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Stop marketing to women and start designing for them

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Women are in control of more dollars than ever before as studies show they are earning a larger share overall of household income.

The result is that women are making more spending choices as the new default users of financial products and services. If financial firms want a greater share of economically powerful women, both as employees and as customers, stock photos and pink brochures won't cut it.

Companies need to rethink their operation with women's needs and preferences in mind.

Financial firms may not intentionally exclude women, but simply fail to consider them equally as "average" users of services. Men are still considered the default user, and women’s concerns are treated as afterthoughts. Space suits, smartphones, cardiac diagnoses, Kevlar vests and home loans were designed without considering roughly half the population they meant to serve.

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Women also make more buying decisions for other people. They choose for family members, aging parents and young children.

But as we expand the way we think about gender — such as acknowledging that not all women are heterosexual, traditionally feminine or destined to be wives and mothers — failure to recognize this by using outdated marketing will become increasingly unpalatable.

Thriving in a world increasingly led by women as earners and purchasers may seem like a daunting project, but there are a few simple first steps to get started.

First, disaggregate user-generated data by gender. Like the auto-investor companies, there may be patterns in how women use products differently. Ask their insights and track their experiences.

Studies show women have an exceedingly low tolerance for bad design because they don’t get an emotional charge from “conquering” a product, like an outrageously complicated remote control. Some "fixes" for these frustrations can make the gender gap worse, such as voice interface software that is designed for men’s voices and frequently won’t respond to women.

Next, think about the social pressures acting on women and how your company can help mitigate it. How easy is it for users to change core data like last name, address or employer?

Women go through these changes more frequently than men. Women are also more vulnerable to financial abuse. For example, can she revoke permissions for a previously authorized user or change her PIN by phone? Such simple revisions can win the loyalty of women as customers.

Lastly, there’s one core need everyone shares, and women want most: more time. How can companies help women, both as employees and customers, reclaim their time?

Women continue to do a majority of unpaid household tasks. Even in post-traditional households like mine, where my husband assumes primary childcare and housework roles, I count the remaining diapers for our 2-year-old and make sure my eldest son finished his college application essays on time.

This unpaid emotional labor adds up. The rising economic value of a woman’s working hour demands tailored solutions to maximize their time as they increasingly “do it all.”

Successful products embraced by working women, such as grocery delivery services, meal-kit subscriptions, dog-walking apps, Uber and others, save users time. Financial services must adapt, too. Create time-saving, straightforward tools to help women control their finances in the pediatrician's waiting room, the curbside pickup and the business-class lounge.

Among employees, the premium for time-in-office strains women more than men. The finance industry has the highest pay gap partly because its hours are rigid and taking time away from the workplace is heavily penalized. By some estimates, an MBA who has a child in her 20s will lose nearly half of her potential earnings, contributing heavily to the finance field’s 25% gender pay gap.

Even as women emerge as equal earners, they are statistically less knowledgeable about financial planning and wealth accumulation than men. Technologies to close that gap will be in demand as more women become the money managers — whether of families, independently or as widows. Just 20% of female breadwinners said they were "very well prepared" to make wise financial decisions, versus 45% of their male peers, according to one study.

A well-developed tech tool can’t fix a gender imbalance, but it might put women ahead of male peers. Studies show women log into their accounts less often and make fewer tinkering changes than men. The financial sector can benefit from gaining a better understanding of this new, female-led market of higher earners and primary purchasers when developing new services.

Women are not a niche audience. They are humans in pursuit of personal fulfillment, a cohesive social network and positive social change. Yet some companies are working against the clock.

Women need easy-to-use, versatile technologies that give more control over our time. As an industry, we must rise to the occasion.

Kathryn Petralia's BankThink post is part of our annual Women in Banking series, which also features Michael Corbat, Citigroup's chief executive, and Amy Friend, a former OCC official who now advises fintech companies.

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