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16 May 18 15:25

A couple weeks ago I met with Jane Portas, the lead author of a brilliant study called Securing the Financial Future of the Next Generation, which focuses on the lifelong risks of young women in Britain.

This exceptionally well-researched paper, sponsored by the London-based Chartered Insurance Institute, is a call to action for our industry, delving deep into questions about why women are disproportionally affected by the protection gap and how we can solve it.

After reading, it struck me that we are not thinking creatively enough as an industry about how to protect people against life's ups and downs. When it comes to issues facing women, we are particularly behind. It's clear that the insurance industry still has much work to do in order to cover the complex risks affecting women's lives.

The report examines six #momentsthatmatter over the course of a woman's life when she is particularly exposed to risk, such as studying, entering the workplace, motherhood, retirement or ill-health. Many of the statistics are shocking – for example, by age 64, women have an average pension of about GBP 35,700, while men have accumulated four times this amount.

Some of the unique risks facing women are unavoidable. They are the only ones who can bear children, for example, which can lead to long career gaps that impact pensions, savings and work opportunities. One way we have addressed this at iptiQ is through expanding life insurance access to pregnant women by eliminating the underwriting penalty for certain temporary conditions like weight gain.

Other risks women face are based on life choices – both passive and active. These risks, as Money Box presenter Paul Lewis rightly states in the foreword to Jane's study, "Are not just random chance. They are the result of choices… what to study, whether to have children and when, what job to take, to get married or not. And while these may not be conventionally insurable, they're still risks, with real consequences to ordinary people."

A woman may make the choice to end education early, or to work part-time after having a child. These kind of decisions are too often made only because women cave into societal pressure about gender norms. This is society's highest mountain to climb because a fundamental change in culture is required.

Historically, notions about the roles women should play in society have been disempowering. As a result, many women are left permanently financially handicapped by their decisions early on in life. If these don't leave them impoverished, they will leave them dependent either on relatives or on the government.

Dependence is the opposite of resilience, and encouraging female ambition goes hand-in-hand with our efforts at Life Capital to close the protection gap. The "ambition gap" we see between the sexes is not academic but cultural – girls continue to outperform boys at school, but fewer women than men are studying subjects that lead to high-paid careers, and the risks of working part-time are critically underestimated. Women also carry a disproportionate responsibility for unpaid domestic work, such as childcare.

Ambition means different things to different people. For some, it means going to medical school. For others, it's learning how to save money and keep a budget. But whether a woman's ambitions are big or small, it's important that we help women find solutions to the unique risks they face, and that they are able to trust the products our industry offers as a whole.

We have a responsibility to ensure that women are resilient. But real progress will not be made simply by launching new insurance products through the usual channels. We need a more holistic approach in order to educate women about the long-term consequences of their choices, promote flexible working environments and support their financial independence.

How can we do more? I welcome all of your comments and feedback!

Category: Other

Location: London, UK


Isabelle Campbell - 17 May 2018, 11:43 a.m.

This is an eye-opening article, thank you for sharing Thierry. It's really great to see there are positive examples of how we are supporting women both externally through products but also internally in the work place. Changing the societal pressure as to what is the "gender norm" is a really tricky thing to do and will take a long time to resolve but I'm glad it is something Life Capital is concerned about. It would be good to hear how you feel this differs from some of the other geographic locations we are in.

Yordanka Velichkova - 17 May 2018, 3:11 p.m.

Dear Thierry, thank you so much for the well written blog. I had the privilege to attend a presentation of that study by one of the authors, Jane Portas, hosted by the Insurance Supper Club (thank you, Marina Oberholzer, for inviting me).
I was shocked by the statistics. As a mother of two girls, I am very sensitive to the topic, the choices women make and how influencing starts very early in girls' lives. As a proud Swiss Re employee, I would like to contribute more for broader societal impact.

Anastasia Driva - 17 May 2018, 7:27 p.m.

Thank you for sharing! It shows how decisions are only partially influenced by conscious decision-making processes. Social norms, biases and stereotypes are other key elements.

For anyone interested, I have published a study on financial literacy (a proxy for financial wealth) and gender stereotypes among teenagers. The main message is that there is a strong correlation between girls who believe that "finance is only for men" and their performance in financial knowledge questions. The study can be found here

Anastasia Driva - 17 May 2018, 7:28 p.m.

Happy to discuss further!

Thierry Léger - 17 May 2018, 9:33 p.m.

Thanks for your feedback. I think all geographic locations are equally concerned and eager to find ways to help women manage private and work life

Thierry Léger - 17 May 2018, 9:34 p.m.

Appreciate all the support we can get on this subject!

Thierry Léger - 17 May 2018, 9:36 p.m.

