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The Growing Empowerment of Women in Wealth Management

15 December 2021

Women have made huge inroads into the wealth management industry, especially in the Middle East, but there are still areas for improvement.

Women’s influence in business is growing, but the benefits will only be fully realised when the male-dominated infrastructure takes the time to identify what female professionals really need to succeed.

That was one of the conclusions from a Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)-hosted webinar in October 2021 featuring three prominent businesswomen.

Global Head of Compliance Solutions at Apex Group, Hari Bhambra, opened by talking about family offices, which provide wealth management services to affluent families, and are one of the fastest-growing investors in the asset management industry.

According to Bhambra, there is an “emerging matriarchy” in family offices with a third of CEOs now female, along with a growth in gender-lens investing. She said there is also a “drive to put women on boards,” although she questioned whether it is motivated more by a need to meet “quotas” than giving women the same power as men.

But Bhambra, who was also a former specialist at the UK’s Financial Services Authority, said it is clear female investors need less “male-focussed” investment products and services.

She explained: “I’ve been in meetings where everybody will speak to the men and not the one woman who is there. People might be overlooking the opportunity there because she might be the decision maker or the one that carries the wealth.”

Bhambra also highlighted a regional challenge in the Middle East where Islam's Sharia legal system means a woman’s wealth is “safeguarded for her use”.

Izabella Szadkowska, a Partner at Al Tamimi & Company, the largest law firm in the Middle East, said she was aware some female investors had been ignored during meetings by banking professionals, who instead opted to only address their husbands.

She added: “One thing that is very specific to the Gulf countries and MENA region is that women feel much more comfortable discussing matters of wealth with other women. So, I would say that is a strong message to ensure our female clients have access to female talent and experts.”

Bhambra said nearly a fifth of the world’s entrepreneurs are now women and are in a position to create opportunities for other women – to “pay it forward.”

Szadkowska said she was aware of an increase in the number of women having influence within family-run businesses in the Middle East, and of those starting their own ventures.

She clarified this was not the case in all countries across the region but added: “Often family members are happy to give initial financial support for a young woman to start her business.

“And more and more of those ladies – especially in the United Arab Emirates, and also in Qatar and Kuwait for example – have been doing exceptionally well.”

Megan Galvin, Gender Equality and Social Sustainability Coordinator at United Nations Global Compact, said their efforts to empower women “at every corner of the globe” had been helped by a realisation within companies that it is within their own interest to do so. But she pointed out that women continue to be paid on average 16% less than men, and even 34% in some countries.

Galvin explained that while 68% of companies have a leadership commitment to gender equality in place, fewer than 30% have deadlines for their strategy.

“Without concrete targets, adequate programming and accountability, there is little chance that gender gaps will close or that culture will change to enable women to thrive,” Galvin said.

She also underlined the importance of firms signing up for the globally recognised Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) and she welcomed the move towards companies having to disclose the make-up of their boards.

She said: “We’ve seen that increasing female representation on boards has led to improved business outcomes ranging from revenue and profits to strength in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance.

“Studies have shown that companies with higher female representation have annual returns that are 2.8% higher.”

Galvin also highlighted that men need to make their own efforts to support women’s equality. “The only way we can do this is to have men as allies,” Galvin said. “There is a great initiative run by UN Women called HeForShe, where it encourages men to be allies in our stance towards gender equality.”

The DIFC works to empower women in business through initiatives such as its AccelerateHer programme, which supports female-led innovation companies.

You can watch to the recent webinar recording here. Click to find out more about Apex Group’s Family Office services, or contact the team.


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