According to WWB, three billion women either do not have any access to or are limited to just one financial service, representing an untapped market opportunity for financial service providers estimated at over $1 trillion.

Insights into advancing women’s economic empowerment by Women’s World Banking

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, we asked one of our partners, Women’s World Banking (WWB), to share their perspective on advancing women’s economic empowerment. What’s holding women back from accessing mainstream finance, and how can we can advance the drive for greater inclusion? Read on for more insights.

AFI: In your opinion, how have formal financial products contributed to women’s economic empowerment?

WWB: Having studied the lives of low-income women for 40 years, we know that savings is the foundation for greater women’s economic empowerment.

When a woman has access and just as importantly, control of formal financial products she not only contributes to her own well-being but also to the well-being of her family. But when a woman is saving in a safe place, she saves for her children’s education, family’s health and better housing – building both her security and prosperity. With greater security and prosperity, she gains greater economic empowerment.

Yet, many financial service providers tend to think only about credit when developing solutions for low-income women. In order to see an increase in women’s economic empowerment, we need more financial service providers to understand the needs of women and deliver a multi-product solution that works for them.

We need policymakers to not only build the enabling environment for inclusive finance but to also mandate that financial service providers leverage on gender-disaggregate data. By measuring how well we are doing in serving women clients, we build stronger communities through greater women’s economic empowerment.

AFI: With the rise in mobile banking and digital technology, why are more women still financially excluded?

WWB: As digital and mobile tools become more accessible to even the most remote and developing markets, digital financial services represent a huge opportunity to close the gender gap in financial inclusion and provide a solution for unbanked women. However, this is not a silver bullet. 

It’s important to remember that just adding a digital or mobile component to an account or service does not mean it will reach clients, especially women. Many mobile network operators entering the financial services space are not considering the important distinction between simply accessing phones and actually using digital financial products. They assume it’s only a matter of time before women adopt digital products without questioning whether these products can better meet women’s unique needs.

In addition, the mobile phone ownership gap puts women at a disadvantage from the beginning in embracing the opportunity mobile banking and digital technology has to offer. Only by understanding the behavioral needs of women and designing a use case to meet those needs will we begin to see the real potential of mobile banking and digital technology for women.

AFI: The World Economic Forum (WEF) says we need 217 years to achieve gender parity; the countries who adopted the Sustainable Development Goals promised to do it in 15. To succeed, there is growing consensus that we need to think bigger. How do you think we should approach this?

WWB: Among the drivers to help achieve gender parity, financial inclusion should be seen as one of the most effective accelerators of economic participation. Based on our research on financially underserved women and the Global Findex, close to three billion women either do not have any access to or are limited to just one financial service. By our estimates, these three billion women represent an untapped market opportunity for financial service providers estimated at over $1 trillion.

If we can get more banks, insurance companies and mobile money providers to recognize these women as clients and not as charity cases, they will reap the benefits. They will see that women are loyal, profitable customers; they will see that women have better loan repayment records and they will see that women are longer-term, “stickier” savers. By opening the eyes of these financial service providers, we can help propel the world to achieving gender parity – and not in 217 years. 


Learn more about AFI’s involvement in gender and women’s financial inclusion.