The financial industry is trying to figure out how to better serve women, but conventional research methods aren’t providing accurate insight into what women want. This method of research relies on quantitative studies yielding statistically valid results which may be biased by the instrument. The results are also often predictable because everyone asks the same questions. Qualitative techniques such as focus groups, interviews and observation are often paired with quantitative strategies in hopes of gaining more color.

With dozens of studies coalescing around a few major themes, the wealth management industry has come to this common view of women:

  • They are low on confidence, thus the emergence of the term “confidence gap.”
  • They are short on money, due to non-linear careers and the pay equity gap.
  • They want a different service approach that reflects an understanding of their gender.

These views present a challenge because women are rising in economic power and will inherit family and spousal assets. Everybody wants to protect and grow their share of the women’s market, so firms are creating financial education programs, focusing on budgeting, saving and investing advice for women. These tactics don’t seem to be working, and we began to wonder if the industry’s assumptions were off the mark.

My team decided to take a different approach to better understand women. With our research partners, Riedel Strategy, we selected 30 women in our target demographic to keep a diary over the course of seven days to record life’s ups and downs. We supplied them with a customized smart phone app to make diary entries seamless and in real-time. If something delighted them, they hit the “elated” button and recorded a video about it. If something bothered them, they hit the “frustrated” button and recorded that experience.

The researchers analyzed the roughly 1,500 videos we collected for insights into the women’s financial situations in the greater context of their entire lives. We then validated the findings with a survey to a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adult women.

This provided us with a glimpse inside women’s heads (and their cars, kitchens, workplaces, etc.) for a week. By letting them tell us what was on their minds, we received incredible insight that revealed the flaws in the conventional wisdom. Here’s what we found:

  • Women don’t have low confidence. They have really high standards.
  • Time is the resource women are lacking more so than money.
  • Women want to be understood as individuals, not as a gender group

This paints a picture of empowered women who have high expectations for themselves and others. Their elations came from meeting those standards, and they were disappointed when things fell short. They made it clear that they want to be understood and will reject anything that patronizes or dismisses them. Women are facing a time crisis more than a money crisis; in fact, they struggle to allow themselves to lighten their load or outsource responsibilities when they need a helping hand. For example, instead of framing your conversations with phrases like “budgeting and saving,” try “spending well,” so that women can see how choices about time and money can be balanced to make their lives less frustrating.

The point is, when you have more nuanced research, your marketing, sales and service efforts can better connect with the people you want to attract. By thinking outside the box when it comes to how you get inside the heads of your prospect universe, you possess a business advantage over competitors. Sometimes, conventional wisdom isn’t all that smart.