Thanks Anastasia. I did not read all your study but the key message is very clear: the issues start at a very early age! This makes the challenge even bigger!

Marina Oberholzer - 18 May 2018, 7:59 a.m.

Indeed, a very well written study, with an effective way to bring focus to key moments in women's lives through the six #momentsthatmatter. We can all do more, both as individuals and as part of the insurance industry.

As individuals, we can and should start early, from the way we speak to little girls and boys about gender norms. We should pay attention to our own deeply ingrained biases and the small, yet damaging, remarks we make to young women at work, expectant mothers, working parents, those who are going through tough times in their lives (bereavement, caring for someone), but also those strong women who are already "crushing it."

As an industry, there is a myriad of things we can do. On one hand, work place policies matter, from recruitment to how we support women through each moment. On the other hand, we can offer more smart products. We talked with some friends from the banking sector how even women who are highly financially literate sometimes find it hard to speak with advisers to whom they cannot relate (don't look like them, act condescending). We need to reflect our increasingly diverse customer base in the way we organize ourselves. Finally, products that speak our language (heard of Ellevest?). Or how about insurance products that follow a woman's realistic life path and accordingly offer tailored solutions to where one is in life. Expanding life insurance access to pregnant women is a great start.

Thank you for the thoughtful article, Thierry. The time is ripe to do more and we are ready for it.

Anna Wyse - 18 May 2018, 8:42 a.m.

Wow! Whilst non of the individual issues highlighted in the report are new, linking them together across a woman's whole life paints a shocking picture. The challenge can seem insurmountable. Yet the first step is to recognise the need for change and take action. Swiss Re, both as an employer and as an industry player needs to think creatively and be open minded to alternatives. Within Life Capital we have launched several different initiatives to address some of the perils and pitfalls identified in this report and its great to have such a clear message of support from the top down. There is a lot to do and we all need to actively engage in order for change to happen.

Emile Elefteriadis - 18 May 2018, 12:59 p.m.

I enjoyed the article and the thoughtful responses thus far. Thank you for your perspectives and it's wonderful to see the people at Life Capital doing something that recognizes the problem.

There is certainly more our industry can do, perhaps in partnership with government, to help support families more equitably balance the important but un-recognized work of raising children at the home versus work at the office. I wonder if an accommodating and creative group "insurance" scheme that supports and encourages transitions between these two spheres of life could play a role.

Jeannine Bossard - 18 May 2018, 1:04 p.m.

Dear Thierry - many thanks. Educating women on choices and related consequences, and having supporting products available is very important and will have effects on future generations. Equally important is also that men stand up for their desire to implement shifts in their work-life balance to spend more time with either family or other engagements. If men stand together on that - who could/would deny it? This would then in turn leave more space to be filled by women.

Emma Saunders - 18 May 2018, 4:24 p.m.

Thanks for an interesting post. I wonder how the statistics compare in Scandinavian countries, where both flexible working and cultural attitudes seem more supportive of women returning to work. Perhaps proven solutions exist already in other countries.

I disagree with some of the - well meant - implications of this post and comments, though. Plenty of women go part-time because their priorities genuinely change after childbirth, and they don't want to get home from work after their child has gone to bed. No amount of "training" is going to stop them wanting to walk their kids to school or have time to play with them before dinner time. Society owes them a debt of gratitude for this, and for the care of older or less able relatives. A utilitarian world in which we constantly maximise profit is not such a nice world if you are one of those needing care. We can't outsource everything.

I think there are high level changes that would help women. One of these is to make salaries transparent. Even when women are in the workplace, they are often underpaid for the same work, relative to men. If we published salaries (internally), eventually they would become fairer. You'd look up someone's phone number, and see their salary too. It's radical, but after the initial shock, it would have to contribute to fairer pay, which would help pensions too.

Thierry Léger - 18 May 2018, 9:20 p.m.

Thanks for your feedback Marina. We are indeed ready and studies like this are real eye openers and call for action!

Thierry Léger - 18 May 2018, 9:24 p.m.

Thanks Anna. An important step is to attract more women into well paid industries, keep them there and offer carreer opportunities that fit their circumstances!

Thierry Léger - 18 May 2018, 9:25 p.m.

Will definitively look into this!

Thierry Léger - 18 May 2018, 9:26 p.m.

I agree Jeannine and I can see things changing already.....

Thierry Léger - 18 May 2018, 9:29 p.m.

Hi Emma, at Swiss Re we apply equal pay for equal jobs. This is monitored regularly and any deviations corrected immediately.

Paul Meeusen - 20 May 2018, 6:43 p.m.

