“Even though women have broken through the glass ceiling in the worlds of banking and finance in recent years, many women are still not financial independent”, said Supervisor of Banks Dr. Hedva Ber at a conference held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the occasion of International Women’s Day. The conference was entitled “Financial Independence=Women’s Empowerment”.
Other participants at the conference included Lilach Asher-Topilsky, CEO of Discount Group; Tamar Yas’ur, Head of the Digital Banking Division at Bank Leumi; MK Merav Michaeli; Prof. Tamar Zilber, of the School of Business Management and the Leifer Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the Hebrew University; and Ms. Bili Shapira, Vice President and CEO of the Hebrew University.
The lack of financial independence of many women is reflected in the fact that they do not take personal responsibility for on-going management and improvement of their financial state or that of their families. The Supervisor of Banks noted, for instance, that 64 percent of those contacting the Public Enquiries Unit in the Banking Supervision Department between 2014 and 2016 were men, while only 36 percent were women—an indication of the fact that in many households, the male is the one managing the bank account.
“I call on all those who are not managing their bank account independently to stop being afraid and to start managing,” she said. “Managing a bank account is easier than ever before thanks to digital means: the banking application, the Internet, and automatic machines that make it possible to carry out all basic transactions on your own. Thanks to the application, every mobile phone today is a small bank branch that enables everyone to exert day-to-day control over their financial state and all their accounts, talk to a teller through an online chat, deposit a check, make bank transfers, take out a loan, close a deposit, obtain warning that help in financial control and management, and more.”
In her speech to the conference, the Supervisor related to the extreme situation of women who are involuntarily financially dependent. These women experience financial violence, which is reflected in taking a woman’s money, controlling her by granting her limited monthly cash allowances, creating a constant threatening atmosphere of “financial crisis”, transferring joint assets by the spouse without the woman’s knowledge, and many times even preventing her from going to work.
The Supervisor emphasized the activity led by the Banking Supervision Department in the past year and carried out together with the Association of Banks and with the banks, with the aim of helping women who are experiencing financial violence. The activity was carried out with the Banking Supervision Department’s concept of the need to advance women’s independence, and it was held at battered women’s shelters and in half-way houses used by battered women.
As part of the initiative, a “banking availability” covenant was formulated with the aim of helping battered women start a new and independent financial path. The Association of Banks, all the banks in Israel, social organizations and heads of the shelters participated in the initiative.
The program is built on 5 stages, with each bank appointing a designated contact person to guide women entering a shelter. The contact person’s function is to try to help in the following way:
1. Providing a rapid financial response with the aim of preventing a violent husband from harming the woman.
2. Freezing the joint account and opening a new account for the woman.
3. Dividing debts between the woman and the violent husband.
4. Suspending Collections and Enforcement proceedings and suspending late-payment interest for a year and a half.
5. Financial guidance and education to provide an understanding of the alternatives available to the woman.
The program, which began a year ago, has proven itself to be more effective according to the managers of the shelters. With its help, many women have decided to return to the labor market while the banks wrote off significant portions of the debts imposed on them without their knowledge by the abusive spouse.
Dr. Ber concluded her remarks by calling on all women to acquire knowledge and skills on financial issues, and aim high because every woman can be financially independent.