Empowering Filipino women to become financial gatekeepers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) - Most Filipino households are run by women who often take the herculean tasks of managing the flow of money in the family, and maintaining the delicate balance between survival and aspiration.

Even in homes where men are the breadwinners, women are the gatekeepers of financial matters -- juggling an array of responsibilities from planning the budget and paying bills to saving for an emergency.

"If a woman is expected to handle the budget and manage it, we are expected to have the skill," said Marivic Españo, chairperson and CEO of top financial advisory firm P&A Grant Thornton.

But while Filipino women are entrusted with such financial responsibility, most of them don't receive education or training-making all women in the family follow the habits of their mothers. This adds another layer to their huge tasks, requiring mothers to uplift the family's financial situation.

"The current generation has the responsibility of taking care of their parents and kids so if you look at that role and the responsibility that comes with it, women spend most of their money in this area and not saving for themselves," Españo, a staunch advocate of women empowerment through financial literacy, explained.

"There is a desire to save money, but they are just simply overwhelmed by the responsibilities."

Pressure to balance career and the household is likely one of the reasons why less women are staying in management and executive positions, Españo said. She noted a 10 percent drop in the number of Filipinas on senior management teams over the past year.

The Women in Business 2019 report by Grant Thornton International shows the Philippines still ranks first in Asia in terms of the number of high-ranking women in businesses with 37 percent. The rate is above the regional and global average, but the country's global ranking slipped from first in 2018 to fifth this year.

There is a good news, though; the government recently implemented measures to provide flexible working arrangements for women.

"There is a greater awareness of the need for financial planning. But in the hierarchy of needs, Filipinos are still on the basic level of need, so little is set aside for savings and investment," Españo said. "They will justify items as a basic need, not looking at saving for the future."

"Some women will even justify to their husbands that shopping at a payday Friday sale is saving, as there are usually discounts. But that's not the case if you don't really need it," she said.

That is where financial literacy comes in.

"The knowledge and skills involved in generating, investing, saving and spending money is an imperative for everyone," said Dr. Nathalie Africa Verceles, director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women's and Gender Studies.

"For women in particular, it can facilitate financial independence and/or allow them to better manage household resources. Fiscal responsibility begins with acknowledging the importance of financial literacy and then taking active steps to educate oneself," Verceles added.

Financial experts and women's rights advocates agree that financial knowledge – from understanding how interest is calculated to learning about savings options – can empower these gatekeepers and achieve financial inclusion in the Philippines one household at a time.

Financial technology firms are working to bridge that education gap

“At the core of our mission is a long-term commitment to building a financially inclusive society for all Filipinos, especially women and the underserved segments of our society," said Hamilton Angluben, general manager of Cashalo – a leading mobile fintech platform in the Philippines.

"Our digital and O2O (online to offline) financing solutions are purpose-based, designed to unlock economic potential of our consumers by giving them more control over their financial futures," Angluben added.

Financial experts believe that knowing how to prioritize purchases, leverage borrowing mechanisms, and allocate for savings should be mandatory skills for women who are already in positions of influence in their households.

"In line with our mission to unlock greater financial access, freedom and opportunity we are also investing in scaling our various financial literacy initiatives designed to foster good financial behaviour," Angluben said. "We see a majority of our users being young working women and homemakers – a reflection of their role as financial gatekeepers -- and cultivating a culture of responsible financial habits amongst them, given this important role, is crucial."

Borrow with purpose

Digital lenders and the fintech industry have made it easier for the average Filipino to borrow money without collateral. But amid the credit card offers and lines of credit, basic knowledge of borrowing is lacking. Do they understand the cost of interest associated with low monthly instalments, versus delaying a purchase to save for it?

According to Españo, Filipinos have gotten into a habit of living loan to loan, and paying minimum payments on items they may not really need, whether it's the latest smartphone or a new car. This requires women to have discipline and responsibility.

Training women to see borrowing as a tool for financial mobility rather than consumer gratification, helps them make better decisions and further nurture their families, Españo said.

Don't be afraid to talk about money

Another challenge is communication. Looking out for the family's financial well-being is not easy – much less talking about it, especially in a confrontation-averse country like the Philippines.

How many times have you or someone you know avoided discussing money to prevent an emotional confrontation? What may start out as a simple suggestion to hold off on buying a big purchase like a car, can quickly devolve into a resentful exchange about why there isn't enough money or accusations of stinginess or mismanagement of finances.

"The thought is that saving will limit the ability for the family to spend," which can breed feelings of resentment and inadequacy in the breadwinner, Españo said. "Discussing money always starts a quarrel. Women really are afraid of creating issues."

So what does one do to empower women who are still finding their financial confidence and voice?

"Women need to make the future world 'real' for the family. Maybe show them retired people who didn't save money and have to rely on their kids and are in a tight position even though they worked so hard," Españo said.

"Women need to have the skills of facilitation and discussion so they can lay out the facts and lean away from emotional discussions," she added.

As the world marks International Women's Month, Españo suggested Filipino women to assess their family's financial health by asking an important question.

"Life is getting longer. How much funds do you have to have to live comfortably without depending on your kids or someone else for the next 20 years? We need to realize that's urgent too," she said.