International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women throughout history. Since its inception in 1909, it hasn’t stopped inspiring women all over the globe to fight for their rights and to become positive influencers for humanity. While this glorious celebration successfully showcases the heights women have reached, the reason for its creation was far from merry. On February 28, 1909, what was then called National Women’s Day was given birth by the Socialist Party of America to fight for women’s rights to receive better pay and to be able to vote.

Behind the pride and joy in this world-wide celebration, what can women and the rest of the world say about women’s current state regarding financial literacy? Why is it that 107 years after the inception of International Women’s Day, women still receive lower pay compared to men? Why is it that only 38% of women are reported to be confident about their financial decisions? Most importantly, what can be done?

Financial Literacy For Women In Asia: Women and Money

Generally, women in Asia are more financially literate than women in western countries. In recent studies, Asian have been improving their financial knowledge. The gender gap is slowly narrowing, especially in Vietnam, India, and Taiwan. The biggest drop in terms of financially literate women in Asia was evident in Singapore. Despite some drawbacks, this improvement is great news, though further development is needed.

The importance of financial literacy cannot be stressed hard enough. A woman’s financial literacy rate can basically tell her what will happen to her future – tomorrow or in 30 years – no matter where she comes from or how smart she is.

Financial Literacy For Women In Asia: Money & Investments

 

The problem is women are lagging behind men in terms of financial literacy. Despite women taking leadership roles around the globe, women still earn less than men with South Asia leading the pack with the greatest gender-based pay gap of 33%. UN reports show that women overwork twice as much as men do, but are less likely to at least receive funds from pension. The lack of income and ability to understand basic financial concepts does not help in solving the problem with women’s age longevity. Women live longer than men do, and this means that women need more money because they have more time to spend in the world.

Of course, not every woman in Asia is financially illiterate. Financially savvy women in Asia take the lead in arranging the finances of the family and tend to share equal strengths with their male counterparts as opposed to western women who are more conservative than men when deploying their money. Nevertheless, women globally portray lower investing confidence compared to men, and project conservative investment numbers, giving them minimal gains. Though some women try to make their money work for them, this lack of knowledge and confidence leads them to exposing their money to slow-paced markets, which can be riskier for their retirement. Aside from these poor statistics, 65% of women said they can’t save on their own.

Here are the unfortunate facts women have to deal with: they have less attachment to employment, have longer life expectancy, and have less financial resources. Some women stay in unhappy marriages because they are financially dependent on their partners. If remained unfixed, women will continue facing a blurry financial future.

Financial Literacy For Women In Asia: Women and Retirement

Culturally, men are in charge of bringing home the bacon, but this leads to women being financially dependent on their partners. This set-up also doesn’t open opportunities for women to learn about finance. What happens to these women when their husbands pass away? How about single mothers? What happens to single women when they grow older? Women live longer than men, so their financial needs are different from the financial needs of men. Medicine, retirement, taxes, and daily survival need are not free. These are inevitable situations and this is why it’s crucial to build a solid foundation for women to understand finance because it affects their lives and the lives of the people that surround them.

A study by HSBC shows that 33% of Asian women do not have anything for retirement. 45% aren’t preparing for retirement because they’re paying off debts. 35% declared that they were already too late to save up for retirement. 34% simply didn’t know how much to save. 73% believe they won’t have enough money for daily expenses after age 60.

Aside from these disappointing numbers, HSBC also noted that 42% of Asian women know that their lifestyle costs more than their income, while 80% are not prepared to pay for inevitable medical costs after retirement.

These numbers should be enough to set the importance of financial literacy in stone. The sad truth is women who aren’t prepared for retirement either go back to work, depend on their children, or seek for donations. According to the same study, 65% of unprepared retirees did not realise the importance of preparing for retirement until it was already too late.

Financial Literacy For Women In Asia: Money & Investments

Women should understand that every financial battle is different. There is no one-size-fits-all type of solution. Individuals have different needs, lifestyles, health conditions, and sources of income, so women must merge these things to be able to craft the best retirement goals and plans. After knowing what they need, women should find a licensed professional they can trust. The advisor must provide needs-based solutions, not just products that can give them most commissions. Once the plan has been crafted based on their current situation and goals, advisors can start talking about particular products.

Women should maximise their streams of income so that they can save as much as possible. Women can start by building an emergency fund then investing some of their monthly income in different financial markets. Instead of letting 100% of their money sleep in the bank, women should spread it out to manage risks and to maximise gains. Risk is an inevitable factor in investing. Avoiding risks won’t yield anything either, but deliberately studying investments and all of its details can drastically decrease risks involved.

Women shouldn’t rely on advisors alone. Financially savvy women know their insurance policies, management fees, back-office rules, company portfolio, among many other things. Becoming their own advisor will lessen risks and increase confidence in women.

Financial Literacy For Women In Asia: Women’s financial role in their families

According to a study by Fin-Ed Center, Asian familial culture reflects why women are not ready for retirement. According to the study, the role of women and their money-related decisions are bound by cultural expectations. Some of these expectations include women being good with handling day-to-day finances, so they are expected to be the family’s cash manager, women staying at home since they trust their husbands to ensure financial security, women investing in their children’s education with the expectation of their children taking care of them during retirement, and women sacrificing their financial future for the sake of their children and grand children.

