In conjunction with International Women’s Day 2021, AFI reached out to women leaders in its network to share their insight on women’s empowerment and the important role women play in financial inclusion. This interview features First Deputy Governor of the Bank of Russia Ksenia Yudaeva.
AFI: Why is financial inclusion, and specifically women’s financial inclusion, important to you?
Ksenia Yudaeva: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by world leaders in 2015, embody a roadmap for progress that is sustainable and does not leave anyone behind.
Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to the SDGs. By ensuring protection of the rights of women and girls across all the goals, we will achieve justice and inclusion, establish economies that will work for all, and sustain our shared environment now and for future generations.
The sustainable growth in national and regional economies depends on improving people’s financial literacy and access to financial services, especially with women who are often responsible for the family and household budget. The more active women are in the economy, the faster poverty recedes and wealth increases. Where households are headed by women, they are the ones responsible for maintaining the family budget and making financial decisions, providing for children and instilling the right values in them, including financial ones. For these reasons, women are in particular need of financial knowledge and skills.
AFI: What are unique qualities that women leaders can bring to an organization?
Ksenia Yudaeva: Women in senior positions are under the same pressures to perform as men, however, they are often held to higher performance standards than men. In cases of failure, female senior-level managers can face sharper criticism.
Other important leadership qualities are the same regardless of gender: a good leader connects with their team by facilitating open communication, encouraging employee growth and development, and giving and accepting feedback. Learning how to be a good leader can have a significant impact on the success of your team, organization and self. To be an effective leader, you must understand both your own and your team’s motivations, strengths and weaknesses.
AFI: What are the biggest opportunities you face in developing and implementing policy and regulation focused on women’s financial inclusion?
Ksenia Yudaeva: The mission, objectives and activities of The Bank of Russia are gender neutral based on the principle of universality. But it is also worth noting that women are neither forgotten nor ignored. Owing to the socio-economic legacy of the USSR, Russia is slightly different from most other countries where similar policies and programs have been given special attention to women. In the USSR and now modern Russia, men and women have equal access to various resources, including education and labor opportunities.
In Russia, financial inclusion for women exceeds financial inclusion for men in some aspects. For example, according to Findex from 2014 and 2017, women in Russia are more likely to hold a banking account than men, which is a main indicator of a financial inclusion gender gap. The Bank of Russia’s surveys show that men and women use digital channels to make money transfers in approximately the same way. However, the level of psychological readiness to use remote financial services when there is such an opportunity is higher in men than in women. This also reflects a lower level of women’s confidence in their financial competence.
It should be noted that although The Bank of Russia does not treat women as a target group, it always takes into account gender concerns when developing and implementing measures.
AFI: Russia is known for its financial literacy program and use of FinTech for inclusive finance. How can Russia’s experience and financial education programs be adopted in the region and across the network to bridge the financial inclusion gender gap?
Ksenia Yudaeva: Russia has achieved good results with both its financial literacy programs and FinTech initiatives. Although the programs and measures developed and implemented by The Bank of Russia do not have specific gender focuses, we are ready to share our experiences and discuss possible scaling and application in the region and across the wider AFI network.
In addition to not having a financial inclusion gender gap, we do not have a significant financial literacy gender gap in Russia either. In a 2020 financial literacy index that measured financial knowledge, behavior and attitudes, there was only a 1-point difference between men and women, where participants were rated on a scale from 0 to 100 points. Our experiences show that Russian men and women are roughly equal in financially literacy, and that Russian women may even be more active financial service consumers than women in other countries.
While the Financial Literacy Strategy for Russia in 2017-2023 does not address women as a targeted group, efforts to promote financial literacy apply to men and women equally, particularly for those belonging to a priority group. This includes students, low- and medium-income individuals, individuals who have achieved or are approaching retirement and persons with disabilities.
The Bank of Russia is also constantly working to improve the financial literacy rates in other groups such as servicemen, orphans and children deprived of parental care, staff of various enterprises, such as small and medium enterprises, and social workers.
The key aspect of our work in this area is our targeting approach to compiling training materials, developing methods and techniques of training, and choosing channels of information distribution. This allows us to account for the background of our audience, their living conditions and preferences in consuming information.
The Bank of Russia’s materials on financial literacy are publicly available. Our videos are shown on public transport while our booklets and leaflets are available in postal offices, social service offices and on the Internet. We also work across all of Russia’s regions, allowing us to widen the coverage of our programs and get more people involved.
The Bank of Russia also promotes FinTech, RegTech and SupTech solutions for individuals, businesses and financial institutions. Our key digital technology-based infrastructure projects are Digital Biometric Identification, Faster Payments System, Marketplace, Digital Customer Profile and discussion of developing a central bank digital currency.
While digitalizing key financial services brings many benefits, we should keep in mind that this process can also amplify existing inequalities. Not everyone can access or understand such services to an equal extent. Digitalization can be a cause of financial exclusion, which is especially significant for jurisdictions with large elderly populations. In some countries, these inequalities could also be gender related. Therefore, we would like to point out the importance of promoting digital financial literacy for all.
AFI: What is your message to women in your institution and in our network, across the world, on International Women’s Day, especially during the challenging times of COVID-19 pandemic?
Ksenia Yudaeva: The events of 2020 have turned workplaces upside down. Under the highly challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis, many female employees are struggling to do their jobs. Many feel like they are “always on” now that the boundaries between work and home have blurred. Many are worried about their families’ health and finances. Furthermore, women are more likely to have been laid off during the pandemic, which is stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security.
The pandemic has also intensified the challenges that women already face in the workplace. Many working mothers now find themselves working a “double shift” with a full day of work, followed by hours spent caring for children and doing household chores now the support networks that made employment possible for many women, including school and childcare, has been upended.
Unpaid labor is overwhelmingly done by women, whether it is caring for children, partners, elderly parents and friends, or maintaining a household.
International Women’s Day is dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements in the social, economic, cultural and political spheres. The global day, collectively launched by women, also brings attention to women’s rights and inequalities, even in developed countries (in salaries, for instance).
Dear friends, I want to convey my best wishes on International Women’s Day. This day of celebration is always filled with joy and sincere feelings. You are reliable employees and responsible leaders who take every little detail into account. It is impossible to imagine current global developments without the contributions and successes of women. You can manage everything, at work and at home, binding it with your love that can inspire and support, giving warmth and comfort.
AFI’s Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners.