How this founder is empowering more women to invest – and why it matters

Research shows that women invest better – so why aren’t there more female investors? Tanya Rolfe, co-founder of Sophia, shares how she hopes to close the gender gap.

By SGN | 3 Apr 2023

Though a strong advocate for women investors, Tanya wouldn’t encourage others to follow in her footsteps – not exactly. That’s because her own entry into investing was, admittedly, a little unorthodox.

When she moved to Singapore in 2017 for its conducive environment to raise her young family in, Tanya was also looking to pivot from a corporate career – as a legal team manager at large UK law firms – to something that offered her more autonomy and flexibility.

“I started with angel investing, which is one of the riskiest asset classes and not something I would necessarily recommend as a starting point for people new to investing,” she shares. As a newcomer, she attended pitching events organised by angel investment networks such as BANSEA, Keiretsu and CRIB, and the exposure to a variety of sectors – from fintech to healthcare – piqued her interest. 

But without prior investing knowledge, Tanya faced a steep learning curve. She paid close attention to the questions others were asking and “spoke to everyone in the room” that would talk to her, including seasoned investors like Mar Pages. “I thought she was a genius,” she recalls. “I clung to her and tried to learn as much as I could.”

Tanya moved from London to Singapore for its conducive environment to raise her family in.

Very quickly, Tanya noticed how there were often no women in the room – neither investors nor founders. It also stunned her to learn that female founders had been receiving a mere 2% of all venture funding, even though women make up close to 50% of the world’s population. “It just cannot be true that 98% of entrepreneurial talent resides within half of our population,” she says.

Compelled to make a change, Tanya gathered around 40 women to form Ladies Investment Club, with a mission to support female-led businesses. This evolved into the venture fund Her Capital, which sought contributions from a wider pool of investors: male and female, individual and institutional.

Fundraising for women founders was an uphill climb. “Almost every investor I pitched to was a man,” Tanya says. “I faced a lot of discrimination, and received a lot of inappropriate comments and irrelevant feedback.” Female investors were exceedingly rare, and it began to baffle her as to why even high-earning, highly educated women were shying away from investing, or leaving it to their husbands.

It baffled Tanya as to why high-earning, highly educated women were shying away from investing.

Towards the end of 2020, she ran an online workshop for women on startup investing that drew more than 400 attendees. “At the end of it, what I found was that women do have the means and the desire to invest,” she notes. “They just don’t have the knowledge.” 

The positive reception of the workshop spurred Tanya and two co-founders to launch Sophia (‘wisdom’ in Greek), a financial education platform that empowers women to become comfortable with managing and growing their money.

How women invest

There are several lingering myths surrounding women and investing. One is that women are not naturally suited to be investors, even though independent studies by Fidelity Investments and Wells Fargo have shown that they outperform men in investment returns.

“It’s really easy to dismiss women as risk-averse,” Tanya says, when the truth is that they spend more time on research and end up taking on more appropriate levels of risk. “Are women risk-averse? No. Are women more prudent with risk management? Yes.”

Being less impulsive, calmer during market volatility and less likely to hop on investing trends, female investors trade less frequently than men, and hence make higher gains. “So women, dollar-for-dollar, make better investors. The problem is, we’re not putting enough dollars in.”

According to a 2022 survey, 63% of men are active investors, compared to only 36% of women. Even in Singapore, far fewer women than men feel confident in making investment decisions or believe ‘investing is for people like me’. This is despite the fact that women live longer, have higher medical bills, and are far more likely to be impoverished in retirement. 

Tanya says it’s high time to close this investing gap. Mobilising women’s capital doesn’t just improve their personal lives. It also creates a wider positive impact, diverting more funding to underserved areas such as women’s health. “Women are also twice as likely to invest in ESG projects,” she observes. “Generally speaking, women don’t just care about the bottom line. We care about the bigger picture – the impact on people and on the planet.”

Tanya co-founded Sophia with Nicole Denholder and Christine Yu, both of whom are based in Hong Kong.

Speaking the language of women

Before diving into the specifics of investing, Sophia’s curriculum – developed with the aid of more than 15 financial experts, mostly female – starts from the basics of financial literacy, teaching women how to manage their finances and reset their relationship with money. 

Since launching, the programme has boasted high engagement and a course completion rate over double the industry average. “We speak women’s language, we understand their needs and pain points: how their salaries may plateau at a different stage from men, how they may want to take time out to have children,” Tanya explains.

Tanya participated in a She Loves Tech panel that discussed women’s relationship with money.

Currently, Sophia serves two main groups of clients. The first is companies that hope to reduce their employees’ financial stress – a major factor that impacts productivity and drives them to look for new jobs. The other is financial institutions, who offer the courses to female customers for free. 

“Imagine all of Singapore’s banks putting every one of their female customers through our programme. We would have possibly 750,000 women educated, empowered and ready to invest,” Tanya says. “Our longer-term goal is to work with these institutions to create investment products that align with women’s needs and desires.” 

For most participants, Sophia’s courses are the first time they come together with other women to talk about money. “They learn that they are not the only ones with a financial knowledge gap. They feel less alone. They feel more confident to actively learn, to ask questions, to take some action.

“The other thing they discover is that investing is not rocket science. The financial ecosystem has packaged everything in a very dry, jargon-heavy way, but women come away from our courses realising that the subject is not difficult, not boring, and that taking control of their money allows them to do more of the things they love and less of the things they don’t.”

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About Tanya

Tanya is a co-founder of Sophia, a female-focused financial education platform that aims to close the gender gap in investments and financial literacy. She is also a co-founder of Harriet, which supports female founders in securing funding and connecting with venture capital firms. 

Connect with her here.

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