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Eves in the Garden of Eden

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Eves in the Garden of Eden

Men are financial hotheads who like risk, and women are cautious and want security — that’s the standard cliché. Or to rephrase the title of a bestseller, “men buy shares from Mars and women have a savings account in Venus.”

However, this very idea is turned upside down in the 1996 Hollywood flick The Associate. The protagonist, essayed by Whoopi Goldberg, is a financial analyst at Wall Street who quickly climbs her way up. Though her upward journey is fraught with tribulations, the way she handles the stock markets and eventually ends up creating a business empire dealing in finances is captured remarkably.

Fast forward to 2019, with focus on the Indian scenario, many women, especially the younger generation is walking the path taken by Goldberg’s character. While they might not be creating empires like her, but they are definitely making a mark in the domain of financial investments. Though they continue to retain their traditional strengths such as meticulous planning and long-term vision in terms of financial investments, they have also started investing in riskier tools.

Needless to say, they are being successful in most of their fiscal endeavours. According to a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) report, the share of females in total credit and aggregate deposits of individuals increased further to 20.4 per cent and 32.8 per cent, respectively, in March 2018 from 19.3 per cent and 32.0 per cent a year ago.

Top metro cities, which had less than 20 per cent of branches, accounted for nearly 52 per cent of total deposits and 64 per cent of bank credit, stated the RBI report.

It is no surprise, that with the changing investment patterns of women, banks and financial institutions are increasingly competing with each other to introduce innovative products in order to address the diversified needs of women, hailing from all walks of life; be it the urban working woman, the homemaker, the semi-urban entrepreneur or the rural self-help group member, pointed out Securities Exchange Board of India in a note. It further alluded to the fact that women-centric financial products are more than just mere  marketing gimmicks.

Financial organisations have identified the special needs of women and are accordingly catering to these needs by way of specialised products. Many women have started taking benefits of this in their financial planning.

“I always prepare a mock Form 16 when I receive my revised salary. This document gives me a rough idea of the additional amount that I can save or invest for the year, after taking into account the existing investments and liabilities; The additional amount is then, after research and consultation, diversified into different investment instruments,” said Evana Bhattacharjee, 34, a communications professional based out of Gurugram.

She represents the new age woman, who knows the importance of multiplying wealth while taking care of immediate financial goals. “They know the difference between their needs and wants,” said Heina Shah, Founder, Luhem Financial Planners.

However, women tend to follow a particular pattern when it comes to financial investments. Despite the riskier tools that they are choosing to invest in nowadays, their approach towards investment remains more disciplined and methodical. Perhaps the biggest benefit that women investors have is their ability to block out market noises. Financial planners are of the opinion that women are more disciplined and tend to chase goals than focusing on returns.

Kiran Telang, certified financial planner and author of Mindful Retirement, stated women tend to focus on goal achievement more, rather than returns. Most of them aspire to achieve major targets like children’s higher education and marriage and even retirement. “Hence, they tend to focus more on goal achievement,” said Telang. She further stated that, having been rooted in traditional form of investments, women normally get attracted to stable investment tools such as fixed deposits (FD), recurring deposits (RD), post office schemes and of course gold. However, modern women have succeeded in aligning their goals to more risk-friendly tools and are therefore opting for more innovative gears such as equities, mutual funds, systematic investment plans (SIP) and even stock markets.

She elucidates the changing pattern amongst women to invest in high-risk financial products over the traditional investments.

However, modern women are more aware of innovative investment tools such as mutual funds, equities and even stock markets that can help them achieve their goals, she added. They are ready to invest  in riskier tools as long as it helps them achieve their goals.

Some of the reasons why women have started taking risks in financial investment have arisen from certain realisation that they often earn less than men, have shorter career spans, have more responsibilities to juggle and have comparatively longer life span. These are reasons enough to steer woman to gradually shift focus on investment returns rather than to simply accumulate wealth.

This shift in women’s investment pattern have already forayed into the boardroom meetings of mutual fund firms who have chosen to address the needs of women.

For example, DSP Black Rock has a product named Winvestor, an education initiative for women, through which they not only try to empower them financially but also help them address their unique financial needs. The sole purpose of the product is to enable women to make well-informed investment decisions, achieve their unique financial goals and also plan for  their retirements.

Just like DSP, ClearTax, yet another mutual funds firm, revealed certain data about women investing in mutual funds. Back in 2017, total amount invested by women in ClearTax Save was `7,000 monthly, which later increased to `13,378 on an average. However, within the first three months of 2018, this amount has further increased to Rs32,064.

On the other hand, investments in mutual funds by men on the same platform have remained more or less the same within the similar time span.

Another interesting fact that the study revealed was that women investing in riskier tools like mutual funds from Tier II and Tier III cities has increased considerably in the recent past.

Speaking to insiders from ClearTax it was found that young women investing in such tools hailed not only from places like Shillong in Meghalaya but also towns as small as Daltonganj in Jharkhand and Karaikal in Tamil Nadu. “And they are not just sticking to low-risk plans, but are making smart investment decisions that can deliver them inflation-beating returns,” stated the report. This trend was captured by Outlook Money in a story in its August 2018 issue titled, Small Moolah, Big Returns Excite Bharat.

