Beyond wads of cash: Financial inclusion for older women in the family
Elora Chakraborty, teacher based in Kolkata was pleasantly surprised when her 80-year-old mother quipped in with an ingenious solution while she was discussing her budgeting pain points with her children and husband. “My mother said ‘You all are so used to the habit of subscribing – be it Netflix or random shopping apps. You should comb through all those apps and cancel all the subscriptions that you do not use and you will be able to spare at least a few thousands. At that moment, I realised how financially savvy she was!”
This financial prowess comes from a long history and experience of consolidation of household expenses, especially food items. Traditionally, Indian women are known to buy essentials in bulk to save little money. That saving used to come handy in rainy days. The whole idea of saving is not new to older women in the Indian families. But sadly, they are never involved in money matters at home!
While the younger women are taking leaps towards breaking glass ceilings in various fields and are more dexterous in personal finance, the older women in Indian households are still far from the realms of financial inclusion.
For women of the older generations, their participation in finance management was confined to maintaining the budget of the household and keeping a wad of cash saved for rainy days. At the most, they would hold joint accounts with their husbands and even that was something that many women were deprived of. Unsurprisingly, managing even a bank account or simple investments all by themselves was not envisaged as something women would be adept at doing because of the patriarchal belief that managing money is a task that cannot be done efficiently without testosterone.
In fact, the lack of financial inclusion of women in the previous decades has manifested in the form of poor quality of lives in their golden years. A study conducted by the Agewell Foundation in 2018 titled ‘Changing Patterns of Income & Expenditure in Old Age: An Assessment’ found that more elderly women than men across the country have no regular source of income. While among the old men, the percentage of those who had no source or income stood at 2%, in the case of women it was significantly higher at 14%.
Benefits for family members
Parvati Iyer, chief financial officer at Femwealth.com, an online investment management platform opines that by ensuring the participation of older women in wealth management, families can get valuable inputs because traditional money management tactics employed by women continues to be relevant even today. “A key activity which is seldom done is to include older women in the financial planning and investment management exercises. Often older women in the family are able to provide valuable insights owing to their considerable household saving and budgeting experience. Including them has the additional benefit of increasing their self confidence,” Iyer says.
She also elaborated on how including women in financial matters can safeguard the loss of assets in the event of an emergency. She says, “It is quite common to see assets being lost because the main bread winner never shared the investment made and records were not kept diligently. Awareness of the family’s assets and how to redeem them with the requisite paperwork in place, is especially critical in the event of emergencies.”
The boon of digitisation
Thanks to the digitization of financial services and the enhanced flexibility and convenience afforded to customers by banks and financial institutions, financial inclusion can be an easily achievable goal for older women in the family. Chattopadhyay narrates how her mother’s familiarity with smartphone usage made it easier for her to be able to manage her finances on her own to an extent. “She has been using WhatsApp and a few other apps since the last few years and that helped her gain confidence with performing simple online transactions and online banking activities. Now, I am trying to teach her how to use her net banking account and eventually I would also want her to learn how to invest and manage her investments.”
Vikas Gupta, chief investment strategist at Omniscience Capital says “Typically the older women in the family have stayed away from financial decisions and leave the same on the sons and daughters. However, most of them do know how to use a smartphone and are able to make video calls and use messaging apps. If they are imparted training on how to use simple investment and money management apps, they will be able to keep track of their money and eventually larger assets also. Women who are not comfortable using smartphones should be guided and encouraged by their family members and they can also seek guidance from their trusted financial advisors.”
Gupta elucidates that the approach adopted by family members or advisors is also a determinant in ensuring how successfully older women can be inducted into the gamut of money management. “It is important to understand that even though these women might not be financially literate or sometimes they may not even be literate, one should not assume that they would be bad with money decisions because women in Indian households have deftly managed the household budgets and savings. It is essential to treat them with respect and not let condescension seep into your conversations with them about financial inclusion.”
• Tap into the powers of the internet and get the elderly women to watch videos that explain the basics of money management in the languages they are comfortably in. There is no dearth of videos on the subject that make the experience of learning a fun and enjoyable one.
• If you have taken the onus of making the elderly women in your family skilled at managing investments, it would be great idea to start with small mutual fund investments and monitor those with them or with the help of a professional. This can be a great bonding exercise too!
• Should they be unaware of the investments/assets of the family, make it a point to update them regularly about any new investments/assets.
This article is part of the HT Friday Finance series published in association with Aditya Birla Sun Life Mutual Fund.