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On the Money: Much of the world's economy is pulled by purse strings

Many women in the Middle East complain that they're not taken seriously as investors, an attitude ignorant of their growing assets and financial aptitude.

If there's one complaint that many women in the Middle East have, it is not being taken seriously when it comes to their money and investment choices.

In fact, as one financial conference organiser in the UAE said in a Personal Finance story a few months ago, if banks and wealth planners knew the true worth of women in the Middle East - and that their money wasn't being invested in the right products - their jaws would drop.

And no wonder.

In a report released last year, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that 27 per cent of the world's wealth was controlled by women in 2009. That equals a cool US$20 trillion (Dh73.4tn). More importantly, this figure is expected to grow by an average of 8 per cent over the next couple of years.

Broken down by region, the report said that women controlled about 22 per cent of the wealth in the Middle East, or a very respectable $500 billion.

And, according to the Dubai Business Women's Council, about $12bn of the wealth in the UAE is controlled by women, much of it derived from a burgeoning number of female entrepreneurs on the cusp of entering that elite high-net-worth group, or from inheritances.

This is serious money. And it beggars belief that it has taken banks, financial advisers and wealth planners so long to sit up and take notice of the power of the purse.

There has been slow recognition of women and their finances over the past decade or so, with some banks in the UAE, such as First Gulf, Dubai Islamic Bank and ABN Amro, launching specialist women services, dedicated queues and female-only products.

But, according to the BCG report, what women really want is an adviser they can trust and who takes them seriously when it comes to how they invest their money, rather than being treated as simpletons who don't understand supposedly complex financial products.

"Clients who lack a solid understanding of investments [but want to learn] said that relationship managers do not adequately explain the products and their risks," BCG says in its report. "More sophisticated clients said that their advisers automatically assume that they have a low-risk tolerance and provide only a limited range of investment solutions."

While studies have shown that women invest differently to men, it doesn't mean they don't understand what they are doing when it comes to managing their money.

Banks may have taken way too long to wake up to the burgeoning wealth of women here, but, unfortunately, it is not just their loss. Women, too, are losing out when it comes to growing their wealth and securing their financial futures.

Back in the days when men were the breadwinners and their wives homemakers, there wasn't much need for specialised banking and investment services for the fairer sex. Men controlled the money and their wives were given "housekeeping" money, or at least that is what it was called when I was growing up. They used this money to buy the groceries and any other incidentals that cropped up when their hubbies were at work such as milk or bread from the corner shop.

But today's women are a different breed. We are better educated, hold down demanding jobs and run households. Many of us are the sole breadwinners in our families and are required to make important financial decisions whether we like it or not.

Just ask Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, who once said: "Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country."

One assumes she is also referring to budgets and finances, which go hand in hand with running a country - and at home.


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