Walking into a women’s only bank in Dubai often feels like entering a spa, such is the exclusivity of these banks. These women-only banks originally sprouted up in Saudi Arabia as a way of catering to wealthy Arab women in a society where women are not allowed to freely mingle among men. These days though, it’s not just banks that are courting affluent women investors. Now, there is a women’s floor on the Kuwait Stock Exchange, and a wealth management company last year launched an investment strategy product aimed solely at women investors in the Middle East.
Why all the fuss? The statistics from a study by the Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) are startling. Women investors control around 22% of the assets under management in the Middle East. That is around $0.7 trillion. And this is wealth that is expected to grow 8% through the years to 2014. Women in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, are estimated to hold billions in personal wealth; $12 billion belongs to Saudi Arabian women, of which 75% sits in cash deposits and 20% in unit trusts. Clearly, this is a fast-growing segment that businesses around the world are seeking to tap.
While women investors in the Middle East are on the rise, problems are aplenty. These women investors have complained in previous studies that a recurring issue is finding financial advisors who take them seriously. Traditional wealth management advisors have assumed that Middle Eastern women investors would be looking only at low-risk investments. Specifically, there is also a dire lack of financial products tailored to such affluent women investors.
There have been a few trailblazing women investors from the Middle East who have overcome the typical hurdles that women investors face. Nahed Taher quit a job at Saudi Arabia’s National Commercial Bank because she found it ‘boring’ and then became the chief executive officer of Gulf One Investment Bank, the first Saudi woman to head a bank in the Gulf Region. Taher recently vaulted to Forbes’ list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World in 2006.
Awareness, however, is growing. The Financial Services for Women Middle East Summit was recently held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Dubai with the focus on the female customer. Or should we say the women investor who is increasingly sophisticated and looking for varied and high profile investment products that suit her risk appetite. In which case, there is much work to be done in that field. Strategies have to be retooled to fit the expectations of the wealthy Middle Eastern woman investor. Studies have to be conducted to understand and analyze these women’s investment appetite. Several financial products may have to be tailored to meet their needs. For it has become quite apparent, the rich woman investor from the Middle East wants more from her bank than a spa.
Postcards from Around the World
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