Wealth managers in Asia have been given a clear message from research released to coincide with International Women’s Day (March 8), showing a need for women to take more control of their finances.

Despite striving for equality in other areas of their lives, and with women’s longevity continuing to be better than men’s, most women are still dependent on men for long-term financial decision-making, said UBS executives on Thursday (March 7).

UBS surveyed nearly 3,700 women globally to understand how they approach their financial well-being. Of these women, 2,251 were married with at least $1 million in investable assets. Another 1,400 were either divorced or widowed and had at least $250,000 in investable assets each.

Women steer day-to-day finances but not long-term planning or investments, the survey showed. Over 70% of Hong Kong women surveyed defer to spouses on long-term financial decisions, while only 20% of women take the lead and 9% share decisions equally. Most Hong Kong women (79%) also think their spouses know more about long-term finances. 

Lum Wai-Soon, head of global wealth planning for Hong Kong at UBS Wealth Management, said, “Whether this is due to the primacy of the male in Asian culture or other reasons, there is no denying that all women face the same risks and unpredictability in life. Deferring long-term financial decisions to spouses jeopardises their financial security in the future.”

In contrast, 97% of the women who had taken joint decisions with their spouses about finances were more confident about their financial future. 

Many women learn the costs of deferring to their partners when marriages end, as 85% of widows and divorcees in Hong Kong wish they had been more involved in long-term financial decisions.

"The greater longevity of women is a key reason why women need to focus on longer-term financial planning," said Lum. "More than 70% of Hong Kong women believe they will outlive their spouses. We should acknowledge their financial challenges and turn longevity into an opportunity."

A LONG WAY TO GO

At events in Asia this week to coincide with International Women’s Day, some financial services executives also affirmed their commitment to achieving greater gender diversity.

Speaking at the 'Disrupting Diversity' event in Singapore on Wednesday, Standard Chartered's CEO Peter Lee said the bank expects to hit its 2020 target of having 30% of senior leadership roles held by women.

Diversity is also a critical aspect of BNP Paribas Asset Management’s corporate agenda, according to Asia Pacific chief executive Ligia Torres. She told AsianInvestor, “Our priority in Asia Pacific is increasing the number of women and Apac nationals in leadership and to cultivate an open environment that respects differences in background, experience and perspectives.”

Ligia Torres, BNP Paribas AM

The firm has key performance indicators for diversity in place in its human resources process; for example, targeting 50% female talent identification among mid-level employees and 40% at the senior level). Its graduate programme targets 50% women graduate hires year on year.

The asset manager has also done a lot of work training executives, male and female, about how unconscious bias affects hiring decisions.

“Everyone has unconscious biases — even the best-intentioned people — which play out in their everyday lives and interactions,” said Torres.

Long-established gender stereotypes — such as men “take charge” and women “take care” — put women at an automatic disadvantage when it comes to being considered for leadership roles, she added.

Nevertheless, by and large, the investment management industry seems stuck when it comes to the issue of gender diversity and inclusion, a 2018 report by the CFA Institute noted.

Institutional investors in Asia also have a rather poor record when it comes to women on their boards. Singapore’s GIC for example, has 15 executive board members, none of whom are female.

The executive committee of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority is made up of five men. Its advisory committees have 22 members, two of whom are women.

All of Korea Investment Corporation’s executive management and steering committee members are male. And of the 12 executive board members and governors of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, only one is female.