In money matters, the Indian male is still a simpleton: Ajay Kakar

04 Nov,2013

With growing consumerism, we wouldn’t be faulted for assuming that the outlook of the Indian male towards investing his money must have evolved. He may be making smarter investing decisions, but that still is within the purview of safe nets and still being averse to taking risks. The fear of erosion of the principal money still scares him away from high return financial instruments. So how has the Indian male evolved or evolved at all?  And what do marketers think about this evolution? Ajay Kakar, Chief Marketing Officer – Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group, speaks to MxMIndia and throws more light on this. Excerpts:


While we talk a lot about the evolution of women and their financial independence in the last decade, has the Indian male too evolved? If yes, how, and what are these changes?

Historically, we have noticed that financial decisions have been predominantly been taken by men and in recent years when we talk of women increasing in numbers as professionals and financial independence, not much has changed. In absolute terms, the number of women taking independent financial decisions may have grown, but in percentage terms, there is no growth. And that absolute number even if it’s small, financial institutes are eager to catch them young and can expect loyalty for a life time.


I do not want to make any sweeping statements. But the reality and dichotomy is that even in the case for working women where they have blossomed as professionals, money is largely being handled by either the husband or being advised by the father. In professional terms too, if there are distributors or if when women are seeking financial advise, these professionals or agents too are largely men. We can say that if men were just handling their money 10 years ago, they are handling the women’s money too today.


So has there been no evolution for men?

No. We should better understand it this way. Today, when it comes to decisions like buying a property or a car, or investing in gold, it’s a family decision, unlike 10 years ago. Women have become initiators, and contributors, but ultimately when it comes to the casting vote, it’s with the men. So men are involving women too in key financial decisions. They are more inclusive now. You will notice that change in our communication too. When, say, 10 years ago, it were just the men in our communication, today women are there as initiators and contributors.


But either way, it is an influencer-driven category. The influencer could be the immediate surroundings or a financial advisor distributor who is largely a male for both men and women. Therefore, having laid this as a ground rule, women are more active now in the decisions and open to initiating. There are more family decisions today. We have women saying, let’s invest in some property or let’s invest in gold.


But in terms of buying financial products has there been a change in the behaviour of men?

When it comes to financial products, he is a simpleton. He doesn’t know much about them. As such, how much so we want to say that we have varied products, the reality is there isn’t much product differentiation. Men today, like 10 years ago, believe in financial security, so savings instruments like savings account, fixed deposits, recurring deposits, postal savings are still popular as they were then and still are considered to be safe bets. I am talking about mass and not just the metro man. When it comes to the mass, he’s still a simpleton.Just look at it this way. When should one invest in a share market or mutual fund – when it going up or going down? It should be when it’s down so that they can book profits when it’s up. But the reality for the Indian male still is that they start pulling out money when the market is falling. They do not want to erode their principal amount. Having said that, the other reality is equally harsh that there is only 44 per cent penetration of banks and just two per cent penetration of shares. So a large population doesn’t even know that there is a mutual fund. Mutual fund for them still is equity linked. They don’t know the differences that there are diversified funds, balanced funds and debt funds, and that the last would give better returns than traditional saving accounts and is largely safe.


So how do we talk to them? We don’t use jargons. We still talk about benefits. Ultimately, the brand logo has to be there, so we will call it a mutual fund. If Yuvraj Singh is in our communication, he talks about the benefits of security. That is what the man is looking for.


That’s about investment, is that the same for borrowing?

While for investing the Indian male may be the same but for borrowing, the growth in consumerism has changed him tremendously. When 10 years ago, taking a loan was a taboo, men have changed their outlook towards borrowing. They are more open to live life on borrowing for a lifestyle. They are more open to getting their house mortgaged because they are more positive today that they are going to live, and live happily and make all this as an enabler. There are financial institutes which offer loans against gold as security. Ten years ago it was unthinkable. Even popular cinema fuelled that where gold was mortgaged to a Lala and all hell was let loose upon the lives of the family. But that all has changed. India is open to live on borrowed money.


Is there a difference in the expectations of the Indian male geographically or society-wise?

As a mass, whether he’s in a metro or in a small town or rural, he still remains, as I said earlier, a simpleton. His primary concern is security. And there’s not much difference in our communication too. Rather than using jargon, we still have to state benefits and delve on security, because beyond that he doesn’t understand.


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