Earlier this year, International Women’s Day 2020 called on each of us to take action to collectively accelerate our world towards gender equality. The action I see changing women’s lives time and again is taking charge of their financial future. I believe passionately that it’s time to empower women by making money a female thing. It’s time to for women to own and control money “like a boss”.
The stories of the women I meet through my property investing network, PropElle, inspire me every day. I’ve noticed how often the stories start with talking, or hearing someone else speak honestly, about their experiences with money. And yet talking about money feels unnecessary or uncomfortable for many women, as these quotes from Visa’s Money is Changing study show.
“Fewer than half of millennial women feel talking about money with friends is valuable to them.”
“Women are more likely to feel uncomfortable about money in the workplace, at home, with friends, and in relationships.”
My experience is that these observations apply not just to millennials, but across generations, particularly when it comes to saving and investing for the future. Many of us know we ‘should’ be doing more with our money, but we aren’t, often because we are busy, struggling to pay the bills or don’t know where to start. In an age of ‘we can do everything’ feminism, it can feel like a failure to admit we aren’t more actively taking charge of our finances.
Women are less well off
I’m not a fan of ‘shoulds’, but the sobering reality is that women are less financially secure and less financially prepared than men for what life might throw at us. Women earn less, invest less, and have less to live on when we hit pension age, even though we are more likely to live longer.
The combined effect of part-time work, time out for caring and the gender pay gap means men’s lifetime earnings are 80% more than women’s.
More women choose cash ISAs over stocks and shares ISAs than men.
Men aged 55-64 have pension pots worth over double that of the average woman’s.
~1 million more female pensioners than men by 2020, rising to 1.2 million in 2050.
70% of 90+ year olds today are women
Not all doom and gloom
The good news is that things are changing.
The finance sector is recognising the economic and societal imperative to do things differently. Individual campaigns such as Starling Bank’s Make Money Equal and Fidelity’s GET Invested are championing a more inclusive approach to financial services that engages and speaks equally to men and women. Collective campaigns add further weight, such as the UK insurance industry’s “Insuring Women’s Futures”. And government initiatives such as the UK gender equality roadmap will hopefully push change higher up the policy and funding agenda. It’s about time, too, given women represent a growing slice of the economic pie.
As importantly, though, more women themselves are experiencing the power of financial independence. Female-focused financial communities are thriving, offering women online and physical spaces to talk and learn about money without feeling judged or talked down to, as too often remains the case in the male ego-dominated world of finance.
|“Women are expected to control 60% of the UK’s wealth by 2025”
Fidelity Financial Power of Women report “Closing the gender pay gap has the potential to create over £150bn in economic value on top of business-as-usual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) forecasts in 2025.”
CII Insuring Women’s Futures report
Property investing is changing lives
Within those communities, I am a passionate champion of property as a route to financial security that is more accessible than many women might expect. In countries like the UK with a strong history of property ownership, we grow up with the belief that buying your home signifies making it, however remote that can feel for today’s young people. But property investing can offer so much more.
Take Claire’s experience, for example. Claire is a member of PropElle Network and she had her son young and raised him as a single parent supported by her family. Now in her late 30s, providing for his future is one of her biggest priorities. When the daily grind of her job as an NHS accountant felt too hard one day, Claire googled ‘top 10 ways to make money’, thinking there must be a better way than this to earn a living. That led her to YouTube where the idea of capital growth blew her mind.
“I noticed how many people classed as rich are rich in assets – real estate/ property kept coming up time and again,” said Claire. “I was intrigued by this idea that property investment can double the value of your money. That I could earn income that could eventually replace my job and also have assets I can pass onto my son.”
Claire started as an accidental landlord when her job took her from Birmingham to London and it made sense to have tenants in her flat to cover the bills. Three years later, she has added two further single lets in the Midlands and works with her husband on a social care housing business for children in care.
“When I started I wasn’t sure what to expect. I went to property events and felt like I didn’t know much,” she says. “But over time I got educated. Now I’m more confident. I tell my story to young women like me and say, you can do this too. Set a goal, think long-term, and get educated – you have to know what you’re doing, but if I can do it, anyone can.”
IT contractor, Linda, was another accidental landlord who had an epiphany when she discovered she could release cash from the ex-council flat she had bought through Right-to-Buy to use as the deposit for a house big enough for her growing family. She went from seeing the flat as something she held onto for her children to seeing it as a tool she could leverage.
