The bias may be subliminal, but it’s fair to say that most financial products, from investments to insurance, are marketed to men. A product may benefit a whole family, and a fresh-faced model mom, dad and kids may feature in its marketing material, but the product will be aimed at the breadwinner of the family, which is typically assumed to be a man.

The financial services industry worldwide is still overwhelmingly dominated by men, including those involved in product design, such as actuaries. Slowly, women are infiltrating this male world, and gradually the needs of women are being taken into account – both in the marketing of products that are not gender-specific and in the design of products specifically for women.

Some countries are more advanced than South Africa in this respect. Financial writer Adhil Chetty, in an article in India’s Financial Times earlier this year, notes that women are relatively well catered for in the Indian financial services sector. There are cheaper home and car loans for women, bank savings accounts for woman customers, credit and debit cards custom-designed for women, and a large range of insurance products for women. For woman entrepreneurs, some Indian banks offer loans on easy terms and at lower interest rates.

So what should product providers be taking into account when designing products for and marketing products to women?

First of all, there are the hard realities:

• Women live longer than men. On average, women tend to outlive men by seven to 10 years, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

• Women earn less for doing the same jobs in many industries. According to the WHO, women generally earn 15% to 17% less than their male counterparts.

• Women are less likely to be the household breadwinners than men. This statistic is fast changing in South Africa, as reported in Personal Finance last week, with 41.3% of households headed by women, according to Statistics South Africa.

• On divorce, women tend to emerge worse off financially than their male counterparts.

• Women are the child bearers, resulting in, among other things, longer breaks from work because of maternity leave. 

• Women suffer from different diseases to men.

Then there are the “softer” personality differences, which manifest in the following:

• Women tend to be the carers in society, and as such their values generally differ from those of men;

• Women are typically more responsible drivers than men, and therefore pose a lower risk to insurers; and

• Women tend to be more careful with their money and take lower risks with it, not only spending more wisely but investing more 

Finally, there are the widely held assumptions, which may have been true when men were overwhelmingly the breadwinners, but may not be true now. These are that: 

• Women are generally less financially literate than men; and

• Women rely on their male partners to make the financial decisions. 

Masculine norms

Gemma Cernuda, a Spanish communications consultant specialising in branding and communication for women, has helped companies in Spain to connect with women consumers. In an interview on the online Strands Financial Blog, she says women are generally dissatisfied with financial product providers, because these companies “are built on masculine norms and a one-size-fits-all format. Developing products and services relying on male traits and values doesn’t resonate with female consumers.”

She says some financial institutions may argue that women’s financial needs are almost the same as men’s. “The obvious truth is that women and men are both interested in having money and earning more, but women have a distinct set of values that shape their money-management habits. Women associate wealth with security and economical stability. Family well-being comes before personal interest.”   

Cernuda says research shows that women differ substantially from men in how they relate to investing and money management overall. “They do not want to hear about the growth or comparative performance of different funds. They want information about reaching their long-term goals … so the level of financial risk women can take is also lower than men. 

“Women also take decisions very differently than men. They take more time to think, consider various touch points of information … they need a conversation with brands and are looking to engage online and offline through conversations.”  

Cernuda says that when it comes to marketing financial products and services to women, companies should focus on communicating the real value of a product, on transparency, on commitment to social causes, and on long-lasting relationships built on trust. 

She says the message needs to include empathy and emotions. “That doesn’t necessarily mean adding a pink colour, or explicit phrases like ‘banking for women’ or other obvious connotations targeting the female segment. The message needs to appeal to the beliefs and values of women in a more subtle way.”

She says the real financial institution for women “should praise authenticity, provide financial literacy advice, use female-friendly language, and make women feel smart, not framed in stereotypes”.


Financial services companies that have products designed for women include the following:

1st for Women

1st for Women is the only product provider that markets its products exclusively to women.

The company offers short-term cover in the way of vehicle, household contents and all-risks insurance, as well as long-term products that include life, disability and dread disease policies, all taking into account women’s risk profiles and particular needs. 

A portion of your premium goes to the 1st for Women Foundation, which helps abused women.

It is also offers personal loans to women. On the loans, your risk profile is taken into account when determining your interest rate, but the terms are not necessarily more favourable than non-gender-specific loans from other providers.

Alexander Forbes

Alexander Forbes’s Platinum Woman is a combined motor and household short-term policy that provides discounted premiums to women for being a lower insurance risk.

It has several other benefits, such as generous handbag contents cover, breast cancer cover, female driver discounts, a concierge shopping service, a roadside security service  and complimentary hijack-prevention training.


[email protected] is a woman-specific package you can add to your short-term vehicle or households contents cover for a small extra premium. It includes handbag cover; emergency medical and legal assistance; trauma and HIV care; handyman assistance for home repairs and maintenance; spa treatment following certain claims; trip monitoring to ensure you are safe when driving; payment for groceries stolen from your vehicle; and additional security following a break-in. 


1Life offers female dread disease cover that provides a lump sum payout if you are diagnosed with a female-specific cancer, cover for up to four children for certain cancers, and emergency benefits, which include access to a trauma and assault helpline, panic button and home-invasion assistance.

Business finance

There are several organisations offering business finance on favourable terms especially for women entrepreneurs. They include:

• Absa Women Empowerment Fund: offers finance of between R50 000 and R5 million, with enterprise development centres located throughout South Africa.

• Business Partners’ Women in Business Fund: provides access to finance and invests in commercially viable women-owned businesses, and offers support such as access to information and networking facilities, and workshops and seminars.

• Isivande Women’s Fund: a government fund aimed at stimulating women’s economic empowerment by offering loans of between R30 000 and R2m for businesses that have been operational for more than six months.

• Women Entrepreneurial Fund: a fund established by the Industrial Development Corporation, with R450m set aside for helping women in business.

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