Women take growing interest in investing

Dissatisfied with low interest rates and anxious about their future economic well-being, an increasing number of Japanese women are turning to financial markets for better returns.

The shift has been marked by a burgeoning number of investment seminars targeting novice female investors, as well as Web sites offering information about economics and finance in a format that can be readily understood by those with little experience of these issues.

"I'm interested in investing, but I'm also a little scared," said one 28-year-old company employee from Tokyo attending an investment seminar for women in Yokohama earlier this month. "I came because I wanted to learn more first."

About 30 women attended the Yokohama session, which was led by financial planner Motoo Kobayashi. "I think women have become increasingly interested in investing over the past two or three years," he said.

Securities companies and banks also have been hosting seminars exclusively for women, with many aimed at beginners who tend to worry such sessions may be too technical for them to understand.

A number of companies also have held investor relations meetings just for women, where attendees cannot only hear explanations about the companies' business activities, but also receive free product samples.

Many of the women's seminars start at 7 p.m. to allow those working full time to participate. Companies are particularly keen to lure working women as clients or investors as they tend to have more disposable income than housewives.

Traditionally, marriage and child rearing has a bigger impact on the lifestyle and careers of women than they do on men. A rising awareness of this has prompted many women to worry about their futures, and is likely a reason why an increasing number have become interested in investing in the financial markets.

Another factor behind the growing interest in the markets is a desire to get a better return than bank savings accounts, with their currently extremely low interest rates, can offer.

Web sites also are proving an attractive source of information for many women.

Tokai Tokyo Securities Co., for example, operates the Otome no Osaifu (ladies' purses) site.

The site is hosted by Emiri, a fictional 25-year-old woman and novice investor, who asks the type of questions new investors typically ask about investment options, finance and economics.

Yoko Kominami, 25, a member of the company's retail service planning division, said: "Even though investing might not be right for every woman, a lack of financial awareness can put anyone's future at risk. I want every woman to be able to think for herself on financial issues and make her own decisions by learning something from our Web site."

Financial advisers are careful to point out investing in the markets carries risks, and people can lose as well as make money. They therefore advise against investing money necessary for day-to-day living.

But Kobayashi adds: "Savings accounts struggle to keep up with inflation and so your assets can actually decrease in value in real terms. I want women to take this into account and think carefully about whether investing is right for them."

A survey conducted by Tokai Tokyo Securities of 300 women, aged 25 to 44, who had invested in the markets, showed the average age for a woman to make her first investment was 29.1 years.

Of those surveyed, 36.7 percent - the largest share - said only depositing money in bank savings accounts would not be enough to increase the value of their assets.

About a third of the women set aside less than 100,000 yen for their first venture into the financial markets.

The survey showed domestic stocks were the most popular form of investment, with almost three-quarters choosing to invest in them, while 25.3 percent opted for trust funds.

Asked why they had decided to invest, 33.7 percent said they did so to supplement their daily allowance, while 27.7 percent said they wanted a nest egg for when they retire, suggesting a measured approach to investment.