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Opposites Attract or Detract?

How men and women invest differently.



brush n paint

Men are from Mars and women from Venus? There may be evidence that the differences are not planetary but hardwired into our brains. A study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1 shows different patterns of neural activity within the brains of men and women. Men, it seems, have more neural connectivity from the front to back of their brains and within each of the hemisphere. Women, on the other hand, have more wiring between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Theoretically, this means men’s brains are more adapted towards tasks involving perception and motor control. Men’s brain function may be quicker at gleaning information from a scenario and developing a plan of response. Women’s are more developed for cognition and sensations which may make them better at communicating, analysing and having better intuition. Women may feel the need to merge information they received with other emotional knowledge before making their next move.2

Such innate differences may carry through, not just in daily actions and decisions, but financial perspectives and investment styles. Let’s take a look at a few gender biases that make women and men stronger (or weaker) investors.



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Looking at Malaysian women, they are among the most financially literate, as reported by Visa’s International Barometer of Women’s Financial Literacy 2012 study. Among the 27 countries surveyed, Malaysia ranks 7th in overall financial literacy, the highest in Asia. What sets Malaysian women apart is their success in budgeting (ranked 5th among 27 countries worldwide) and ability to stick to it. Furthermore, when it comes to emergency savings, Malaysian women are among the few at parity with men.

On average they saved up about 2.2 months’ worth of household income (ranked 9th of 27 countries surveyed) for emergencies.3 However, when it comes to investing, women may still lack confidence – a trait that could stem from various issues – culture, aversion to numbers, lack of knowledge about the increasingly sophisticated products that are available, among other factors. This self-doubt may be unfounded as women’s ability to make decisions based on fact and intuition can be just as effective in investment.4

Her Investment Strengths

Her ability to look into details

She may tend to rely on others to provide investment information (such as her Financial Advisor, Relationship Manager, etc) but once she get her hands on the data, her ability to look into details may help her in understanding and analysing the investment, even combing through the fine print. However, this same ability may obstruct the big picture if she gets too mired into the details. Learn to balance both to make smarter investment decisions.5

Her cautious spirit

Caution is useful when used properly. Caution makes her examine the investment thoroughly before she puts money into it. However caution taken to the extreme can turn her risk averse. To not throw the baby out with the bath water, she may need to first understand where the aversion comes from. Could it be from a lack of knowledge or a lack of funds, which inevitably compels her to be more cautious? By understanding the real reason for the apparent risk aversion, she may then be able to pick investments that are best suited for her.6


Her ability to multi-task

A wife, employee, mother – who may also be chef, driver, housekeeper – she is adept at juggling many roles. It may leave her with little time or head space to be an investor too. To start investing, she may need to take uninterrupted time to learn the basics or spend an hour consulting with a financial advisor. She may want to attend a financial conference or investment seminar to further boost her investment confidence.7

Her negotiation skills

She negotiates a lot – at the market or when shopping but falls short when it comes to negotiating her investments. She may want to learn to negotiate on investment matters too. For instance, if she is buying property, she may want to negotiate on the property purchase price, lawyer fees, home loan rates and terms, etc. Men, on the other hand, generally initiate negotiations about four times more often than women.8

Her ability to make small changes to see big results

She is good at making small changes, which speaks of her ability to be consistent and committed. Her patience may also spill over in investments, by giving her portfolio more time to perform and consultations with a financial advisor before considering a change.5 Making small regular investments is suited to this aspect of her character. She may want to consider setting aside a monthly contribution to selected funds to potentially grow her wealth over time.


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Men, generally, have a better handle on their cash flow and are more confident with how their investments are allocated compared to women, according to El Segundo, CA-Financial Finesse, in their study of the gender gap in financial literacy.9 However, men may also lean towards over-confidence, especially if they are in “testosterone overload” mode, a phenomenon in which men ignore the risk management controls they originally put into place while in the midst of exuberance. If he properly manages his confidence, he may become a shrewd investor who is also diligent in preserving the wealth he has gained.10

“ … men may also lean towards over-confidence, especially if they are in “testosterone overload” mode…”

His Investment Strengths

His ability to take risk

He tends to be less risk adverse; in other words, men are more comfortable with investment risk. While this trait may open up many opportunities for him, he may need to support his decisions with sound analysis, fact finding and rein in impulsive buying.5

His knowledge in investment

He may spend more time learning about investing and has relative confidence in his investment knowledge.5 Nevertheless, there is always something new in the market and he may want to continue expanding his knowledge and not get into a comfort zone that dulls his market perceptibility.

