/ 8 March 2006

Friendlier finance at bank run by women for women

A bank run by women for women is being launched in Germany to tailor financial services to female needs in a sector traditionally governed by a very male suit-and-tie brigade. Its name? What else — Frauenbank, or Women’s Bank.

The idea was the brainchild of Astrid Hastreiter, a 41-year-old information technology specialist who said she was spurred on by a few observations.

One — when it comes to money, men tend to gamble whereas women prefer to play it safe. And two — German women still struggle to get the same service and respect from their financial institutions proffered easily to men.

”It’s very difficult, for example, for women in Germany to obtain a bank loan,” she said.

”Women’s particular needs are not sufficiently taken into account” by conventional banks, said Hastreiter, who noted women often say they feel intimidated by bank managers.

”For some women going to see their bank manager is as scary as going to the dentist.”

Hastreiter said women were stereotyped as spendthrifts who blow the family budget on clothes, while in truth they were often low-earning working mothers struggling to save for a rainy day.

A frequent concern in Germany’s depressed economic climate was how to shore up a meagre pension dented by long spells on parental leave.

”Contrary to most men, women are not trying to ensure the maximum return but the surest,” she said.

Hastreiter cited a study by the University of California that compared 35 000 investments made by men and women and found that on average, women earned 1,4% more return because they had chosen safer options.

It also revealed that women were more concerned about where they invest their money, with some shunning shares in automobile or nuclear power companies in favour of ecologically-sound stock options.

Hastreiter is not yet sure when Frauenbank will officially open since she is still some way from finding the â,¬5-million ($6-million) needed to buy a banker’s licence in Germany, which has the eurozone’s largest economy, and allow clients to open accounts and obtain credit.

”One also needs roughly the same amount in financial reserves,” she explained.

She launched a women’s financial advisor service in Munich in 2004 as a forerunner to a fully-fledged bank and has about 300 clients in the southern city.

She is now thinking of establishing a second branch of the service in another city, possibly in Berlin which saw the country’s first, short-lived attempt to launch a bank for women way back in 1910.

Hastreiter said her brainchild has attracted some male clients and should not be seen as a feminist project with no place for men.

”We listen to women’s needs but that does not make us anti-men. I am not going to take to the streets to protest for women’s rights,” she laughed. – Sapa-AFP