Everyone, should have some chances and same pay for same performance, disregarding gender, race or sexual preference. We should have a less polarized "men vs women" debate. Misses the point. My mother broke her spine in a car accident when I was a young child: we were glad that dad was the main earner at that time. My father landed in the hospital with severe burn-out a few years later: we were glad that mom could take up a job to keep us afloat. When I started my career and female colleagues had children, I jumped in for them, doing the late night work, or even baby sitting. When a few years later, my wife and I had children, and soon thereafter moved abroad, we decided that she would take a break to give priority to raising our children. The roles could easily have been the other way around. It is not about men vs women, it is about couples making choices. I respect everyone's choice.There is no single answer.

Thierry Léger - 21 May 2018, 9:50 p.m.

Thanks for your comment Paul. I really appreciate you sharing such personal insights. It definitively shows the power of couples. And your parents are a great example for this! Unfortunately, not everyone is so fortunate and some people find themselves alone, maybe with children and that can be very difficult to manage, particularly if money is a rare resource. And that’s what the study shows: women tend to be much more at risk from a money perspective and are therefore much more at risk when having to deal with challenging life situations

Paul Meeusen - 22 May 2018, 3:58 p.m.

Very good point Thierry. Every situation is particular and and I believe that insurance and Life Capital in particular is making great progress in getting closer to the customer and creating a valuable experience.

Will Trump - 22 May 2018, 4:13 p.m.

Thanks for your blog Thierry and for getting the conversation going. I'm really interested in the different perspective expressed above and I really agree with Paul's comment above: it's about choices.

In his foreword, Paul Lewis says that risky times in life are the result of choices: "what to study, whether to have children, what job to take, to get married, or not". But if you think about it, this is not restricted to just women. Both men & women have to make these choices (even having children is usually a decision made by a man and a woman together) – and each decision has consequences in terms of benefits and costs, both financially & emotionally.

The insurance industry should focus – as it always has done - on things we have no choice over. We don't have a choice about whether we might have a child who suffers with a disability (mental or physical). We don't have a choice about whether we suffer an accident of an illness. And in this vein, we should particularly focus on areas where women unfairly have less of a choice than men.

I think a good first step would be to spend more time thinking about what women really worry about - and this might help us in coming up with new solutions (I know I'm not a woman, but my best friend is - so I feel I can comment a bit)

I remember that when my wife & I went for our first pregnancy scan, my wife's top two concerns were: that the baby is healthy… and that there is only one baby! (she is a twin herself so can empathise)

So for her, the idea of "twin insurance" could actually have been a good solution: if you find out you're having twins, you get a pay-out that covers the extra costs you'll incur!

Is this mad or am I on to something?

Marina Oberholzer - 23 May 2018, 9:50 a.m.

On choices – a lot of the time it may look like someone made a choice, but it is a different question whether that "choice" would look different if certain social norms and other types of pressure did not play a part.

For example, too many little girls get discouraged from subjects like engineering because that's "not what girls do." Or, when a couple decides to have a child, in far too many cases the woman ends up being the one staying home simply because she makes less money and it "makes sense economically" for her to stay home. Sure, it could be the other way around, but it rarely ever is. Some of it can be traced back to initial "choices" about education, that first position when entering the workforce, and so on – which by now have snowballed into this end effect and more.

The point is, there are many structural issues which make it look like women, or couples, or families, make choices throughout their lives when in fact some of those choices are predetermined by our way of thinking as societies and inertia. The six moments that matter touch on this point, a point that is too often overlooked. And then of course, when the things over which we have no choice happen (e.g. becoming a single parent, losing a partner) women end up being affected by it in a much tougher way, which is not only emotionally taxing but can bring and unnecessarily outsized financial burden as well.

Thierry Léger - 23 May 2018, 9:41 p.m.

I definitively encourage you to remain creative and engaged on this topic!

Thierry Léger - 23 May 2018, 10:35 p.m.

Marina, social norms are definitively a real challenge here and as parents we have a very important role to play. In that sense this study has been an eye opener to me and I have started to adjust my behaviour already

Ben Stroud - 19 Jul 2018, 5:06 p.m.

Thanks for the great article Thierry, it's encouraging to see it spark such lively debate.

At the recent ReAssure Actuarial Away Day as part of a market stall on Diversity & Inclusion one comment was that encouragement provided to young women in school often comes too late, this links back to the social norms discussed above. Attempting to engage girls at school seems to start in the teens, but this follows years of earlier education where there may have been (perhaps unintentional) bias imposed on pupils by parents or teachers to pursue subjects other than STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

Even earlier, I would wager that children's cartoons have very biased gender norms if you were to measure the proportion of stay-at-home mums and dads against career oriented mums and dads.

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