Culture’s depiction of women being good money managers may indicate why more women – 74% vs. 72% – would rather have liquid cash than invest for retirement. This is problematic since cash, although saved over time, may lose its value due to inflation.

Women who sacrifice their financial futures for their children may, in fact, worsen their children’s future by being neglectful about their finances. Mothers who don’t have life insurance policies risk the possibility of their children having to pay off unsettled debts and taxes. In the same way, parents who plan to be financially dependent on their children should realise how this will affect their children’s own financial life and retirement savings.

Financial Literacy For Women In Asia: Money & Investments

To address these issues, big institutions must reform their communication channels in order to better educate women in financial matters. A study by Prudential shows that women generally understand financial products but don’t want to go through financial jargon. Women today are looking for easy-to-understand and trustworthy financial advisors who can guide them with their needs and goals. According to their study, “Only one in five women feel the financial services industry truly understands their needs.”

If big institutions will do their part, women should too. They can start with small steps:

  • Allow an open communication channel with their partners. Money should not be a taboo topic. This way, problems can be solved faster.
  • Wives can delegate tasks with their husbands. If wives need to stay at home, they can still earn from doing home-based jobs. Women can also build home-based businesses.
  • Women can start by reading at least one financial or business article daily. It’s going to be hard at first, but it will eventually become a fun and educational habit.
  • Women should consult a licensed professional. Some women just aren’t aware of their bad situation and must be given a dose of reality and proper solutions.

Asian wives must constantly communicate with her husband and family about money. This way, they can assess their situation carefully and find ways that can benefit the whole family. In Singapore, women can actively contribute to a government-headed mandatory savings and retirement account called the Central Provident Fund. The CPF helps families save up for their health care, housing needs, and retirement.

The CPF has various counterparts across Asia. Some husbands with stay at home wives pay for their wives’ CPF accounts to ensure a comfortable retirement for them. Now that most Asian women are active in the workforce, wives can do the same thing for their husbands. Asian women can help their families by actively contributing to these types of funds so that they can take care of their retirement and their household at the same time.

Financial Literacy For Women In Asia: Investment products that are best for women today

Considering the current status of women in terms of financial literacy, good financial instruments would be universal life insurance, retirement plans, and health plans. However, the best financial product would be Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).

When you invest in ETFs, your money is pooled together with other investors’ money. This pool of money is then invested according to the investment objective provided by the fund. ETFs usually track and replicate returns of stock or commodity indices. The fees involved in investing in ETFs are generally lower compared to fees of actively managed investments.

ETFs are best for women given these statistics. Women are conservative investors but they need enough exposure to give them money for retirement. ETFs can give them the flexibility that they are looking for and the returns that their future selves will need.

ETFs are good because of the following reasons:

  • ETFs exposes money to the stock market, bond market, and commodities
  • ETFs provide higher returns compared to money markets which women usually go for
  • ETFs are not as risky and as expensive as investing directly in stocks, bonds, and commodities
  • ETFs do not have expensive management and back-end fees
  • ETFs gives women the flexibility to achieve their goals in a needs-based and strategic manner
  • ETFs are not too complex to understand

These things match the needs of Asian women: something they can afford, something they can understand, something that can provide higher returns, something flexible, and something that can be strategized.

 

Financial Literacy For Women In Asia: Money & Investments

Here are some guidelines in choosing proper ETFs:

  • Study your current financial situation. What do you lack? What do you need the most? Do you have dependents? How old are you? How is your health? How much money would you need given all of these factors in x years?
  • Know your risk profile. Are you conservative? Would you like a balance between high-yielding products and conservative products? Are you okay with volatile markets?
  • Match ETFs with your goals and your risk profile.
  • Find out everything about the product. Costs? Who are the fund managers? How credible are they?

ETFs are different in terms of objectives, risks, strategies, and costs. Women must make sure that their needs, risk profiles, and goals match the ETF they’re studying.

Final thoughts on Financial Literacy For Women In Asia

Women can and should be financially literate. Despite the scary numbers portrayed by numerous studies, women can still turn things around by patiently studying what they have to study and doing everything they can to intelligently manage their finances.

When empowered economically, women can do wonders in nurturing this world. This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the opportunities presented by open minds and brave hearts and the bright future ahead.

FINANCIAL LITERACY AMONG WOMEN IN ASIA

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C.E.O @ The New Savvy
Anna Haotanto is passionate about finance, education, women empowerment and children’s issues. Anna has been featured in CNBC, Forbes, The Straits Times, Business Insider, INC and The Peak Singapore. She was nominated and selected for FORTUNE Most Powerful Women conference in 2016 (Asia) and 2015 (San Francisco, Next Gen). Anna has 10 years of experience in the financial sector and is currently a Director in Tera Capital. Her previous work experience includes positions at Citigroup, United Overseas Bank, a regional role in Business Monitor and a boutique private equity firm based in Shanghai. She graduated from Singapore Management University (Finance and Quantitative Finance).