The answers to this age-old question range from the philosophical and comedic to the merely banal. Few offer new insight and even fewer back up those insights with solid facts. Every now and then, a refreshing exception breaks through the clutter.

The Boston Consulting Group conducted an extensive and comprehensive survey across the globe covering 12,000 women across 21 countries spanning diverse socioeconomic classes to get a definitive answer to this question – at least as far as commercial goods go. The results were published in a compelling and engaging book, “Women want more“, by Michael J. Silverstein and Kate Sayre, both of The Boston Consulting Group. The book covers not only financial services, but a multitude of products and services including healthcare, food, apparel, fitness and beauty.

Here, from the book, are five key insights relating to women and their views on financial services.

A category begging for transformation

#1: Of all the industries covered, financial services is the category perceived as least sympathetic to women

This is upsetting because of the sheer magnitude of female-directed revenue at stake in the business, that runs in the trillions, not merely the billions. What frustrates women the most about financial services, is the combination of the criticality of managing finances in their lives, which they rate as #1, combined with the general apathy, lack of understanding and condescension and poor levels of service and advice they generally receive.

There is a twist to this tale: many women have their first and most significant encounter with financial services during a time of significant upheaval, even crisis, such as the loss of a spouse. The poor levels of service which might at best be frustrating during normal times, become almost catastrophic when experienced in the throes of a negative life-changing event with significant future consequences.

#2: Women need the most help with  four types of services

The survey identified four categories of offerings that would resonate the most with the women surveyed:

  1. Household administration tasks – that would help women track their family finances and ease the burden of performing the transactional actions such as paying bills, tracking money flow and making calculations. (Comment: this study was conducted in 2009, at the peak of the crisis and before the advent of the slew of fintech offerings in personal finance. The level of urgency may now be different)
  2. Financial education: The need cited here was greater learning opportunities about budgeting, saving and long-term financial planning. (Comment: there is clearly a paradox to be solved here. We have seen from research that the real efficacy of financial education is questionable at best, and counterproductive at its worst. Yet, the respondents clearly see this as a big need. The answer may lie in the context of specific solutions and offerings, and the synthesis and presentation of information in ways that are friendly to how women receive and assimilate information. See this post for more)
  3. Financial advice and long term planning: The key to note here is that the women want advisers who truly understand their needs and who treat women as equals and with respect (Comment: This finding aligns clearly with the key theme and foundational purpose of this blog. Enough said)
  4. Children’s solutions: Educating kids about money, and cushioning them during times of financial turmoil rank high among women’s priorities. (Comment: A high focus on children and their current and future well-being is a specific differentiator between men’s and women’s goals with finances

Ross Findon

#3: The greatest need for financial offerings is at key life inflection points, but the way to win is not to wait for those events

Women need and are most receptive to financial advice and offerings at key inflection points in their lives. These typically coincide with big life changes, or significant interactions with money: getting a first job, getting their first bank account or credit card, getting married, having the first child on the positive side, and divorce or loss of a spouse on the negative side.

The key to success though, is slightly counter-intuitive. The best strategy for providers is not to approach women at these key inflection points – they would be better served f they proactively reach out to and establish solid and long-standing relationships with women long before these inflection points arise, thus enhancing the likelihood that they will also be the provider of choice when the need does arise.

#4: One size does not fit all – archetypes and life stages play a key role in attitudes and needs

A key factor of success in the women’s market is a recognition of how to intelligently and thoughtfully segment them so as to better understand and serve their specific needs according to their preferences.

The book suggests that there are six clusters of women defined primarily by age, income and lifestyle, that may help to better define and understand the opportunity, including in financial services. These are:

  • Fast trackers: The wealthiest segment presenting the greatest opportunity, fast trackers are the educated economic elite. There are two sub-segments within the fast tracker segment: striving for achievement and the independent woman. While similar in many respects, the strivers are driven by achievement at work while independent fast trackers tend to put a little less value on achievement, while still strongly motivated to succeed and be independent.  Fast trackers place extraordinarily high demands on themselves as well as on those around them. A key challenge is lack of time and intense pressure, much of it self-imposed. This segment is a huge opportunity for financial services because they not only possess significant wealth, but independent women are also particularly dissatisfied with financial services
  • Pressure cookers: As the name suggests, these women feel the stress of too little time and too many responsibilities the most. The biggest demands on their time are placed by the need to care for their children. So products and services that free up time, mental bandwidth, while also offering financial security for themselves and their children rank highly with this segment.
  • Relationship-focused: Well-educated, these women place a high focus on happy relationships and rich experiences. They are typically in their mid-to-late twenties and early thirties. Money and achievement are not high motivators for this segment, and the financial services opportunity is primarily in helping them finance experiences that they value highly, such as travel.
  • Fulfilled empty nesters: Typically in their fifties or older, these women tend to focus more on themselves and their spouses, with a big emphasis on “bucket list” goals and on aging gracefully. The interesting thing about this segment is that while they have money, they are not very optimistic about their financial future, and financial services are not an area of big focus for them.
  • Managing on her own: This segment comprises single women of many age groups who now have the responsibility to manage not only the household but their financial lives as well. Autonomy is a big priority, and wealth protection typically places higher in importance than finding new relationships. Financial services are definitely on their shopping list.

Arthur Yeti

#5: The uniform theme: frustration at the condescension, lack of service and bureaucracy

Regardless of the differences among segments or at different stages of life, the one theme that comes through loud and clear from the voices of all these women is the constant and unvarying frustration with the poor advice, disrespect, contradictory policies and the endless red tape they report experiencing

The answer is clear: women want MORE, and the financial services industry needs to give it to them

The answer to the question of what women want is clear: women want more: more respect, more tailored solutions, more information, more education, and perhaps most of all, more leverage.

Time scarcity is the single biggest headache and pain point that is common to almost all women, regardless of segment or age, and yet, that is the one resource that the financial services industry is most greedy about consuming: abundant time is needed to get informed, research products, understand implications, and all of this before the purchase process has even started. There is a whole other level of time consumption in filling forms, seeking and getting information and service once that relationship is established.

Photo by Aziz Acharki

The overall mandate starts and ends with this: 

Give women the leverage they need to make the decisions they want to make to achieve the goals most important to them, in a way that makes it easiest for them.


Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World’s Largest, Fastest-Growing Market, Michael J. Silverstein & Kate Sayre, 2009

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