“It wasn’t a plan, it just happened that way. When we had our second child, we let the flat and moved back to my mums to save for our wedding and a deposit. But life meant we just didn’t save. We heard people talking about equity release, and when we realised we could get a second mortgage and use the cash for a house deposit, it opened my eyes.”
Linda and her husband released further cash to pay for property training, so they knew more about what they were doing before jumping in. This year they are researching where in London to buy another property, using equity released from their house. Next year Linda’s goal is to replace her income through property. “If I keep working past that point, it will be a choice,” she comments.
All the property talk at the dinner table is rubbing off on the next generation too.
“My 18-year-old daughter is off to university in September. She’s already talking about buying a place in her second year to be a live-in landlady and rent out the other rooms. Even my 11-year-old son talks about how he will manage his HMO property when he sets it up. I love how sharing our experience has changed how they see their future.”
When Miriam’s kids left for university, her thoughts turned to her and her husband’s future in a different way. With some experience in residential property renovation back home in New Zealand, they saw property as a route to sustainable retirement income but they didn’t have the money to invest.
“We started by doing an education course to learn the UK system. We found a derelict 2 bed house and approached the owner. We said, let us do it up and we’ll split the profits when we sell. He was a businessman and liked our “uncorporate” approach so he was in. We raised £150k from other investors for the refurb. It’s a big responsibility to keep other people’s money safe, but we’ve stuck with a strategy of working with investors so it’s not just about our own money.”
From a complete novice when they started, Miriam now confidently manages the projects and is having a ball. Key to her confidence has been finding her property tribe.
“At property events I got the feeling that the men kept their cards close to their chest – they seemed to be thinking ‘what can I get out of this’. Then I found PropElle with its women-specific events and it was so refreshing to be in an environment where people’s first thought is ‘what can I give’. I’ve learnt so much from hearing other women’s stories and sharing everything from our insecurities to our property strategies. We’ve had some knock-backs along our journey but having my tribe to advise and support me has helped me accept what life throws at us and keep going.”
Ayesha Ofori – Founder, PropElle Network
My own story is also one of “empowerment through property investment”, despite my Investment Banking career. I know what it feels like to believe financial choice and stability are for other people. As a Real Estate investment analyst at Morgan Stanley, and then a wealth manager at Goldman Sachs, I learned the fundamentals of creating wealth, and applied them to advise wealthy clients. Few were female. Recognising this laid the foundations for my commitment to making property investment accessible to all – not skewed to men or just the wealthy few.
Alongside my successful finance career I set about building a sizeable personal property portfolio. This experience fuelled my deeply held belief in the power of property investment to change lives. After all, I used property investment to change my own. So founding PropElle Network felt like the natural next step, providing a platform for more women to experience financial empowerment by creating wealth for themselves and their families, through property.
Alongside running PropElle, I’m a mother, wife, mentor, public speaker, writer and property expert. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my property and investment experience with many audiences, including at Google, the London Business School, Kings College London, the AllBright and others. I was also featured as a property panel expert on BBC Radio and Sky TV and I write for Property Week magazine. I was delighted to be named in Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 and Business Leaders “30 of the UK’s most inspiring entrepreneurs”. I have also won several awards including the Women of the Future Award (Real Estate, Infrastructure & Construction), 2019 RESI Trailblazer and Imperial College London Emerging Alumni Leader Award (2020).
Different stories, common themes
As all these stories illustrate, investing in property is not a one-size-fits-all. There are many routes into it, and many strategies, not all of which require large upfront deposits. What does link all the stories is the need to learn, and the powerful catalyst of talking and listening to others.
So often, seeking out others, listening to and sharing experiences, aspirations or concerns, opens up new possibilities. When I see women like Claire, Miriam and Linda transforming their own and their families’ lives, I know we have to do more to help other women achieve the same.
Deciding to act is the hardest part
To end, I want to bring this back to the power of individuals taking that first step, as US civil rights ground-breaker, Rosa Parks, put so eloquently:
So, if you do one thing after reading this article, make it talking openly with a friend or family member about money – about your feelings about where you are and where you would like to be. Or go online and see what other women are saying about how they save or invest, and the sense of wellbeing and freedom that comes from making their money work for them.
As Rosa says, change happens one step at a time.