Dependence is the opposite of resilience

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.

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