solicitation or advice for the purchase or sale of any investment products. It is recommended that you seek financial advice as to the suitability of any investment. Whilst Pte. Ltd. (“Endowus”) has tried to provide accurate and timely information, there may be inadvertent delays, omissions, technical or factual inaccuracies or typographical errors.

Any opinion or estimate above is made on a general basis and none of Endowus, nor any of its affiliates, representatives or agents have given any consideration to nor have made any investigation of the objective, financial situation or particular need of any user, reader, any specific person or group of persons. Opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.  

Investment involves risk. The value of investments and the income from them can go down as well as up, and you may not get the full amount you invested. Past performance is not an indicator nor a guarantee of future performance.

Please note that the above information does not purport to be all-inclusive or to contain all the information that you may need in order to make an informed decision. The information contained herein is not intended, and should not be construed, as legal, tax, regulatory, accounting or financial advice.

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