Wealth Blog

Barclays up the wrong tree

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 9:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 March, 2013, 9:29pm

Private banks and indeed financial institutions of various kinds devote a surprising amount of time to churning out surveys of wealthy people’s investing habits, attitudes to risk, and spending. While some of these are quite entertaining, such as the Forbes billionaires list or the Hurun Report into the financial habits of China’s super-rich, many are just baffling.

The latest one just landed in the inbox with what would have been a thud in the days of paper. It’s from Barclays, and comes up with the not-very-surprising revelation that women entrepreneurs in Asia “still trail their male counterparts. ”Only 39% of employed High Net Worth females in Asia are businesses owners or entrepreneurs, compared to 50% of men, the new Barclays report discovers. I would have thought that was quite high, but what do I know.

Globally, we learn, 44% of HNW women and 49% of HNW men classify themselves as business owners. All things considered, not such a huge gap.

Female non-entrepreneurs earn more than their male counterparts, we are told. As meaningless pieces of information go, this is quite outstanding. Are they telling us that women wage slaves in Asia earn more than men? If that is true, that does sound like a story, because I would put money on the opposite. I haven’t seen any evidence that women have suddenly overtaken men in the salary stakes.

The report claims the gender pay gap widens for “non-entrepreneurs compared to entrepreneurs.” Non-entrepreneur women (£259,420 or HK$2.62 million) earn significantly more than non-entrepreneur men (£233,390 or HK$2.36 million), while male entrepreneurs (£264,828 or HK$2.65 million) make slightly more than their female counterparts (£260,227 or HK$2.63 million). Where? In what businesses?

Be that as it may, we then learn that female entrepreneurs in Asia “embrace the positives from failure more than their global counterparts.” What do they mean? Women learn from their mistakes and men don’t? If I told that to my girl friends who hold down jobs, run businesses on the side and raise kids as well, they’d roll about laughing.

The list of unremarkable revelations is, well, remarkable. There are fewer female than male business owners in Asia and this number is below the global average, says Barclays Wealth & Investment Management. This is despite Asia having a higher proportion of entrepreneurs (47%) compared to the US (29%) and Europe (30%). The report suggests that with “better opportunities and greater access to information and funding,” aspiring female entrepreneurs can achieve business success and increase their personal wealth, having a positive impact on the economy as a whole.

Dear God. Are Barclays saying that women are worse than men at spotting opportunities and, poor dears, can’t access information – suggesting they’re illiterate and can’t use the internet? And need greater access to funding. Does this mean women – unlike men - can’t work out where to go to get a loan or who to ask for backing? Sorry chaps, but this is downright patronising.

The report also claims to examine the behaviour traits of male and female business owners and canvasses insights from a “distinguished panel of business experts,” in order to understand “how to provide better support to aspiring as well as established female entrepreneurs. ”Who are these experts? Have you ever been asked or surveyed? I bet the answer is no. And do feeble little female entrepreneurs really need more support than big beefy males? This kind of “research” makes you wonder which century we are in.

The report is “based in part on a global survey of more than 2,000 high net worth individuals,” we learn. It apparently comes at a time when “entrepreneurs are increasingly being seen as playing a crucial role in the development of economies across the world.” So Barclays has discovered that business is important to the economy. In Asia, 500 respondents were surveyed, of which over 200 were entrepreneurs. So a conclusive sample then.

The report quotes Rickie Chan (gender not specified) who is market head of Hong Kong for the wealth and investment management division of Barclays. Mr/Ms Chan says: “This report sheds light on a very integral, yet often overlooked group: female entrepreneurs. By looking at the current levels of entrepreneurialism, and identifying the distinct behavioural traits of male and female business owners, we can identify what needs to be done to best support the current and future generations of entrepreneurs.”

He or she adds that women and the female economy are “vital to economic growth, and it is therefore important to encourage an environment which supports women on their entrepreneurial journey.”

Words fail me. If this condescending waffle was written in 1953, it might be funny. One thing is for sure, if you ask any budding entrepreneur, male or female, what their toughest hurdle is, they’ll all say the same thing. The biggest challenge is not whether you wear a suit or a skirt, but persuading a bank in Hong Kong to lend you some start-up capital. Anna.fenton@scmp.com