x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

There's never been a better time to hold purse strings

On the Money It took the banks a while to wake up to the fact that women are worth banking on.

Back in the days when I was embarking on a more responsibly fiscal adult life thanks to the birth of my daughter, a comment from a former colleague caught me off guard and flipped me into a world that I was very unfamiliar with.

So shocking was the comment, I thought I'd become a time traveller and landed in the 19th century. But instead of pinching myself, all I needed was to hear the familiar ping of my mobile phone as it received a text message to remind me of where I really was.

In the big scheme of things, it wasn't really so long ago: circa 2003. So we are talking 21st century, despite the very old-fashioned - and surprising - attitude from a Gen-X woman who I thought was forward-thinking in her approach to pretty much everything. Except when it came to her finances, it turned out.

"I don't have anything to do with the finances in our house," she told me. "My husband makes all the decisions when it comes to investing our money."

Cue the sound of the start-up whir of that time-travelling machine that had mysteriously appeared beside my desk. Or perhaps it was just in my head. It was pretty real, though.

Now, back in the days of yore, it was our mothers, our mothers' mothers, and their mothers' mothers who had this kind of attitude. They were taught that men, being the breadwinners, controlled the money. These women could work, but usually only until they got married. Their husbands dealt with the bankers, also - surprise, surprise - men, and decided what to do with said money. It's no wonder there were multiple generations of bewildered widows who had no idea of the worth of their husbands' estates, let alone how to pay a bill or budget the household expenses.

Sure, there were women who were exceptions to the norm in those days, but they were usually (and ignorantly) labelled a word that I can't repeat here.

But then came the birth of Women's Lib in the mid-1960s and a slow sea change came to pass in the way women approached their finances, household budgets, savings and investments. And, if the truth be told, I believe it was the female Gen-X demographic who first reaped the benefits of this change in fiscal attitudes.

And that's why I was so surprised by my colleague's attitude. She worked full time, yet voluntarily handed over her salary every month to her husband so he could make the decisions about what would be done with their income.

Having grown up with four brothers, I'd never voluntarily hand over my money to man, husband or not. Why? According to studies on the gender differences in investing, men are rash in their decision making and chop and change their investments to the point that it's costing them an arm and a leg. Women, on the other hand, might be less risk-averse, but they do have a better return on their investments because they are patient.

So it will come as no surprise that I handle the finances in my house, along with the help of my very astute female wealth adviser.

Fast-forward to 2011, and we've come a long way since the mid-1960s. In fact, there's never been a better time to be a woman when it comes to banking and investing in the UAE.

Sure, it took the banks a while to wake up to the fact that women are worth banking on. But with more and more women entering the workforce and controlling their own finances, lenders have had no choice but to realise that we want more than special ladies' sections with soothing decors and dedicated queues.

This powerful demographic has forced the banks to sit up and take notice. These days, financial institutions are jostling to offer women special rates for credit cards, personal loans and car finance, not to mention a range of investment vehicles to park our hard-earned money.

It's worth mentioning that women in the West don't enjoy the same level of women's banking options that we have access to here. And, to be honest, it is the UAE banks - think Ajman Bank, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Emirates NBD - that have taken the lead when it comes to tailoring a range of products and services to women. Foreign banks operating in the Emirates continue as normal, not ignoring women, but also not recognising that we are a savvy demographic worth targeting.

In the meantime, we are the "it" girls of the banking world - and more power to us.

fglover@thenational.ae