Historically, Arab women have been quite disadvantaged as compared to males and, more often than not, their destinies are inhibited by the dominant males in their lives - father, brothers or husband. In a recent study of inequality between men and women across 134 countries published by the World Economic Forum (WEF Gender Gap report 2010), the GCC & Arab region ranks amongst the lowest in the world. While Iceland and Scandinavian countries rank at the top, the highest ranked Arab country is UAE at 103rd place, with Kuwait at 105, Bahrain at 110, Lebanon 116, Qatar 117, Oman 122, Egypt 125 and KSA at 129. This is despite the fact that several of the GCC countries are considered "High income" societies, while some so called "Low income" countries like the Philippines (9) and Sri Lanka (16) rank in the Top 20. The highest ranked Muslim country is Indonesia at 87.
Interestingly, countries in this part of the world score low at the aggregate level, not due to education or health factors, but due to lower scores on economic opportunity and political empowerment for women.
Does this mean that targeting women for financial services is not viable in the Arab region? Definitely not. According to Reuters women in the GCC alone hold billions in personal wealth, US$12 billion belongs to Saudi Arabian women, of which 75% sits in cash deposits and 20% in unit trusts. Accumulated wealth has increased among the growing population of female professionals.
The market is witnessing the emergence of a specific type of female customer - the traditional holder of inherited capital whose quest for financial sophistication is motivating them to find better ways of investing their money and doing so in an environment that suits their personal style and requirements.
Boston Consultancy Group research reports that women in the Middle East control around $0.7 trillion of the region's total assets under management. This represents 22% of the total AUM in the region. Further, it has been observed that there are differences in the type of investment advice sought by men vs women - while women tend to seek advice in order to fulfil long term goals (e.g. children's education, old age pensions etc), males on the other hand tend to look more for short term gains.
At Financial Services for Women Middle East Summit industry-leading experts will convene to discuss possibilities in diversified investment and wealth management for women and look on wealth held by women and growth projections in the Middle East. Most importantly, the summit will highlight how retail banks can capture this market through their ladies banking division or through tailoring their retail products accordingly.