This Banker Knows What Women Want: Money

Banks have money and the rest of us pay to get at it. That's pretty much the business model. What could possibly be different for women?

Nothing, and everything, in the experience of Larke Riemer, national head of women's markets for WestPac Banking Corp., the biggest bank in Australia and one of the largest in the world. She chairs the Global Banking Alliance for Women, which is backed by the International Finance Corporation. The GBAW aims to be the resource that equips mainline banks to effectively serve women and women business owners.

WestPac's CEO is Gail Kelly and it has three women on its board of directors, so it's already doing a lot right. Its commitment to advancing women is core to its marketing efforts as well as its leadership pipeline. Twelve years ago, explains Riemer, the bank woke up to the fact that "the female economy is one of the most influential economies we could be involved in. " Reams of research revealed a few universals: regardless of income or nationality, women are pressed for time, as they handle domestic, family and work responsibilities. They know they need to get to know other women in the same career strata, but that's usually an afterthought. And women think holistically about how they influence business growth and their personal finances.

Riemer designed a three-tiered outreach to build long-term relationships with women.

  • For executive women, WestPac sponsors small group events that let them meet other similarly situated women.
  • For women business owners, professionals and rising managers, WestPac sponsors seminars that translate career and business growth goals to lifelong economic independence. One key tactic: financial education that shows participants how their current balance sheets support their next steps - or not.
  • And to reach all women in the bank's far-flung markets, WestPac established The Ruby Connection, a freestanding website that hosts events, seminars and reference material.
All of this is interlaced with internal networking. Helping women customers connect with eachother, introduced through the bank's staff, has fostered innumerable referrals and dramatically increased customer loyalty, says Riemer. This sustained effort pays off. Last year, the women's marketing programs contributed $2.5 billion AUS to WestPac's bottom line.

American banks can adopt WestPac's winning tactics - but they'll work only if they're in it for the long haul, Riemer warns. Here are her top-line recommendations.

  • Ask women customers what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong. Fix what is wrong.
  • Always include information and education.
  • Make sure that staff are trained to work well with women. "Women take longer to make that decision and sometimes people will get frustrated with that," says Riemer. "But they'll come to you on reputation, and they'll be loyal."
Image courtesy of Morguefile contributor clarita.