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The Female Factor

Twice as many women as men now make the household mortgage decisions and the face of the industry is changing to reflect their growing economic power, says Natalie Martin

Taking out a mortgage 30 years ago might have been a man’s job but with more than 23% of today’s mortgages being taken out by females, the industry is starting to feel a woman’s touch.Until the 1960s it was almost impossible for a woman to take out a mortgage without a male guarantor. But as society has changed, the mortgage industry has started to adapt as women take control of their finances and refuse to be overlooked financially. Women are no longer seen as second-class citizens by lenders, who are homing in on the female market.And with one in 10 of these women saying they prefer to speak to a female independent financial adviser, it’s hardly surprising organisations such as the Women’s Financial Adviser Group have sprung up in the past five years.Women are now more equal in terms of jobs, pay and social status, and lenders cannot afford to ignore this. The signs in the market are clear. Lenders are targeting women through marketing campaigns and the publications they choose to advertise in.Successful figures in the industry such as Sally Laker, managing director at Mortgage Intelligence, and Judith White, national sales manager at First National, are changing the image of the mortgage sector, helping female borrowers feel more comfortable about getting on the property ladder.Despite the growing female presence, there is still a widespread belief that the mortgage world is a man’s world, but this is about to change.Research by Halifax shows the greatest sector increase in the past 20 years has been in the number of single women taking out a mortgage. This proportion more than doubled from 9.8% in 1983 to 23% in 2003.Craig Donaldson, head of mortgage products at Halifax, says women’s role in society has changed immensely even since the early 1990s, but that it was back in the 1960s and 1970s that women began to become a force in the housing market.The Catholic was one of the first societies to consider offering mortgages with single women in mind. James Gibourne, chief executive of The Catholic, says the fact that women started buying mortgage products in the 1960s is down to social Tchange rather than legislation.”Looking back to the 1960s we did about 40 to 50 mortgages a year for single women,” he says. “It wasn’t until about 1960 that single women earned enough to get a mortgage in their own right.”Today the story is different and twice as many women are making mortgage decisions as men.One in four women with partners make the financial decisions in the relationship and only 7% of women say their men take control of the financial issues, says Anna Bennett, marketing manager at GMAC-RFC.She says traditionally financial decisions were seen as the man’s domain but things are changing. And now one in 10 women would prefer to speak to a female IFA – a statistic that prompted the formation of the Women’s Financial Adviser Group.Fiona Price founded the group in 2001 and she believes women bring something different to the profession with the special emphasis they place on holistic and client-centred work. She also says the number of male advisers reaching retirement age presents a great challenge – as well as an opportunity – for women.The group now has almost 1,000 members and has staged the IFA Woman of the Year Awards for the past three years.”The percentage of women brokers is only 5% but female advisers have a lot to offer,” Price says. “Often they are more qualified and don’t like to sit in front of someone, be asked a question and not know the answer. Women are also good at building up relationships with clients. We are starting to see a lot more female advisers coming into the market.”Lenders are also starting to identify with the new breed of women that have entered the marketplace. The One account refers to them as SASSY women – Smart, Ambitious, Self- Sufficient and Young. The Oneaccount says the Sassy woman doesn’t think twice about remortgaging her home if she finds a better product that will save her money and suit her lifestyle. It adds that more women are willing to do their homework where mortgages are concerned and are more likely to shop around for the better deal.The firm’s research shows 43% of women feel they are in control of their finances compared with 37% of men.Lenders can’t afford to ignore these changes and will have to make sure they don’t miss out on this largely untapped market.Bennett says GMAC-RFC designs its products to appeal to both sexes and has no plans to launch a female focussed mortgage.HBOS says if there were demand in the market it would consider the features that would be required for a female mortgage but has no plans to at the moment.White says 20 years ago it was not seen as a female’s role to seek advice on financial matters, and a wife’s income was virtually ignored. But today things are different and lenders are starting to target women, especially through advertising.White says typically lenders have advertised in predominately male publications such as the Financial Times and other broadsheet newspapers. But lenders are now grabbing opportunities to advertise in magazines such as Heat and Hello, which are targeted at women.”Women are more likely to think laterally than literally,” she says. “Women tend to shop around and are tempted by different propositions. They are better shoppers and often better customers.”Andrea Brammer, director of recruitment at Cartel, warns that lenders need to make sure they do not patronise women with the incentives they offer.”I would be disappointed if lenders were senseless enough to patronise women by developing mortgages with a free make-over or other incentives aimed particularly at women,” she says. “I would be equally disappointed to think women would be attracted by that sort of superficial offer and not fully investigate what mortgage would be most suitable.”Lenders are starting to offer more flexibility both when assessing affordability and in payment terms and this will benefit females, particularly after a divorce when women often retain responsibility for the children and the household, Brammer says.”It is only now that women are being recognised as decision-makers in their own right, with increasing spending power,” she adds. “It is the power of money, not gender equality, which is leading to the interest in women by the industry,” she adds.The industry seems to be adapting in terms of product innovation, but there are still questions over whether the industry will want to adapt socially to a market that is becoming more of a woman’s world.Brammer says the biggest obstacle women in the industry face is attaining the same recognition from their peers as their male counterparts. They have to work twice as hard to get it.But in the past 30 years women in the industry have come a long way, and their presence has not gone unnoticed. Brammer says the industry has historically suffered from an image problem, with most mortgage sales people being perceived as male, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase – a problem male advisers must also overcome.There are also questions over how lenders use women in promotions. BM Solutions recently came under fire for replacing its online Mini Alan icon with the female character Red. The red-haired woman, who wears a short black business suit, caused concern among some female advisers.Priya Shome, mortgage product manager at Purely Mortgages, says while she can hardly be described as offensive, Purely has 32 female advisers who cannot identify with Red.”The cartoon icon regularly moves around showing off her curves, Shome says. “Clearly BM Solutions is aiming this at what it feels is its target market – men who like a bit of eye candy.”BM Solutions defends it decision and says its previous character, Mini Alan, was male and it may chose to replace Red with a male icon in the future.Rachel Blackmore, external affairs manager at the Building Societies Association, says lenders could be missing out on female custom if their advertising is not female friendly.”There is a lot more advertising nowadays that is female friendly and that makes women feel comfortable accepting female advice,” she says. “But women are still being used to promote products which doesn’t make a woman comfortable about going to get mortgage advice.”Linda Will, managing director of Accord Mortgages, says her company has recently changed some of its advertising after research showed it was not appealing to female brokers because it was too macho.”Even in the intermediary sector our research showed that a lot of our advertising was too macho and did not appeal to the large number of female advisers in the market,” she says. “We use a super hero on our advertising but now we use heroines as well.”She says there are a lot of female advisers who will not look at advertising that they consider to be macho.Although female advisers are still in the minority, Will says the industry is starting to gear itself more towards women.It seems that the industry is starting to adapt and realise the potential of the female market. As society adapts so does the mortgage market, and if new opportunities arise, lenders will not want to miss out.But the industry may not yet be ready – or in fact realise what is needed – to target a female audience and many stereotypes still exist within the industry that could deter females from seeking advice.With the number of women who take out mortgages more than doubling in the past 10 years, the female market has blossomed and looks like growing further.Women are starting to take charge of their finances and, as more take higher paying jobs, they will start to take control of their earnings too.With predictions that more women are poised to enter the mortgage industry both as advisers and in managerial roles in the next 10 years, the industry will have to make sure it is prepared to adapt to a more feminine environment.And it must also embrace the changes and opportunities that the growing number of female borrowers will bring. lIndustry promotins atill alienate womenEmma Paine is product development manager at Mortgage ExpressYou don’t have to flick far into the pages of Mortgage Strategy and the other trade press these days before you come across a familiar female name or face. Famous females in the mortgage market, apart from the Mortgage Strategy girls – Mira Butterworth, Natalie Martin, Rebecca Atkinson, Luci Mylward and Rosemary Gallagher – include industry experts such as Sally Laker, Justine Tomlinson, Linda Will and Fionnuala Earley. But there’s still room for women to make more noise. BM Solutions is going some way toward providing women with a suitable platform, but I imagine alienating some female intermediaries was not its intention. It’s new Red character – online Alan Cleary’s replacement – is provoking comments remarkably similar to those heard at roadshows about BM Solutions’ promotional girls. While there’s no doubt this type of promotion attracts stand visitors, it doesn’t do much for the female population in this industry. And to those men out there grinning as you read this, stop it, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Men dominate the financial services industry and while the opening paragraph of this piece identifies women in the mortgage industry, it is clear that we are still outnumbered, but I must say that at Mortgage Express we have a pretty good balance. As I look around the business development department at MEX I count 29 staff, 14 of whom are women – and six of these are managers including product manager, sales development manager, brand manager and communications manager. I know only too well how difficult it can be to juggle the pressures of work with family life. I was Mortgage Express’ research analyst when I left for maternity leave. But I was lucky enough to find my career only shortly after returning from leave, when I was promoted to product development manager. This is sure sign of Mortgage Express’ commitment to its female workforce. The task ahead is a joint one. It’s partly the job of women to ensure they seize career opportunities with both hands and partly the role of employers to provide opportunities regardless of age, background, race, religion or gender.Sassy women take control of their own lives
Paul Lloyd is project development manager at The One account

