Mapping the mobile money gender gap: Insights from Côte d’Ivoire and Mali

Over the last few years, mobile money has been spreading at an impressive rate, potentially playing a major role in expanding financial access to more vulnerable populations. A recent study in Kenya found that, since 2008, access to mobile money services increased daily per capita consumption levels by KES 194,000, or 2 per cent, of Kenyan households, significantly contributing to lifting them out of extreme poverty. The positive effect of mobile money was particularly strong for women, as consumption in female-headed households increased twice as much as male-headed households. A similar correlation was found with savings – female-headed households located in areas with a widespread network of mobile money agents saved about 22 per cent more.

Using the mobile money customer journey framework and applying a gender lens to it, we sought to understand the differences in mobile money adoption and usage between men and women in two countries – Mali and Cote d’Ivoire. This allowed us to better understand where women and men were dropping off in the customer journey from registration to active use, the barriers and drivers to mobile money adoption and usage across genders and the impact of socio-demographic variables such as education, income and occupation on adoption and use.

The two main gender gaps in the mobile money customer journey

When looking at women and men’s mobile money uptake and usage with a gender lens, it is noticeable that the gender gap is widest before registration, and does not grow again until the high power user stage, when users make higher volume and higher value transactions each month.

Before registration, there is a gender gap in mobile phone ownership and high levels of awareness of mobile money among phone owners. This suggests that not owning a phone could negatively affect women’s ability to open a mobile money account. However, when women have a mobile money account, they are as likely as men to try the service and become regular users (defined as users who have initiated at least one transaction a month) or power users (defined as users who initiate multiple transactions each month). Addressing the gender gap at the registration stage is therefore key to reducing the overall gender gap in mobile money usage.

The second gender gap that was observed during the research was at the high power usage stage – women are less likely than men to become high power users of mobile money, as they use it less frequently and for lower amounts than men, and may therefore not be reaping the full benefits of the service.

Women’s mobile money usage patterns differ from men’s

Understanding the differences in women’s and men’s mobile money usage can be helpful in identifying opportunities for driving uptake and usage. During our research we found that the way women use mobile money differs from men, and there are opportunities to increase both the frequency and sophistication of their usage. Women tend to transact in lower amounts and to use simpler services, such as cash-in and cash-out and person-to-person (P2P) transfers. When using P2P, women tend to be recipients of money, while men are more likely to be senders.

Also, mobile money subscribers tend to be concentrated in urban areas, where there is growing saturation among urban men, especially in the 25–40 age category. Conversely, women in the same age group living in urban areas are an underpenetrated segment. This suggests that there is a concrete opportunity to increase mobile money penetration and usage among women in urban areas, and among both women and men in rural areas.

Some barriers prevent men and women to progress along the mobile money customer journey

In Mali and Cote d’Ivoire, we asked phone owners the extent to which they agreed to certain pre-determined barriers impacting their likelihood of registering for mobile money or of using it more often. When we mapped the barriers along the mobile money customer journey we found that no barrier was consistently higher for women across all stages of the journey. As certain barriers were mentioned more often across countries and user stages, we called those primary barriers:

  • Lack of money
  • Perceived lack of need
  • Poor understanding of the service.


There were also secondary barriers that influenced how likely women and men were to adopt and use mobile money. These barriers were mentioned to a much lesser extent, and often at specific stages in the customer journey or in a specific country:

  • Lack of trust
  • Technical issues
  • Poor registration experience
  • Low literacy levels
  • Transaction fees


What can be done to further women’s adoption and usage of mobile money?

Increasing women’s financial inclusion via mobile money is no easy task – it requires a holistic approach that takes the cultural context into account and addresses all dimensions of a mobile money service. Some specific areas that can help reaching more women with mobile money include:

  • Developing targeted marketing and outreach activities to help improve users’ understanding of mobile money, the benefits of the service, and their confidence in using it;
  • Making new and existing products more relevant by ensuring not only that they meet women’s financial needs and encourage a transition from cash-based transactions but that women are aware of the products that meet their needs;
  • Creating a strong distribution network that supports mobile money usage;
  • Increasing mobile phone ownership among women, as this is the first step in mobile money adoption.
  • Collecting and analysing gender-disaggregated data and investing in consumer insights research to understand and address customer needs, and develop target actions to spur mobile money uptake and usage among untapped market segments.


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