Mastercard Measures Women’s Financial Literacy

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In view of recent studies showing U.S. women to still lag men in financial literacy, an assessment of financial literacy conducted among women in the Asia-Pacific region has also turned up surprising results.  Intuitively it would seem that women in the most developed economies such as Japan, Korea, Australia or Singapore would have the highest level of financial savvy would be found in. But MasterCard Worldwide’s inaugural Index of Financial Literacy among women in the Asia-Pacific region shows this not to be the case.

The Thais Have It

The most financially savvy women were, in fact, found by MasterCard to be in Thailand, with an overall index score of 73.9 out of 100.

MasterCard’s overall index is made up of three components:

  • Basic money management weighted at 50%. This is to determine the level of basic money management skills in terms of budgeting, savings, and responsibility of credit usage;
  • Financial planning weighted 30%. This is to assess the level of knowledge of financial products, services, and concepts and the ability to plan for long-term financial needs; and
  • Investment weighted 20%. This to determine basic understanding of the various risks associated with investment, different investment products and skills required.

Notably, Thai women also had the highest scores in financial planning (87) and investments (69.3), outshining their peers in the other 12 Asia-Pacific markets surveyed by MasterCard.

Of the three components that make up MasterCard’s survey, women across the 13 Asia-Pacific countries as a whole scored the best in financial planning (average score 74.6), followed by basic money management (63.9) and investment (56.7). The overall average score across the 13 markets was 66.3.

Vietnamese Do Well Too: Also of significance was that women in another early-development stage market, Vietnam, also performed well to take sixth place with an overall index score of 70.1. Women in three other developing markets surveyed were also in the MasterCard’s index’s top-10: The Philippines (overall score 68.2), Indonesia (66.5) and Malaysia (66).

Georgette Tan, vice-president, communications for MasterCard, Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, said of the strong performance of Thai and Vietnamese women in the rankings:

These are markets where rapid socio-economic advancement has given women vital and valuable first-hand entrepreneurial experience and exposure to financial planning and money management concepts.

Women in Singapore were in third overall place with a score of 72.4, thanks to good scores on basic money management (70) and financial planning (80.4). But they fell short in terms of investment skills and knowledge, scoring of 51.5, well below the regional average.

Women in Key Developed Markets Surprisingly Lag

Bringing up the rear in the survey were women in the developed markets of Korea, with the lowest overall index score of 55.9, and in Japan with the third-lowest overall index score of 59.9. Women in Korea and Japan were also the only ones in the region with financial literacy index scores of below 60.

Women In Other Developed Markets Excel

Women in New Zealand had the second highest overall index score (73.8) followed in fourth position (71.6) by Australian women, leading the field in basic money management with scores of 76.7 and 75.8 respectively. However, they both fared poorly on financial planning – coming in under the overall survey average – and on investments with scores of 58.3 and 55.2, respectively.

Indian and Chinese Women Lag

In the most populous developing markets, India and China, women had overall index scores of 62.5 and 60.1, respectively. This ranked Indian women fourth lowest and Chinese women second lowest. MasterCard found that Indian and Chinese women are particularly weak in basic money management, scoring 58.8 and 54.4, respectively.

Counter Intuitive Findings on Korean Women Yield Cultural Insights

Women are the Household Financial Decision Makers: Mastercard found that the majority of Korean women polled were the household financial decision makers. This was certainly true during my 15 years in Korea. I spent some years serving as General Manager of Marketing at Samsung Life, Korea’s leading insurer, where the traditional Financial Consultant channel was  female.

Yet Financial Literacy Remains Low: Ironically, Korean women had the lowest financial literacy scores:

  • Lowest financial literacy score (55.9)
  • Lowest in basic money management (51.1)
  • Lowest in financial planning (65.7).
  • In investing, only 22% of Korean women had a basic understanding of inflation and its impact on the future value of money.
  • Only 40% said they understood the concept of compound interest rates.
    • 36% did not understand the concept; 24% were unsure or did not know.

Japanese women had the lowest investment score (38.4).

Why? Traditional Societies Have Strong Cultural Differences

1. Little Experience With Equities Based Products: It is important to note that there are strong cultural differences that can largely account for these findings. Korea doesn’t have a long history with equities-based products. Traditionally,  investor clubs, called kae are used to raise seed money for businesses. The first recipients cede some of their cumulative periodic investment for the privilege of being the first to have access to a lump sum for investment. Later recipients receive back earnings as a result. But the pool is based entirely on monthly contributions of the members and there is no actual appreciation or interest on that pool.

2. Fixed Investments and Real Estate Are King: A second important Asian trend is a traditional emphasis on fixed income investments vs. equities. As highlighted in my article, The Declining Role of Equities, while investors in Europe, the United States, and wealthier parts of Asia, such as Hong Kong, hold 30% to 40% of their financial assets in equities, new investors in emerging economies keep 75% in deposit accounts.

General Observations and Conclusions

Women Need to Round Out Their Financial Skills: As an overall observation, while it is a broad generalization, women from traditional societies where they are the household decision makers tend to excel in money management, yet fall short in  investment skills and knowledge.

By contrast, research on U.S. women shows them still lacking confidence in money management skills, although their long-term family-oriented focus equips them to do better than U.S. men in long-term planning.  In comparison, the more transactional quantitative decisions such as budgeting or investing are typically more appealing to U.S. men who enjoy the “game” of it, than to U.S. women.

Financial Literacy Education Is Invaluable: The high scores of the women of Thailand, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia and Taiwan show that, regardless of cultural differences,  empowered women anywhere are a force to be reconed with.

One finding of the MasterCard research that can be generalized to all women was a close correlation between financial knowledge and planning – women who exhibited higher levels of financial literacy were more likely to be proactive in planning for their future. This shows that financial literacy training can be a potent tool for women financial consumers.

At Samsung Life, we invested heavily in educating the Financial Consultants in principles of financial planning that they could pass on to their clients, while introducing variable life, annuities and mutual funds to the product mix. The results were highly successful. This shows that an investment in female financial literacy is an invaluable investment for financial firms.

Financial planners have a receptive market with U.S. women, who have an advantage over U.S. men in long-term planning skills, and one way to reach them is to recruit and develop more female financial planners.  Helping women to round out their money management and investment knowledge will make them more confident consumers for investment products. In particular, women’s lower risk tolerance would make them a natural market for today’s Equity Indexed life insurance and annuity products, as well as Variable Annuities with living benefit guarantees that lock in gains and guarantee an income base for future annuitization.

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