Women’s World Banking wants to provide access to financial services for women around the world
Late last month, the World Bank released its first Global Findex report since 2017. The report analyzes how adults in more than 140 economies save, spend, borrow, and manage risk, among other economic factors. Women’s World Banking says some of the findings are more nuanced than many realize.
Among the findings are approximately three-quarters of a billion women who face economic exclusion; economically excluded women are the hardest to reach and have limited access to mobile phones; and the gender gap in bank account ownership between men and women narrowed from 8% to 6%. However, Women’s World Banking says the data needs to be looked at more closely, as some of the factors that went into it might not be as clear cut as they appear.
“One of the statistics that a lot of people are touting is that the gender gap has narrowed,” said Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking. ZDNet. “We’ve gone from that 9% gender gap in emerging markets to 6%. But I think that number needs to be unpacked and we need to look at the nuances, and that comes down to India. Of a important way,” she said.
“Some of that gap was closed because 6% of men closed their accounts, because they just couldn’t find any of the services that were worth keeping the account open. No one wants to see a gap between genders fill in or females get better while males get worse,” Iskenderian said.
The barriers we must break down
Women’s World Banking has worked since 1979 to enable women around the world to access financial services. According to the organization, many of the problems women face stem from a lack of access to digital financial services via mobile phone, cultural norms or outdated government policy.
The organization has advocated at the political level for change, as well as for digital financial solutions, and offers workplace leadership programs to give women greater access to finance.
“The barriers are so similar across geographies,” Iskenderian said. “Women tend to be less financially literate or feel less financially savvy, and less confident, especially now that finance and digital [have become] the same thing. Digital literacy is therefore absolutely essential. And there is, unfortunately, the digital divide: women’s inability to access technology. We are seeing a real slowdown in progress towards women’s access to smartphones,” she added.
According to the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), there is an 18% gap between men and women in smartphone ownership, up from 15% last year. The lack of access of certain populations of women to smartphones, and therefore to digital financial services, is one of the major problems that Women’s World Banking seeks to solve.
Another major issue facing the organization concerns the financial service providers themselves. According to Iskenderian, there are countries in the world where financial service providers do not disaggregate data by gender, meaning they are not even aware of the magnitude of the gender gap.
“Financial service providers themselves – and we don’t know why – persist in thinking that there is no business justification for serving low-income women,” she said. This is despite the fact that research from Women’s World Banking shows that women have higher customer lifetime value with digital products than men, which means that financial service providers are missing out on an important potential source of income.
The third major obstacle that women face is at the political level. “The reason organizations don’t collect gender-disaggregated data is often because regulators don’t require them to report that way,” Iskenderian said. Beyond this, certain cultural practices limit women’s ability to access financial services. For example, according to Iskenderian, there are still a number of countries that only allow women access to credit if they have land as collateral, but in these countries women cannot own land in their own name. .
Building Financial Literacy and Closing the Wealth Gap
Among advocacy for policy change, Women’s World Banking is working with regulators through leadership programs. According to Iskenderian, the main policy the programs focus on is financial literacy, which is the next hurdle to overcome once underserved women gain access to digital financial tools.
Women’s World Banking is working with regulators to have financial literacy included in national programs, among others. The organization mainly focuses on India, Indonesia, Mexico, Egypt, Nigeria and Bangladesh, but also works in Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.
In the United States, the organization is developing an impact investment fund to address some of the unique financial challenges faced by women in the country. For example, building financial resilience and well-being in the face of unexpected financial challenges, such as emergency spending, as well as the large wealth gap between men and women.
According to Iskenderian, women only own 40% of assets compared to men in the United States. African-American women own only 12% of the assets of the average man.
Although Women’s World Banking works on behalf of women everywhere, there are actions individuals can take as well. The Women’s World Banking website offers resources to learn about issues faced by many women around the world. It also features financial service providers that are doing more to provide women with access to policies and products.
“One thing each of us can do is be a more conscientious consumer of financial services. There is a very strong correlation between gender diversity and diversity of all kinds in the leadership of organizations and awareness of a more diverse population,” Iskenderian said. . “Even knowing if the organization handling your money has some diversity in its leadership or board, just find out about those things and be smarter and demand them. Or switch providers until that you find one who thinks that’s an important goal, can be something we can all do.”