MoneySmart Week is an independent, not-for-profit national educational initiative that promotes the importance of financial literacy and encourages all Australians to take simple steps toward improving their financial wellbeing. The second annual MoneySmart Week was held from 1-7 September 2013.
During MoneySmart Week, all FOS staff were encouraged to take a closer look at their own personal money management by completing the online MoneySmart health check and attending one of several lunchtime talks on superannuation. We also hosted a breakfast event where Professor Roslyn Russell talked about her research project What women want: unravelling the factors underlying women's financial decision-making behaviour. Professor Russell has recently concluded the first stage of the research, which looks at the factors that underpin women's financial vulnerability and investigates the drivers (rather than just the outcomes) of women’s financial behaviour.
As this year’s MoneySmart Week focused particularly on women’s finances, we took the opportunity to look at what we could learn in this area from our dispute trends. What we saw was that women bring fewer disputes to us than men, and the types of disputes they do bring are often different in context and content to disputes lodged by men.
During the 2012-2013 financial year, women lodged 32% of all new disputes, 18% were lodged jointly, and the other half were lodged by men. Most women who lodged disputes were in the 41-50 year age bracket, followed by those aged 31-40 and 51-60. The age group with the fewest lodged disputes was women aged up to 20 years. This makes sense, as with increasing age comes greater involvement with the financial market – for example through credit cards, mortgages, investments, insurance and superannuation.
Although women aged 60 or more lodged fewer disputes overall than the other age groups, during 2012-2013 they lodged 30% more disputes than during 2011-2012. This increase is pleasing, because it suggests that women in this age group are growing in financial confidence and are becoming more aware of their options if they find they are unhappy about the provision of a financial service.
Women of different ages also seem to have problems with different types of financial services providers. For example, women aged under 50 had more disputes representing non-bank credit providers and non-cash payment systems, and – predictably – the majority of disputes regarding financial advice came from women aged 41 and over.
General insurance complaints were evenly spread across all age groups, which suggests that the need for insurance is recognised by women of all ages. And although our overall dispute numbers fell during 2012-2013, the number of home contents disputes lodged by women rose by 12%.
The number of women with special needs who lodged disputes with us also rose in 2012-2013. We keep records of people’s special needs, such as physical impairments and mental health issues, so that we can adjust our processes as much as possible and help make our service accessible to all Australians. Our records show that in total, people who self-identified as having special needs – both men and women – lodged 35% more disputes with us last year than during the previous year. When we look at the figures just for women, we see that there was a 63% increase last year. And among women who self-identified as having a mental illness, there was a huge 180% increase.
We can’t be sure that these increases can be attributed solely to more Australians with special needs becoming aware of FOS and the dispute resolution services we offer – it could also be possible that the training we have provided to our staff means that more people with special needs are being identified and offered the help they may need.
What all of the numbers show is that women often have different financial needs and different levels of knowledge to men. We plan to use this information to make sure our service is appropriate and accessible to women of all ages and financial abilities.