When entering someone’s home for the first time, what you do with your shoes is often the thing that makes you realise that the ‘rules’ of this household don’t perhaps match your own.
My experience as an anthropologist over the last 15 years, studying our use of money in the home, demonstrated the value of being able to observe and follow rules quickly to be accepted into the observed household.
The same goes for any technology that enters the home. In the West’s individualised, secular world, the home is an important, almost sacred centre for the projection and protection of personal morality and ethics. At the beginning of the 21st century, the internet-connected PC was seen as a ‘wild animal’, representing the threat of strange moralities and values which challenged, in particular, the domestic female. In 2014, the internet is so intrinsic to the social life of our homes that we consider broadband to be almost a ‘human right’.
It is now taken for granted that our finances are accessible online 24/7. Women now make or control the majority of financial decisions in the home. They are empowered by comparison sites, social networks and forums to help make decisions which previously would have required them to visit the territory marked by the ‘male in a suit’.
However, this is not just the swapping of gender roles, with females taking over traditionally male decisions. It is a fundamental shift in the ethics and motivations reflecting a wider set of concerns than ‘maximising financial return’. That these decisions occur around the kitchen table, and through devices such as the iPad, has an effect on the products and companies that individuals want to deal with.
Abundance Generation’s ‘Great British Money Survey’, conducted in December 2013, shows the differing values and motivation of female investors; differences that have significant implications for the future of investing.
The results for women were as follows:
- - 31% said they were the sole decision maker for financial matters, and a further 55% said that they shared the financial decision making
- - 83% said they would be unhappy if their investments supported activities damaging to the environment or unethical companies (vs. 66% of men)
- - 74% wanted to know exactly where their money is being invested.
In many respects, alternative finance would not exist without this shift towards a more self-directed, values-led, individualised approach to money. Even in the early days of Zopa [the UK’s largest peer-to-peer lending service] we recognised what we called ‘domestic entrepreneurs’: female investors who preferred bricks and mortar as opposed to the relatively intangible, ‘wild’ world of the city, stocks and shares.
Such individuals are not impressed by conventional signifiers of power and authority such as a Canary Wharf skyscraper, but are more likely to value someone who recognises them and engages with them as an equal.
At Abundance, we aim to communicate the tangibility of our investments. The money goes into real projects, generating a return from the renewable energy project you chose, rather than from spreadsheets and calculations that put investment into the abstract world of conventional finance. Yes, we have investors who think that way, but they are in the minority.
We know that women are playing a more significant role in financial decision making than ever before. We know that they want to invest ethically. It is the job of the alternative finance industry to make this as simple as possible. And if we get it right, then ethical investment will make the leap from being a growing niche to a mainstream player deciding how capital gets invested and shifting the focus of our economy away from short term reliance on finite sources of energy to a more sustainable and ethical way to power our economies.
So the future of finance [in the UK] will not necessarily be decided by the Bank of England, the financial regulators or even Parliament. The ethics that shape and control the social life of our home are quietly revolutionising the world of investment from the bottom up.
Bruce Davis is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Abundance Generation.
Photo credit: David Sacks/Digital Vision/Thinkstock