Empowering women: NatWest on a mission for financial confidence

Lack of confidence is the biggest challenge for women investors

Laura Newman, Head of NatWest’s Specialist Client Advice and Investment Services, discusses how the bank is helping to empower women to take control of their finances.

Laura, what does your role involve?

I head up our specialist advice and investment services business within the NatWest group. We offer advice and financial planning services to our Premier and broader retail clients via three distributions. First, face-to-face financial planning; second, via our digital wealth managers who offer support and guidance; third, clients can access our underlying investment strategy through our NatWest Invest and Royal Bank invest platforms.

How diverse is the business?

We have around 232 colleagues, with diversity across sectors and a far better gender split than when I took the business over in 2016. It’s now 60-40, which I am delighted about. There is an employee-led wealth gender network, which I’m very close to, that supports an inclusive environment for our colleagues. We aim to be a change-maker for our employees and inspire change outside the bank’s walls. We aim to retain, attract and develop female talent to thrive across the wealth business, enabling them to attain more senior roles in the bank. 

What specific challenges do women face when it comes to investing?

Their confidence. Our research has shown that women lack confidence in making certain financial decisions, which has led to various gaps in their savings, investments, and pensions. We acknowledge that some of this may be caused by the historical gender pay gap. But largely, it’s down to a lack of confidence, time, and a safe environment for women to ask questions.

Why do you think that is?

The wealth industry has not normalised investing for women. They are more likely to talk about money with friends and family than a financial institution and are far more risk averse. I’ve been in the financial services industry for 34 years, which has been male-dominated. I think that puts women off in terms of being able to communicate and converse with someone similar to them.

What message do you give to potential female investors?

It’s never too early to start saving for the long term and investing in your financial future. This is particularly true for women who tend to steer away from higher-risk investments and look towards a deposit base. They’re more likely to take time out for either raising a family or supporting and helping elderly parents. That has a natural knock-on effect and can impact their earnings, savings and pension, affecting their financial security and financial independence in the short, medium and longer term.

What role does education play in empowering women to make informed savings investment decisions, and at what stage?

They should receive education as early as possible; for example, in junior school, they can learn about individual finances and financial independence – including how to spend or save pocket money. We run MoneySense (NatWest’s free financial education programme for children) sessions in schools, which is the starting point. Then education should be available at every moment of the female’s life where there could be a potential change in circumstances.

What initiatives have you taken to empower women about their finances and boost their confidence?

Within NatWest, we have many colleagues with financial planning qualifications, and we thought, why not impart that knowledge and experience and share it with both colleagues and clients? So, in 2021, we set up the NatWest Female Financial Fitness initiative. We held an ‘empowerment through knowledge’ event for our colleagues. This was an introduction to investing, types of investments, how portfolios are made up and myth-busting. Because of the reception from colleagues, we then extended the event to our clients. In a safe environment, this targeted approach enabled colleagues and clients to ask questions and feel comfortable speaking about money.

In 2022, we did ‘Budget Like a Boss’ to help female colleagues achieve financial goals and objectives, take ownership of budgeting, and then be the boss in the family. Then there was ‘Break the Bias,’ hosted by an external speaker Emily Bellet from the Vestpod community, for women to start breaking the taboo around money. She spoke about discrimination and financial independence.

Then we had a session, New Tax Year New You, which went through how and why it’s important to form a savings habit. The fourth session covered Protecting What Matters, for example, if something happens, such as your spouse dying.

Are you planning other events this year?

Yes, we’re looking at doing a similar exercise to increase that awareness because it’s not necessarily about creating a product or a specific investment vehicle for women. It’s about giving women the knowledge, confidence and empowerment to make those decisions. We’re nowhere near where we need to be; I want to do a substantial amount of more work, which we want to focus on in 2023. It’s a continual cycle of engaging with women to bring that knowledge to the forefront.

How do you stay current on the latest research and trends related to women investing?

We’ve set up a working group from our junior management team, whom I mentor, to do qualitative and quantitative research, reviewing the Rose Report and 50 international papers on females in business. We’ve already done an internal survey because our colleagues are our clients, and we will do an external survey. We’re looking at setting up a Premier client counsel to talk to them about the challenges they face, take on board their feedback, and adapt and change things.

How does NatWest Premier involve diversity and inclusion in its investment offerings and advice?

We’re a purpose-led organisation which champions helping people, families and businesses to thrive. Realising potential and helping each other to thrive involves creating a great culture underpinned by a diverse workforce; we don’t necessarily have a specific product. For me, what’s important is that our clients see a diverse workforce they can relate to. We ensure that everyone that works here should feel they have an equal opportunity to develop and progress and feel valued. We have regular training around respect, diversity and inclusion and employee-led networks on gender, enablement, social mobility, multicultural and LGBTQ+. With a fully diverse team of advisors and the availability of more female wealth managers, we regularly bring to life the importance of the value that a diverse workforce brings to both the business and clients.

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