Aakansha Malia may be grappling with a moral dilemma but acknowledges it’s essential she speaks her mind now. Studying post-graduate diploma in social communications media at Sophia Polytechnic College in Mumbai, Malia will graduate in a month and plans to move back home to Delhi to take up a full-time job with a media house. Apart from preparing for her final exams, Malia has also lately been figuring out ways to strike a conversation with her dad on letting her handle her money without sounding offensive. Even as her first paycheck is close at hand, Malia, who is currently financially supported by her father, feels intimidated about handling money. The fallout? The father can keep tabs on her spending as he is the one who gets messages/one-time passwords (OTPs) every time she makes an ATM withdrawal, credit card transaction or online order. “As such, my dad is quite chilled. But if I withdraw, say more than Rs.5,000-6,000 in a month, I have to tell him to keep him informed,” she said.

At 21, Malia feels she ought to have the freedom to spend without being monitored all the time. But like scores of women, money scares her. But, Malia is not alone. Financial planners say money management has traditionally been considered a man’s bastion, which women find tough to break into. An example of this was seen at a November 2018 workshop conducted for women of a large information technology firm in Bengaluru by Priya Sunder, Director, and Co-Founder of PeakAlpha Investments, a Bengaluru-based financial advisory. Most women hesitated to follow-up on the learning and started investing. PeakAlpha conducts many such workshops throughout the year with different companies aimed at educating the young about the benefits of financial planning and getting them to start investing, even with small amounts. And typically, Sunder tells Moneycontrol, the conversion rate from such workshops is 10-15 percent. But the conversion rate at just 2 percent for this particular November workshop was ‘among the poorest we’ve had so far all these years.’ This means only two women out of the nearly 100 attendees ended up with starting to invest. “I need to check with my dad” was a common reply PeakAlpha got when it followed up with the workshop participants to nudge them to invest even a small amount. Perhaps Malia can get a cue from Bengaluru-based Jyothi Kumar who at 53, takes the lead in her house when it comes to making financial decisions, including investments. Kumar picked up financial planning skills from her mother when she was just ten years old, growing up with her siblings in a small town called Hunsur in the state of Karnataka. Since her father was a forest officer and always on the move, her mother handled the household finances and investments. “I remember seeing my mother invest in fixed deposits. My father’s income was modest, so my mom took it upon herself to save as much as she could. When I was 10, she used to send me to the bank to deposit money; even Rs 5-10. I started writing pay slips,” says Kumar, now retired and living in Bengaluru with her husband, also retired. Although Jyothi recently started putting money in equity funds, with the help of her financial planner, Hexagon Wealth, a Bengaluru-based boutique wealth management firm, she knew the benefits of long-term investing and diversification early on. Kumar, who used to teach sociology, feels it’s essential to start taking an interest in finance early on. “Most of my generation’s women’ money used be handled by their husbands. One of my husband’s friend’s wife had never written a cheque in her life. She had never been to a bank. When her husband passed away, I’ve seen her suffer from learning about managing finances,” she says. Early learnings also helped Delhi-based 40-year-old Anjali Tiwary, Founder of future skills building platform AugLi. She remembers maintaining an income-expense diary from when she was eight years old, thanks to her father. “I used to wiggle out 50 paise for lending my books to my friends or family members. I used to maintain a record even as a child,” she told us. Growing up, she learned to be prudent with her spending. Having worked in consumer finance business only sensitized her more towards money matters; the learnings from which she brought home. Today, Tiwary a mother to two teens, proudly calls herself the “chief financial officer” of her house. “I don’t think my husband has access to his bank account,” she says with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, then burst out laughing. Tiwary’s financial advisor, Ashish Chadha, a Gurugram-based mutual fund adviser, says he often has intense debates with Tiwary on where the family’s money should be invested, pointing toward her understanding of all things money and the confidence that comes with it.

In the picture: Anjali Tiwary with her family. Apart from starting to take an interest early on, gentle conversations with parents are also essential. Mr. Agarwal, financial educator, and Founder Director, Finsafe India says interviews with parents need not be aimed at taking full control right away if the father has been managing household finances so far. “Many young women migrate to other cities in search for jobs. That brings about independence and the need to manage income and expenses. Try and understand when your father has been investing your money so far. Track it for six months. Then, gently tell him that you should start investing incremental money on your own, but he can continue to manage the money he already has been,” says Agarwal. Tiwary’s suggestion to Malia is: “Tell your dad that you want to learn for yourself and also help him manage money eventually. Have discussions on why this investment and why not that investment. Take him along; don’t just take matters away from him right away.” And never be afraid to make mistakes. According to Tiwary: “Allow yourself to make mistakes. You cannot learn at other people’s investments.” Tiwary remembers her mistakes when she withdrew from her mutual funds (MF) prematurely to pay off her housing loan. Or when her kids were born, she put money in an insurance policy for capital appreciation instead of investing in MFs. But is it just society that prohibits women from taking charge of their finances or do women face an inherent hesitation? Suresh Sadagopan, Founder, Ladder7 Financial Advisories says: “Many times, fathers breach the gap left willingly open because daughters are not interested in finance and money management. I think 75 percent of the parents would be relieved if their daughters start taking an interest. A better way to start getting involved is to let their dads know that while they can continue to manage their existing investments, perhaps the daughters can take charge of the incremental earnings,” he says. Things are changing, says Sadagopan, who has been a practicing financial planner for 15 years. “Among the couples who walk into my office to get their finances planned, around 15-20 percent of the cases the women are active participants. In around 10 percent of the couples, the wives are the drivers with who we have a conversation with when it comes to taking a decision,” he says. Some, like 43-year-old Shruti Sanganeria, learn the hard way the perils of voluntarily giving up reigns. A single mother of 10 and recovering from a painful divorce, Sanganeria recalls how she gave up control of her finances to her husband, even though she used to manage her own money right from the time she earned her first stipend in college days. But the birth of their son saw her taking a backseat in household finances. Besides, as the corpus grew, her husband started diversifying into complex financial products resulting in Shruti’s increasing aversion to finance. It came to haunt her eight years later when the couple separated, and Shruti didn’t know what she and her son were entitled to.

In the picture: Shruti Sanganeria
Sanganeria’s inhibitions slowly started to recede once she met Amogh Prasad, who is an Associate Vice President at PeakAlpha Investments, her financial planner, who manages her money now and helped her in her divorce settlement also. “Money is not bad or evil. But when I gave up interest in money matters, I gave up my power. Money in this day and age is important; no control over your money leaves you as helpless as when you don’t have any money,” says Sanganeria who is a trained practicing psychotherapist and executive coach.

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