Monday, December 29, 2008

Women and the Bank PHB's Pink Account

I read an article published in The Guardian of Monday, December 1 2008 by one Mr. Chidi Odinkalu titled: 'The Unbearable Sexism of Bank PHB's Pink Account'. I am surprised that Bank PHB has not responded to the article which I think is a golden opportunity by the bank to further educate the public, which includes its existing and potential customers. I am particularly irked for two reasons,

My first concern stems from the fact that I have been a customer of the bank since the era of Habib Bank which preceded the merger. I know enough about Bank PHB to understand that the writer had spent so much energy and time doing that which he ought not to have done at all. Secondly, I am awed by the opportunities offered by the product not just for the bank but for other business linkages to the account. I make bold to say that I have on account of the business partnership opportunities, started seeking ways to benefit from this growing but captive women market.

Talking about the launch of the account, which held in Lagos, I had until recently distanced myself from the colour pink; relating it only to a shade which is founded on feminity as shown in such activities as: the Breast Cancer Awareness, teen fashion and accessories. The business value of a pink colour never evoked any interest in me.

I had alongside many women present on that Friday evening at the venue of the Pink Account launch been daunted by the thought and timing of such a product. One has to be open-minded in order to appreciate the creativity that went into the design of the Pink product. Such is the type of creativity that informed the introduction of the bank's UK Educational loan, the bank's interest-free account for pilgrimage and Hajj. Like most other banks, Bank PHB also has children's account, including the account for cooperative societies. It simply takes a male chauvinist to chip away at such a virtuous endeavour that the pink account offers. The increasing prominence of the 'working woman' has led to a considerable rise in the financial enlightenment of women in recent decades.

Such genre of women has become more sophisticated with an increased appetite for independence, style, and glamour. These are the features that define the contemporary Nigerian woman which the Pink Account seeks to address. It takes a whole lot of creativity to understand this trend including the economic benefits in it. In the media for instance, there exists several specialised publications on parenting, glamour and fashion and the likes, including some weekend newspapers in the country which have one form of special pullout or the other targeting strictly the 'working class woman'.

The fact that Pink account is an emotion-based product which dangles such benefits as financing for a new kitchen, arrival of a new baby, and special discounts at some fashions stores for fashion items deserves a round of applause. Pink Account does not make any pretension of being a product for Small and Medium Scale Entrepreneurs nor is it a credit line. The idea of an account holder possessing a Pink Cheque book for instance is to add colour, style and uniqueness to a Pink status. I simply see nothing wrong with this juicy opportunity for women. And responding to the writer's query: 'Would any bank dare to put out a product designed exclusively for men to buy Rolex watches or designer-labeled Y-fronts?' the answer is capital yes, if the market dynamics so dictate.

In a bid to sell ice to the Eskimos, Mr. Chidi Odinkalu's piece sought simply to engage the readers in a binge of sophistry, drawing unparalleled analogies in feminist utopia of the 18th century and making reference to the country music legend, Kenny Rogers.

For instance, while the writer was confident in cobbling together an alarming title, 'Unbearable sexism', he however, showed no respect to the reader by deliberately refusing to define sexism, or how it relates to the so-called Pink account. According to Mr. Odinkalu, 'A theory or model of risk underlying the Pink Account is difficult to fathom. A person whose desire for ornamented trinkets overwhelms their domestic economics may be in the throes of a cash flow crisis, advanced escape from reality, or congenitally conspicuous existence'.

I find in this expression a self-styled soliloquy of a troubled mind which does not in any way resonate with the thoughts of the average woman. Perhaps, a very simple definition of sexism will assist the reader to determine the relevance of sexism here. Sexism is simply referred to as discrimination on the basis of sex, based on the assumption that one sex (generally females) is innately inferior. Although, space will not permit a deeper explanation of the sociological weapon of discrimination or domination through sexual identity, but very important to note is that the objective of Pink Account which was themed 'Because you are a Woman' is different from sexism. To say the least, it is a celebration of womanhood, similar to even what the religious institutions have over the years done through such practices as Mothering Sundays.

It is always very disheartening that oftentimes when issues relating to women come up in the news, men who have no traceable investment in women development and empowerment seek front rows and become activists for women affairs. The search for greater roles, responsibilities and empowerment for the average woman is a global concern that affects health, human rights, politics, and commerce. And for the business-minded, in a world where women population is improving qualitatively including verifiable indices of women and teens controlling over 80% of all consumers purchase across every brand category, understanding why women buy is vital to a brand's success.

Women are the majority decision-makers today, not only in the traditional areas of fashion, food and cosmetics, but also for such big-ticket buys as automobiles, financial services, home improvement, computer electronics and travel. With the growing rise in brands, womanhood is not a mere gender, but a status with clear preferences in products, services and lifestyle. It is therefore commendable that Bank PHB in realization of the purchasing power of women has designed a product that not only caters for their needs but celebrates the contemporary Nigerian woman.

A few research findings about women will interest any business-minded product Manager. Research shows that the average woman irrespective of her socio-economic class loves shopping hence, in addition to their huge numbers - women are especially good valuable customers. Women typically ask for recommendations from friends and acquaintances before they buy and, if they are happy with a product or service, will talk it up and recommend it to others. Women can also spray a perfume sample and try shoe sizes without making a purchase.

One reason it takes women longer to make a buying decision, is that women want the "perfect answer." Men will buy a workable answer rather than continue to shop, while women will continue to shop in hopes of finding that perfect answer.

Women, especially working mothers, lead time-pressured lives and therefore appreciate products that simply relieve anxieties. Women would rather have product warranties, service guaranties and all forms of discounts than just being told a product is "cool;" they want to hear specifics about how the product serves their needs and their families' needs. One simply needs to stand in front of the popular Balogun Market in Lagos, say near a shop that sells household items, children clothes, kitchen wares and jewelries to appreciate this shopping traffic. The same rule that applies to say Tejuosho market in Lagos applies to Sabon Gari Market in Kano and will likely apply to Wuse market in Abuja. The only difference here is in the social class.

I believe that the creation of rhe PHB pink account may have been informed by the need to take advantage of these budding opportunities. Whilst Mr. Odinakalu may wish to call it sexism, I will rather see it as sheer innovativeness. The most underpinning factors in this Pink Account product are: opportunity, choice and pricing. This does not however, take anything away from the men wishing to support their wives to acquire these assets.

Contrary to Mr. Odinakalu's claim, women are not asked to show evidence of consent of husband or 'male principal' as he calls it to access a product or facility. The terms of every product or credit extension are very clear. To further determine this, one only needs to look through the window to observe the traffic of brand new cars plying our roads, most of which have women driving them. The acquisition of household items and funding of property are some of the things women are fast embarking on without the statutory consent of their husbands.

Before I conclude this piece, I will refer us to three books which I believe will assist the likes of Odinakalu in understanding such basic issues as product innovation and target marketing: Martha Barletta: Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach, and Increase Your Share of the Largest Market Segment; Lisa Johnson & Andrea Learned: Don't Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy -- and How to Increase Your Share of This Crucial Market; Martin Lindstrom: Buyology. The benefits of reading at least two chapters of each of these books will offer redefining insights to Mr. Odinkalu not just in appreciating why women buy, but also in connecting with a growing resource in scientific marketing whose application cuts across all professions including legal practice.