Personal finance gets a makeover

Bank commercials can be highly predictable.

On-screen, well-dressed, late thirty-something couples chat amiably with their mortgage advisor, or smile out the window of their freshly-painted home, cup of coffee in hand.

But Ottawa’s spenders and savers are not so cookie-cutter, and some of the city’s personal finance professionals have tailored their services to other demographics—women, in particular.

By thinking outside the cashbox, they hope to create a personalized service that goes beyond the ‘suburban couple’ stereotype and helps those without a Y chromosome tackle challenges and address worries specific to that side of the gender divide.

Banking on women

When Victoria Gibb-Carsley joined the Ottawa Women’s Credit Union, she was less worried about her own finances than about the women around her.

Member-owned and operated, the credit union prides itself on granting accounts, loans, and other financial support to women who don’t qualify at bigger, more traditional banks.

“I wasn’t in the situation where I would have difficulty in that regard but I knew other women were, so I wanted to support the institution for that reason,” says Gibb-Carsley.

Keeping deposits within the community, says the credit union, helps them give back and enrich their local community. The location on Bank Street is the only one of its kind in Canada.

There were other perks that drew Gibb-Carsley as well.

“I knew every teller, I knew the manager on a first-name basis…I could call them up and they would know who I was, and I really appreciated the community feeling.”

Her use of past tense isn’t accidental. While Gibb-Carsley remains a member, she has had to take her banking elsewhere due to federal banking regulations that limit the size of mortgages the credit union can grant. Just as necessity brings women to the credit union in the first place, it can also force them to leave.

Stretching your budget

A few blocks away, at the James Street Wellness Centre, Ottawa mortgage agent Jacqueline Richards leads seminars on personal finance. To the untrained eye, however, some of the session might look like a yoga class, as Richards demonstrates poses for the audience.

Richards is a yoga instructor as well, and she offers financial coaching that bridges the gap between her teachings at the yoga studio and the advice she gives to clients at her office: she calls it ‘Yoga for your Personal Finance.’

Most of these clients are women, but Richards says that’s not just because women are more likely to be rolling out yoga mats in their spare time. Yoga’s emphasis on balance and reflection is in tune with the desire women have, not to amass as much money as possible, but to use it to finance what’s really important to them, says Richards.

“What will make you happy—that’s the conversation that people want to have,” she says.

She says many of her clients are women who struggle making financial decisions because “her family wants her to do something, her friends want her to do something, her company wants her to do something, but no one ever asks her what she wants to do.”

Converse, don’t command

The key, says Heather Duncan, a certified financial planner, is to find an advisor who will open a conversation instead of laying down financial orders.

“I think, instead of saying ‘you should do this, you should do that,’ women want someone who will say ‘you have good options here, you just need to look out for these things.’”

She says there is a need to sit down and talk about the specific challenges that women’s bank accounts face.

For example, “women outlive men, and their money has to last longer,” she says. “But we never receive any basic education about how to make that happen.”

Community and communication seem to be the names of the game when it comes to women’s personal finance, although thoughts on what makes women tick can vary as much between finance professionals as it does between men.

“Money is just a label we use to talk about how to get the things we care about,” says Richards.

For Ottawa’s women, that could be anything from more retirement savings to more equitable communities, but a more varied finance community is willing to make it happen.