Unlocking Potential: Women and Mobile Financial Services in Emerging Markets

> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Assistant, CFI

The majority of individuals around the world without formal bank accounts are women. In the developing world, 63 percent of women lack accounts, versus 54 percent of men. Mobile financial services offer a path to inclusion given that 1.7 of the 2.5 billion unbanked own mobile phones. However, the path is longer for women, as the majority of mobile phone owners are men.

Visa, mWomen, and Bankable Frontier Associates are working together to bring mobile services to women. Today at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona they’re releasing joint research that examines how to best design mobile financial services to reach women at the base of the pyramid (BoP), Unlocking the Potential: Women and Mobile Financial Services in Emerging Markets.

You might remember our posting about mWomen research on mobile phone usage among BoP women earlier this year. The previous report, Striving and Surviving: Exploring the Lives of Women at the Base of the Pyramid, cast light on the opportunity for mobile money services to benefit BoP women. This potential was evidenced in the report’s findings that BoP women are largely responsible for managing their family’s finances, that they often go to unsafe, costly, and time-consuming lengths to do so, and that one of the biggest barriers preventing their use of formal financial services is a lack of nearby facilities.

Unlocking the Potential builds off Striving and Surviving to establish where the developing world is with mobile financial services among BoP women. Over the past few months the research team has worked with women in Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania to better understand their relationship with mobile financial services, examining how they manage their money, what their needs are, and how mobile financial services can fit into their lives.

A big takeaway from the research is how consistently overlooked and important women are as a potentially large and active client segment for mobile money services. Indeed women are often the family members who conduct the financial transactions, including paying bills, sending and receiving remittances, storing money, and handling government-to-person payments (G2P).

To a great degree, designing mobile money services to fit the needs of BoP women involves the core principles of good mobile money services generally. The researchers found that across all five studied countries, women expressed the importance of four attributes: convenience, reliability, security, and privacy. Given that they often experience daunting daily schedules and economic shocks, women are interested in services whose performance matches their need for dependability and their risk-aversion. Offering services with these characteristics will not only earn the business of more BoP women, it will likely earn more business throughout the entire market.

The report lists a number of specific industry-wide developments needed to fully realize the potential of the women’s segment:

  • Get women to try the services for the first time. A significant portion of individuals studied were aware of mobile money services, but they hadn’t actually tried them. Those who had tried them tended to adopt them for regular use. The researchers suggest incentive schemes and education programs to encourage first time trials.
  • Streamline registration. A common problem voiced in the research was the lack of necessary personal identification for the enrollment of services.
  • Extend access and improve branding of agents. Quite possibility the biggest barrier to the wide-adoption of mobile money services by BoP women is the availability and reliability of agents. As the “front-line” to service engagement and use, and with BoP women’s common need to stay close to their children and their home, it’s essential that mobile money services adequately extend agent networks.

In addition to the launch of Unlocking the Potential, there are many other exciting events happening at this year’s Mobile World Congress. One such event is a session tonight hosted by Visa and frog. Everyone, Everywhere: How Visa Inc. Will Reach the Next Billion will discuss how to create a sustainable innovation model for understanding consumers and building market share in the developing world, based on their recent work in Rwanda.

Image credit: Visa, mWomen, Bankable Frontier Associates

Have you read? 

Catch and Release – Checking in on Recent Mobile Money Happenings

Mobile Money Could Mean Big Benefits for Lower-Income Women

Our Woman in Milan: Observations on the Intersection of Mobile Money and Regulation