The One account has identified a new breed of woman emerging with as sharp an eye for her finances as she has for her power suits. She is SASSY – Smart, Ambitious, Self-Sufficient, and Young. Sassy women are career-focussed, ruthlessly competitive and rising to the top. Ever the savvy shopper, the Sassy regularly checks the market for the most competitive offers on her mortgage, credit cards and investments. With role models such as Charlotte Church, Sienna Miller and Martha Lane-Fox, ignorance is not bliss where a Sassy’s finances are concerned. Women today are more willing to take control of their finances and do their homework to make sure they are getting the best deals possible. A Sassy will constantly check competitors’ rates and will not think twice about remortgaging her home if she finds a better product that will save her money and suit her lifestyle. Research carried out by The One account reveals that most men and women know how much they pay each month on their mortgage. But the research shows women are more financially astute than their male counterparts, with 35% of women likely to shop around for a better deal when their discount period ends compared with just 30% of men. The One account’s research also reveals that women are more aware than ever of their mortgage expenditure with 45% saying they will regularly shop around for the best insurance deals, 38% regularly surfing the internet for best buy tables for their financial products and 32% knowing their mortgage’s standard variable rate. The Sassy woman is emerging as the most formidable figure in today’s society. Always the trendsetter, the Sassy is just as eager to make a statement with her personal finances as she is with her sense of style. With her mortgage, the Sassy woman shops around and understands the market. She is confident she is getting the best deal that suits her lifestyle. She knows how much she pays each month and will remortgage if she finds a more suitable product. The research also finds that 44% of females say they would use penalty-free flexible mortgage features such as those provided by The One account to finance their lifestyles rather than pay sky-high interest rates on a credit card or overdraft, as against only 32% of men. Whereas many men might ignore areas of their finances as they climb the corporate ladder, the Sassy is keener than ever to make the most of her money. Just because she can afford the finer things in life doesn’t mean she wants to spend over the odds when she doesn’t have to.Financial milestones for women in the UK
Until The Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, common law in this country deprived women of the right to keep their own property or even hold money of their own.

