We've all seen the stats about women’s increasing economic power. According to a Prudential study of financial experience behaviors among women, 95% of women act as financial decision makers in the household. The March 26 cover story of Time magazine, entitled "The Richer Sex," proclaimed that "women are overtaking men as America's breadwinners."

Yet women still feel the financial industry is not meeting their needs. According to a 2009 Boston Consulting Group survey, 49% of women said investment companies need to do a much better job of understanding and meeting their needs. Forty-seven percent of women are disappointed with banks. 

Financial companies want to attract and retain women customers, but many haven't figured out how to do that. They make the following mistakes: 

  • Not providing a customer experience that lives up to the marketing
  • Creating marketing materials that don't speak to women
  • Not having enough women in leadership positions

Let's start with the first. My bank's website states: "Your neighborhood bank since 1872. We’re dedicated to providing you with the personal service you deserve."

First, the bank has only been in my "neighborhood" for the last four years, so their opening statement feels like a lie. As for personal service, for women that means a relationship with someone who "gets" them.  

And here's where many banks miss the mark. For example, I have a friend who is a stay-at-home mom and she hates the sales question "So tell me, what you do?" It makes her feel defensive since people expect her to answer with a job or career.  She would much prefer, "In what ways are you responsible for your family?" 

Know what questions to ask women to show you speak their language and to get at what they care about most.

I'd love for my bank to offer a free one-hour personal financial coaching session. We could discuss my situation and ways to save or make more money. For example, I've been thinking about refinancing my house, but my bank has never talked to me to find out if that's my need. Why is this so important? TNS reports that women are more likely than men to express a preference for having most or all of their accounts at one bank.

What about marketing? Look at retirement ads, and you'll likely see a silver haired couple. The woman has her head on her husband’s shoulder, he is gazing out into the distance while she stands adoringly behind him, or he is carrying her. In many of these ads, the woman is in a subordinate position. I did a research study and asked women 50 and over how they felt about the ads. The responses are instructive:

  •  78% - I don't relate to these images. I don't want to have to rely on someone else (husband or otherwise) for my financial security.
  • 12% - They make me feel loved and supported. I can rely on my husband to take care of me.
  • 10% - They make me feel sad.  I’ve lost my husband and I miss him.

I suspect most creative directors were hoping for the "loved and supported" response. Guess again. Part of the problem may be that 97% of agency creative directors are men.

These types of images work for men; they hit men's "protector and provider" buttons.  But they had the opposite effect on women. 

In my research, women responded most positively to images of families or friends interacting with each other, and images that included pets. (It amazes me how few financial ads included pets.)   

Finally, I talked with a financial firm that wanted to reach out to women. The owner asked me if it was a problem that all of their financial advisors were men. I answered, "Yes." 

Women expect you to walk the talk. If you say, "Hey, we care about and believe in women and want to work with you," yet all of your management is men, or your entire board is made up of only men, then, Houston, you have a problem. Women walk away thinking, "Oh, you care about women enough to want my money, but not enough to include women in important positions in your company." Make sure you have women in high positions and make them highly visible.

It may not be any one big thing financial institutions are doing that turns off women. But all the little things add up to an experience that either meets her needs or drives her away.

 Holly Buchanan is the author of Selling Financial Services to Women and The Soccer Mom Myth.  She is the head of Buchanan Marketing which specializes in marketing and selling to women.  She will moderate an American Banker webinar on Selling Financial Services to Women May 16.