The Real Reason Why Financial Services Ads Show More Women

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A recent Harvard Business Review blog post titled Why the Financial Services Industry Is Showing More Women in Its Ads contained the following:

“Financial institutions portray women today as competent and self-confident, and often feature attractive, middle-aged advisors talking to couples in which the woman is similarly well dressed and clearly attentive. It makes sense for advertisers to present women as strong, well-educated consumers. This is appealing to women who see an attractive self-image reflected back at them, and to men, who are flattered by the idea that smart, self-possessed, and financially secure women are their own life partners. But it’s not all ‘optics’–more and more women are actually taking on breadwinning roles. Of course, it’s not enough to show women in their advertisements; the next step is for FIs to effectively engage women with products and services tailored to their needs and desires.”

My take: I’m tempted to say that the article totally misses the real reason, but there was one passing sentence that forces me to temper my critique, and say that the article mostly misses the real reason.

What is that reason? Simply this:

In a large percentage of American households, it’s the female head of household who manages the family’s finances, and who takes the lead role in deciding who the family does its financial-related business with.

I chose my words carefully there. I did not say that the woman in the household decides who do the business with. It’s more often than not a joint decision between the couple. But the female head of household “takes the lead in deciding”–which is a not-so-elegant way of saying she does the legwork when it comes to researching the options and alternatives.


The reason why I had to temper my critique from “totally” misses the reason to “mostly” misses the reason was the comment in the article that “more women have also taken on more responsibility for retirement planning.”

But the focus on women in financial services ads goes way beyond retirement planning responsibility. It’s about the choice of checking and savings account providers, credit card issuers, and lenders for borrowing needs.

There is a reference in the article about women making a high percentage of the household’s spending decisions. That’s not the reason for the focus on women in FS ads, however. Again, it’s about women’s role in deciding which financial services providers to do business with.


I still struggle, however, with another comment made in the article regarding the need for FIs to “effectively engage women with products and services tailored to their needs and desires.”

How does a checking account designed for a man differ from one designed for a woman? What is it about the credit card in my wallet that makes it designed for men, and not “tailored” to women’s needs and desires?  What would a Women’s Mortgage look like?

I wouldn’t dispute for a second that, until relatively recently, financial services advertising targeted men, and not women. But that doesn’t mean the products were designed for men’s–vs. women’s–”needs and desires.” That’s giving way too much credit to financial services marketers.


Speaking of comments in the article that I struggle with, here’s another:

“Men are much more likely today, than decades ago, to be comfortable with and appreciate their spouses as full partners in their own financial decision-making.”

Wow. The author totally doesn’t get it.

It’s not accurate to say that I “appreciate my spouse as a full partner in my financial decision-making.” It’s OUR financial decision making. I’m actually way more appreciative when my wife lets me contribute to the decision-making process (for chrissakes, I work in the industry–you’d think that maybe, JUST MAYBE, I know a thing or two about who to do our financial services business with).

To me, the author’s statement implies that today’s men made a conscious decision to relegate some (or all) of the decision-making to their female spouse/partner. No, that’s not it.

Many of us (i.e., men of my age, and I certainly can’t say “all”) went into the relationship with no preconceived notions of who would manage the household finances. That’s the big difference. When my parents (now 80-ish) got married, it was assumed that the man would manage the finances.

I’m a Boomer. Been married for >25 years. Did not go into the relationship thinking I would manage the finances. And I know plenty of other men my age who say the same–even if they did end up managing the finances.


The financial services industry has been glacially slow in recognizing this change (from the male head of household managing the finances to the female head of household doing it). It’s been a long time in the making.

So….tell me where I’m going wrong here. I’ve got a wife and three daughters–believe me, I’m used to be told I’m wrong about everything.

Image via flickr

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