While women are making moves in risk-friendly investment tools, they are also successfully striking a balance in their portfolios, including how much to save  and how much to spend.

Divya Gupta, 34, stated striking a balance between spending and saving is nothing but a goal divided between what needs to be saved and what needs to be spent. “And goals keep changing with time, so do priorities. For example, when I was young, I saved less. As I grew older, my savings percentage increased,” said Gupta, an entrepreneur from Bengaluru, who runs a jewelry business.

On the other hand, for Antara Roy striking a balance between saving and spending is all about differentiating between needs and luxury. A Gurugram-based entrepreneur, it was circumstances that forced her to master the art of money management. She recalled a situation where she had to survive for two whole days with only `10 as a student, after leaving the comfort of home as a young adult. “Staying in a rented accommodation in Delhi, I had to understand the meaning of every penny I spent,” said Roy.

Today Roy operates her own restaurant, manages finances of the business, her familys wealth and of course her own. “After reaping some profit from the business, I started investing in SIPs, which I continue to manage on my own,” she said and acknowledged that circumstances taught her the art of managing money the hard way.

Amisha Vora, Joint MD, Prabhudas Liladhar said since “Women have higher emotional intelligence than men, they are often able to make level-headed decisions.” Like Vora, a number of financial investment experts that Outlook Money spoke to felt that, it is also because women tend to have a more cautious approach towards financial investment than men, that they end up taking wise decisions in the same.

Maitrayee Dutta, 33, a corporate professional from Kolkata has been handling all her finances since she started working a decade ago. To begin with she opted for conservative tools like FDs and RDs. However, since she had an MBA in finance, she eventually decided to take the plunge and started investing in riskier tools like stocks and equities. “Looking back, I feel I took the right decision in terms of my investment portfolio,” said Dutta, who continues to strike a perfect balance between conservative and riskier investment tools.

Roy has a different approach to balance. “For me, it’s very simple, need comes first and luxury second,” she said. She always keeps aside a reserve capital for emergencies. And thereafter, meeting her day-to-day expenditures, she continues with her financial investments. “Unlike salaried people, we in business do not have a stable continuous stream of cash flow. Hence, maintaining this priority is critical,” said Roy.

Sonali Pradhan, Head - Wealth Planning, Julies Baer Wealth Advisor (India), pointed to the shift in trend is striking the right balance between savings and high-risk investments. It is evident from the fact that younger women, especially millennials are experimenting  with riskier investment tools along with  tax-free bonds.

But, there is still a long way to go for women not only in terms of making independent financial investment decisions but also taking more risks. Sana Masood, 34, an ex-journalist turned confectioner from Kolkata, is comfortable to let her spouse make her financial decisions, while she takes care of the business operations. Her investments still comprise PPF deposits and life insurance. “The former is a government-regulated form of investment and quite flexible according to the person’s needs. It is simple and efficient for any person to manage,” said Masood, who still chooses to play safe with her investments.

Outlook Money during its research found that, despite best education and even with specialised qualification in financial management, dependency on male members along with an inclination towards conservative investment tools continue to be a norm both in urban areas and small towns.

“The reason is more socio-economic rather than capability. Women are hardly encouraged to take active participation in financial investments. Most of them are either unaware or remain a silent spectator,” said Renu Maheshwari, Co-founder, and Principal Advisor, Finscholarz Wealth Managers LLP.

But the trend is certainly changing slowly but steadily and with millennial, it is becoming a norm from a trend. The millennial knows, where to tap for information and knowledge. The tech-savvy, young women are exploring the internet, to study and research and then discuss with the male members, but in the end, they take the final decision.

Mudra Bhatt, 28, Mumbai-based Financial Consultant (Accounts and Taxation) and an Event Manager, uses the Internet to do her research on financial products. “Internet has been very helpful for such decisions. So currently, I am not taking help of wealth manager. Wealth managers also help us to invest wisely according to our needs. So maybe in the future, I might shift to such planner,” said Bhatt.

 

She is perhaps inspired by individuals like Bhattacharjee, who have matured to take financial decisions independently. “I handle it (investment decisions) on my own because I feel individual knows their goals the best. But as finance is a vast subject, I sometimes take suggestions from my spouse or financial advisor. However, the final decision lies with me,” said Bhattacharjee. According to a recent poll conducted by the Bank of Montreal, women are comparatively more debt-free than men. However, that doesn’t stop them from taking risks in terms of financial investments. Arpita Sonee, Direct Taxes-Consultant, RSM India feels, “In the current scenario where women are competing shoulder-to-shoulder with men, it cannot be said that women are incapable or in any way behind of their male counterparts when it comes to financial planning or money management. As women are continuously working so as to reduce their dependency on males, financial management has become more of a natural phenomenon amongst them.”

As women steer through this process of managing finance on their own and the independence they wish to take with financially risky products, there is also need for more women to enter the field of fund managers and advisors, stated Vora.

