In a bold claim last week, all women were issued a sincere apology from the entire finance sector. It was hard to miss this partnership between Natwest and Stylist, as it featured heavily within the publication, as well as on the cover wrap. Leading with a bouquet of flowers, made from £20 notes, and a message that said "sorry!", "we’re changing!" and in case you missed the first two exclamation marks, "honestly!".
Oh boy. To deliver an apology, of course you first need a trusted source. Nothing says trust quite like a poor stereotype, the older white male model in a pinstripe and bowler with a sad bunch of flowers, positioned beside a not so carefully worded message of amends, right?
I am an outmoded stereotype” he claimed (see the full 'apology' below), then went on to talk about patronisation in finance marketing and imbalance in gender representation, finally ending with an “apology from history".
Given the current desire for appropriate voices being given a platform representation, it is a struggle to see how this infantile Mary Poppins-eque choice would answer a brief about inviting women to act and perceive finance as inclusive. Women don’t need to be mansplained to about how men in the financial sector might have failed them in the past, anymore than they need an apology.
Women don’t want an apology, we want financial literacy. “I resent the implication that women lack the sophistry or intellect needed to understand finance,” said one women in the sector when presented with this feature, and she wasn’t alone.
A fast-paced flare shot out on Twitter as people took offence at the tone being used, in a takeover designed to challenge gendered language it was nearly too much for some. We will help to answer your questions and calm your fears," was perceived as women needing to calm down.
Unfortunately digging into the associated site and collateral further didn’t provide much in the way of relief, as NatWest said it was "ready to talk straight about money, minus the jargon," as if women would need it to be dumbed down a bit.
Stylist delved into finance, with a spread titled 'How becoming the breadwinner changed my relationship with my husband', a story peppered with uncomfortable detail from Instagram influencer negotiating a change in relationship dynamics, that read like a marriage analysis, and lacked any practical financial advice.
NatWest has stated that this history of bias is “lazy stereotyping”, however this feels reductive. For too long now we’ve had a male experience as a default in the data that has formed the basis of much of the financial sector’s marketing. Women are more likely to connect with ethical and social information, but traditionally banks put features front and centre in marketing and comms.
It’s not that women can’t understand finance, it’s that the sector isn’t considering how to engage them in the most meaningful ways. Quite baffling when part of this initiative is fuelled by data that can help unpick these challenges.
Natwest have promised to listen, let’s see what’s next.
Rachelle Denton is co-founder of The Storm Collective. She tweets on @MissRachelle