In almost three-quarters of families in the Netherlands, one of the partners takes care of the entire financial administration. In terms of insight into the household accounts, this quickly puts the other partner 1-0 behind. This cries out for more equality. Former politician Naima Azough points out that people trained in trades and people with a migration background have extra difficulty with financial matters and institutions. “Anything with paperwork can cause anxiety. Taxes, pensions, insurance: people are often intimidated by these things.”
As Top Woman of the Year, Annette is committed to putting Dutch women’s financial independence in the spotlight this year. As part of this, she is walking and talking with a number of women who are deeply involved in this topic, to exchange perspectives. Annette will take these insights into account when writing the manifesto that will be presented to politicians in September.
Financial independence is not achieved just by making enough money. It starts much more simply: by understanding and being involved in household administration. Being aware of things like the mortgage or rent, gas and electricity, loans, benefits, insurance, taxes and other important financial documents. Knowing what bills are due. In an ideal world, partners would manage their household accounts together, but in practice, things are a little different. According to research by Nibud, in almost 70 percent of households, one of the two partners takes care of the entire financial administration. For people over 50, in a traditional relationship, this is predominantly the man.
In short, almost three-quarters of the Dutch population - not only women - need to make an effort to gain a more equal grip on family finances. However, the question of how to encourage such a thing is not easy to answer. And on top of that, Naima Azough says, people with a migration background and those educated in trades have extra difficulty with finance. “Finance, and anything else with documents often generates anxiety. Institutions like the government, banks and pension funds can feel intimidating.”
Naima Azough knows what she’s talking about: she grew up in a Moroccan-Dutch working-class family. She herself did go to college and subsequently worked as a program producer for the IKON, De Balie and the VPRO, among others. From 2002 to 2010 she was a member of the House of Representatives for GroenLinks. Today, Naima is an independent consultant and partner at Colourful People, an executive search, training and consulting firm specializing in diversity.
“I think we should not underestimate how challenging things like taxes, insurance and pensions are for many people,” she says. “How scary those things are for them. I see that with my own parents, too. And that is related partly to having a migration background, but much more so to education level and social status.”
So here is a task for all organizations involved in financial services. For example, by providing more help, more education. By reducing barriers.
Naima: “But when we talk about financial services, we usually look mostly at banking. And not enough at pension funds. Because in my experience, when we talk about pension funds at all, it’s either about whether or not ethical choices are being made in investments, or about pension benefits that are declining. I really enjoyed hearing more about collectivity, caring and mutual solidarity from you, Annette. Those are fundamental values. I think you can get a lot closer to people with those values alone. And certainly with people who have a lower income or are less educated. They want to have confidence. They are also looking for that.”
Annette: “I think that’s a great insight. I already knew that pension funds occupy a special position within financial services, of course, but thanks to you I am even more aware of that now. We have the right DNA, we do it for the collective, we come from solidarity. We have a lot of helpful and caring employees. And, unlike banks, we have a client contact center and the ability to maintain it. But I realize now that when we send a letter to a participant, from our perspective, we feel that we are sharing information. That we are involving someone. But in reality, some people are intimidated by a letter like that. They perceive it differently. So how can we better connect our DNA and our target groups? That’s an important question we need to ask ourselves.”
Focus more on women
Annette: “You also mentioned that many financial products are developed by men for men. And what could happen if you start working from the idea that something is intended for both men and women.”
Naima: “I recently happened to attend a meeting on financial independence for women in vulnerable relationships or dependency situations. That was very interesting. See, we are used to the system we have here. That’s the norm for us, that’s the way it should be. But we can no longer see what is inherently wrong with that system. Other countries focus much more on women in terms of development collaboration; we can really learn from that. Microcredit, for example, is specifically designed for women, for mothers. Financial products have been created especially for that target group. And they bring with them other questions, problems and perspectives. Who knows what blind spots we could remedy if we worked more from the perspective of women.”
Further education and information
Naima: “You told me that it is mostly men that call you with questions about their pension. Why don’t women call? Perhaps because most of them don’t do the financial administration? To encourage them to do so, education is essential. You can’t put financial education in the hands of schools, but you can do a lot with online courses, provide information in all kinds of ways, collaborate with women’s organizations and with Nibud. This is another way to make women more financially independent.”
Starting a movement
Naima: “What you are doing now is really important. You are using your position as top woman to focus on this theme. To start conversations about it and create more awareness. I work on this topic too, but from the perspective of organizations that are focused more on Dutch people with training in the trades, or sometimes with a migration background. With these groups, we talk a lot about how they should go to work, and they should earn more. But taking care of things in the long-term is not as important to them. So, I’m going to keep in touch with you, because I would like to include that pension theme more too.”
Annette: “I realize more and more through conversations like this that we are really starting a movement. I’m definitely going to continue meeting people from all kinds of disciplines. That’s how it works: it’s just connecting things together.”
Naima: “And you don’t have to do that alone, right?”
Annette: ”Exactly. We’re doing this together.”