She pointed out there are just about two dozen women mutual fund managers in India as compared to 270-odd male fund managers. The percentage works out to just 7-8 per cent. In more developed countries, however, about 20 per cent of fund  managers are women.

Despite a low financial literacy rate in the country, and more so among the fairer sex, a substantial percentage of the women are coming out of their comfort zone and taking charge of their as well as family’s finances. And they are choosing to invest in somewhat riskier investment tools. Not only are they taking responsibilities head on, but are also being successful in their fiscal ventures.

 

With inputs from Nirmala Konjengbam

aparajita@outlookindia.com, sampurna@outlookindia.com, himali@outlookindia.com, anagh@outlookindia.com,  nirmala@outlookindia.com

 

There’s always a tussle between how much to spend and how much to save. How do you strike a balance?

 

Well I think in my case this was never a tussle when I look back. Given the fact that we came from a regular service class background, budgeting was always part of our DNA. My parents were always very open and forthright with us when it came to household income so we had a fair idea of how much it costs to run and maintain a household. As a family we prioritised spending too.

 

As far as striking a balance goes here are a few principles I live by:

  1. I live by the motto - Live within your means. I don’t spend frivolously on fancy labels just because it’s a brand that everyone flaunts or is talking about. There are no Jimmy Choos, Guccis or Pradas in my closet. I’d like to call myself a value-shopper which actually makes the job of saving much easier simply because money has not been wasted on unnecessary or overly expensive things! I am not someone who tries to catch up with the joneses be it with lifestyle of materialistic belongings.
  2. Whenever I have had extra money at hand, I’ve always locked it away in some instrument or bought gold apart from regular annual tax savings (section 80C) investments we all need to make.
  3. While I don’t have a fixed percentage of savings versus spending, I ensure I don’t eat into my capital or break FDs unnecessarily. I maintain two accounts. one which you can call a reserve fund, just so that I have liquid cash in case of emergencies. Second account is what I call ‘my world’ - this is my salary account and my spending is based on the income that comes in here. I am aware of my account balance and therefore spend judiciously.
  4. Discipline: I’m hugely disciplined and practical when it comes to spending and therefore have never had the problem of debt or bankruptcy in my life - touchwood!
  5. I don’t use credit cards anymore. Debit cards give me a reality check each time I swipe it and that works wonderfully for me

 

 

Femmes Chasing Financial Freedom

Women are taking baby steps towards gaining economic independence

 

I love to see a young girl go out and grab  the world by the lapels – Maya Angelou

 

Women are slowly starting to move from intent to action. Whilst we all agree that women are better at managing expenses and budgeting; it has taken some time for even women to accept that they can be good at financial investments as well. Sheryl Sandberg in her book ‘Lean In’ spoke about how women do not accept any role till they are 100 per cent ready. This sounded so true to me, I could explain my behaviour towards certain things and also understand other womens’ apprehensions when it came to financial investments. It suddenly dawned on me, that one of the reasons women are not investing is because they probably do not feel ready.

So, I decided to take the plunge and help women prepare them to be investment-ready!

Almost four years ago, I started conducting workshops for women on managing money. I can now vouch that quite a few of them have started taking steps towards achieving their financial independence.

Rekha Sinha is one such young woman. A single professional, Sinha started working only in 2016. However, since she had moved to another city for her job, the first few months’ salary only ended up being spent on things like setting up a new place. She was busy finding her way around her workplace and also trying to make friends and of course adjusting to a new city. Budgeting, saving and investing were definitely not in the charts.

She attended a workshop on money management in late 2016 which got her thinking about investing at least some part of her salary because she realised that she had absolutely no savings. Thus, she decided to not only start saving but also investing soon.

She approached a financial advisor and started discussing tax saving options and expressed the intent of starting Systematic Investment Plan (SIPs) so that she could start saving. However, it was not until mid 2018 that she actually started investing. Sinha shared her goals, both short and long term with her advisor and with the latter’s help started two SIPs – one in long-term and the other in short term.

Sinha now understands the risks involved in equity investing in the short term, but is clear that if she does not grow her money, inflation will be an even bigger risk. She also understands that equity has its ups and downs and hence will not be perturbed by it. She has been investing in equity mutual funds for the last six months and has not been worried about the fact that in the short term, she is seeing red. She is thrilled that she has been able to save a six-figure amount already!

It is not just the young who are taking the steps. More and more women are realising that just working is not enough; they need to take charge of their money too. Arpita Bansal is one such individual. A mother of two, Bansal started asking around for random advice about investing for her children’s future and realised that she needed much more than that. She then took the help of an advisor to chart out her financial goals, take insurance to protect the same. Eventually she took a term policy in her name and started an SIP. While she needs to start saving more to ensure that her goals are met, Bansal has decided to start cutting down unnecessary expenses, and has set a target amount to reach by mid 2019. She will then start planning her retirement too. Her priority is clear and set, thereby helping her save more and invest better.

I meet bright women everyday who are doing fantastic in their fields, but are still apprehensive when it comes to financial investments. Start reading, start learning and start doing. You will make mistakes, just make sure that they are small and learn from them.

Happy Investing!

The author is a financial advisor and Founder at Investography

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