His drive for results

His drive for results may mean he is quick to make changes when he views his portfolio as underperforming. His fast response may cut losses but on the other hand, he may not have given the investment adequate time to grow. He may want to temper his need for results with a little patience to watch an investment grow. Speaking with a trusted financial advisor before modifying his portfolio can help him ascertain whether his investment is on track and change, if any, is required.5

His larger investments

In general, men tend to have more money to invest and are able to invest higher amounts in riskier investments.11 Because of the higher level of investment funds, he may have more flexibility to divide funds across different asset classes and diversify his portfolio.

While the investment strength of a man and woman may differ, they can also complement each other. A woman’s caution and patience may balance out a man’s drive for results. A man’s quick decision making may help a woman cut short her losses. Learning to lean on one another’s strengths may help both men and women invest better.


Whether you are a man or a woman, some investor traits are universal. Develop these investor virtues and marry them with your gender’s investment strengths to fortify your investment aptitude.


Take your time to research and find really good stocks or funds that you want to invest in. If you discover a few great companies that have the right fundamentals, own them and grow with them for as long as the investments are aligned to your investment goals. Resist the urge to trade all the time or pick stocks just to make a quick win.12

Always learning to read markets

It takes both data and intuition to be a good investor. You may want to develop the acumen to piece together different and even conflicting bits of economic, political, psychological and social information. Then, with all that information, you have to be able to make some sense out of them and make a rational decision.12

Ready to deal with mistakes

It is inevitable that some stocks or funds you pick may not perform as hoped. Learn from your mistakes but do not become undone by them. Confidence, balanced with humility, is important. You may want to glean the best lessons from mistakes and move on.12

Independent thinking

To be a good investor, you will need to be an independent thinker, not one who makes decisions following popular opinion, gossip or hot stock tips from the grapevine. The herd mentality will not take you far.12



A good investor stays positive despite the outlook and trusts that the markets will find its way back up. Optimism may appear similar to over-confidence but there is a big difference. Over-confidence is a tendency to ignore the warning signs, believing that “that could never happen to me.” On the other hand, someone optimistic thinks, “It may happen to me, but if it does I will find a way to get through it, and maybe make it even better in the end.”13

Being optimistic prepares you for any eventuality in the market. Meryl Buffett, wife of legendary investor, Warren Buffett, when asked what she has learned working next to Buffett and other investing legends, says, “Despite the market’s volatility or dreaded downward turn, a good investor actually has to be an optimist and say, ‘Hey, this is going to come back up.’”14


And there you have it! Five traits that may help you develop your investment chops. If you need further help in picking your investments, do speak with HSBC’s Relationship Manager or visit any of our branches for insights on markets and investment products that can help you grow your wealth.

• Sources: 1, “Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain”, November 1, 2013. 2, “Different brain wiring in men, women could explain gender differences”, December 3, 2013. 3 Practical Money, “Visa’s International Barometer of Women’s Financial Literacy”, April 17, 2013. 4 Forbes, “Do Men and Women Think about Money Differently?”, March 16, 2010. 5, “Investing: Gender-Based Differences”, November 26, 2012. 6, “The Unique Ways Women Approach Finance”, October 18, 2013. 7, “Despite progress, women still make 3 crucial financial mistakes,” July 27, 2010. 8, “Women’s Top Financial Shortfalls,” September 13, 2010. 9, “Financial Finesse Releases New Study on the Gender Gap in Financial Literacy”, June 14, 2011. 10 WashingtonPost, “Behavioral economics show that women tend to make better investments than men”, October 11, 2013;, “Men vs. Women: New Study Finds Gender Gap in Financial Literacy, July 19, 2013. 11 NASD Investor Education Foundation, “Gender Differences in Investment Behavior: Milestone 3 Report”, August 31, 2006. 12, “Fund Managers Reveal 6 Traits of a Good Investor”, May 17, 2011. 13, “Success Follows The Incurable Optimist”, August 5, 2013. 14, “Four Traits that Led to Warren Buffett’s Success”, September 23, 2013.