Valentines month in 2014 took on a decidedly different slant compared to previous years. Same-sex unions are now recognized in 16 countries: South Africa, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand and Britain, while Mexico and the United States have regional, state or court-directed provisions enabling same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Other countries, that have not legalised these unions, do still have some provision for legal protection for same-sex domestic partnerships.
Whatever your personal opinion is on same-sex marriage, it has become the new human right issue for the 21st century, and is set to continue rolling out in the next few years. Even gay activists have been surprised at how rapidly the global uptake has been on legalizing the process. And at the end of the day, recognizing committed, same-sex relationships boils down to legalities: medical aid access, insurance policies, home loans and taxes, which are all over and above other issues like the right to be recognized as a spouse or next-of-kin in case of a medical emergency.
The acceptance of same-sex marriage is having a significant ripple effect, not only on the financial and legal services mentioned above, but also other industries like travel and hospitality. The full ripple effect of recognising same-sex marriage might not have been realised in all industries, but it has not gone unnoticed for some forward thinking banks around the world. In the USA (where same sex marriage is not recognized in all the states), banks like, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Bank of America have all started competing for the 4% of the population who clearly identify themselves as gay, lesbian or transgender, and are now afforded the opportunity to legalise their relationships. They have realised that financial planning for same sex couples is not the same as for heterosexual couples and comes with a myriad of complications. Even if a bank is not actively targeting this new demographic, they are nonetheless providing boutique advisory services. LGBT Capital in London and Hong Kong, and Christopher Street in NYC are now offering targeted financial services or, in the case of Credit Suisse, now market products like an Equity Investment product that is linked to companies with gay-friendly policies.
However, this move to provide same-sex couples financial advisory services is perhaps more shrewd business strategy, rather than it is philanthropic. Brands and retailers have long viewed gay couples as “D.I.N.K.S”: dual (or double) income, no kids, and therefore have a lot more disposable income than couples with children. As more and more countries start recognising same-sex marriage or civil unions, this new demographic is going to open up a whole new level of business opportunities.
American retailer Target saw the gap 18 months ago and launched a wedding registry for same-sex couples with an ad campaign that read, “Be Yourself, Together”. The retailer was at first applauded by gay and civil rights organisations but then exposed and critisised for previously donating money to a political action group opposing gay marriage – and therein lies the rub. New business opportunities are one thing. Ensuring your brand ethos is consistent and transparent – in the digital era – is quite another. You need to walk the talk. Today’s tech savvy customers will spot insincerity a mile away, and will mobilize to expose mercenary behaviour, regardless of their sexual orientation.
By: Dion Chang
Image credit: Reuters