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Strife on Mars

Women are from Venus, men from Mars – discuss. No matter how you start this conversation, one of you will end up grumpy but one area where there will be no disagree-ment is women and pensions.

What Women Want, a report commissioned by Scottish Widows, showed that only 15 per cent of women with children under the age of five contribute to a pension compared with 50 per cent of men. If we are to encourage women to make provision for their own retirement and to not rely on their partner, we need to be overtly courting women by providing pension products that women want and are attracted to.

Earlier this week, I had the same conversation with Stuart Mewburn (financial services creative guru) that I had with him in the late 1980s when he, Julian Gibbs and John Allison (ex-Scottish Life International) and I worked together.

Stuart said: “Pensions are rubbish as you can’t get at your money, the rules and administration are onerous, charges are too expensive and performance patchy.”

Many women will agree with him but even after next April’s pension simplification – which actually makes the advice process more complex – we will still face the issue of how to encourage women to plan for retirement.

Neil French – worldwide creative director of WPP, the world’s second-biggest advertising group – is reported to have said recently that “women don’t make it to the top because they don’t deserve to. They’re crap”. French, 61, later clarified his position. “What I did say was that to be a creative director requires 100 per cent commitment. People who have babies to look after can’t do that,” he said.

He told the Financial Times that he didn’t have “a sexist bone in his body” and that he had not seen his eight-year-old son for three months because of work.

Women buy products and look at things differently than men. Gloria Moss, senior research fellow at Glamorgan University Business School, has done extensive research into gender differences and buying behaviour.

We know that men and women shop in different ways, whether zigzagging supermarket aisles or responding to colourful product displays.

Moss has detailed statistical evidence showing that a product will tend to appeal to the same gender as that of its designer.

According to a report in The Observer, the creative side of the advertising world suffers from gender bias more than almost all other UK industries. Research shows that women make 80 per cent of purchasing decisions, yet 83 per cent of creatives are men.

On the blog that revealed Neil French’s comments to the world, there is a message from someone called Patsyb, who says: “This is not an ad industry problem, it’s a societal problem. I made all the sacrifices French says women won’t make and both my kids and I still got screwed. Why don’t female creatives rise to the top? They get fed up with the dickheads, the heartbreaking choices, the insane juggling that makes you get up and vomit every morning from the stress…until, finally, they say to hell with it.”

As we are beginning to understand the full ramifications of the new simplified pension world, where there is little change to the product shapes, we need two things.

First, more female product development, creatives and IFAs to enter financial services to give women what they want.

Second, we must make the UK pension rules more closely resemble those in America, where cash can be accessed from pensions for major life events.

If neither happens we face the very real prospect of being in the unsustainable position where women continue to face poverty in retirement.


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