  • In 1928 women over the age of 21 were given the vote.
  • As late as the 1970s working women were refused mortgages in their own right as few women worked continuously. They were only granted mortgages if they could secure the signature of a male guarantor.
  • In 1970, the average weekly earnings of full-time women was 16.30 compared with 30 for men.
  • Equal pay legislation came along in 1970.
  • Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female Prime Minister in 1979.
  • Until the 1980s a married woman’s income still had to be declared on her husband’s tax return.
  • April 1990 saw the introduction of independent taxation for spouses. Prior to this women were routinely taxed under their husband’s tax code.
  • The ’composite tax system’ whereby all banks and building societies deducted an average (or composite) rate of tax was eventually abolished in April 1991. The change to the tax regime allowed women more independence from their husbands or partners.
  • In 1998 women accounted for 45% of all workers and 34% of full-timers.
  • In 2003, the average weekly earnings of full-time women was 396, 75.4% of those for men (525.)Source: HalifaxThere aren’t enough female mortgage brokers

There aren’t enough female mortgage brokers
Vicky Jackson is a business development manager at BM Solutions
I started in the St Helens branch of Birmingham Midshires in 1998 working as a customer services adviser at the counter. It was my first ever job and I really enjoyed the interaction with the public and helping with their day-to-day enquiries. I soon moved to a branch in Manchester and progressed to the then equivalent of assistant manager. I was selling general insurance and soon started to make an impression, which was when it was suggested I became a mortgage adviser in one of the BM branches in Liverpool. During the next three years I moved between branches but was consistently the number one adviser before I became a business development manager in 2002. In 2004 I moved into BM Solutions’ BDM team on a full-time basis and have been the firm’s top BDM for the past two years. There aren’t enough female mortgage brokers in the area I cover and there are several reasons for this. One is that women don’t tend to be as aggressive as men and in a market where you are self-employed, it’s dog eat dog.There are definitely more female BDMs in the market now but unfortunately this hasn’t been mirrored on the broker side, although this is slowly changing. I can count on one hand the amount of female brokers that work in my top 10 accounts. But on the retail side it’s a totally different matter. You can walk into any estate agency in the North-West and you’ll find at least one woman working there. As has been the case with car insurance it’s probably only a matter of time before one lender or another comes to the market specifically targeting mortgage products at females. But I don’t think that’s the right avenue to go down. Why should females get a cheaper product – or men for that matter – based solely on their gender? It will be interesting to see if lenders that try to do this are really just looking for marketing scope or are trying to serve a genuine consumer need.


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  • jude brown 8th March 2012 at 10:50 pm

    In the 60s my mother worked f/t. She was a single mother and we lived with my great aunt who also worked f/t and my grandfather who worked p/t. Nobody would give my mother or my aunt a mortgage – even though three wages were coming into the household. It’s a myth it was all to do with earnings – it was their sex – that was why women were discriminated against re mortgages.