Bridging the Economic Gender Equity Gap: Strategies for Operators and Policymakers

The growth of mobile money has transformed how people access and manage their finances, especially those previously underserved or excluded. The spread of mobile money accounts has created opportunities to serve women, such as increased savings and providing customers with an accessible tool to store and manage their money.

Studies by The World Bank Findex report show that women are more likely to use mobile money services than other financial services such as banks for savings and financial planning. Mobile money has also enabled women to participate as entrepreneurs in the formal economy. However, there is still a gender gap in mobile money adoption and usage that needs to be addressed by operators and through regulatory interventions.

How can operators address the mobile money gender gap?

54% of the unbanked population globally are women. In developing countries, there is an 8% gap in account ownership between unbanked men and women. It should be noted that efforts to narrow the gender gap in account ownership have paid off since 2017. In developing economies, this gap has fallen to 6% from 9%, where it had lagged for many years. In sub-Saharan Africa, the gender gap stands at 12%. [1]

The spread of mobile money accounts has created opportunities for operators to serve women better. Operators can address the gender gap in several ways:

  1. Developing gender-specific products and services: Data shows that 76% of female-owned firms use mobile money to receive customer payments compared to 60% of fully male-owned firms. Operators have an opportunity to empower more women by developing gender-specific products and services that address women’s unique financial needs and challenges. For example, mobile money services, such as the ability to track business expenses or the ability to apply for business credit easily, etc., can be designed to cater to the savings needs of women entrepreneurs or those in rural areas. This approach can not only increase the accessibility and usability of products and services for women but also contribute to their economic empowerment. By addressing gender-specific barriers like low digital skills, financial literacy, etc., operators can reach a market they have yet to be able to reach before and increase financial inclusion.
  2. Creating awareness and building trust: Operators can develop financial literacy programmes targeting women to help create awareness about the benefits and safety of mobile money services. This can be done through targeted marketing campaigns, community outreach programs, and partnerships with women’s organizations and agents. Educating them about the benefits of using mobile money, navigating mobile money platforms and the available redress mechanisms will help build their trust. 
  3. Streamlining accessibility and women empowerment: Operators can increase accessibility while empowering women by partnering with local agents, hiring women agents, incentivizing women to use mobile money services, and expanding the range of services offered. Operators can offer incentives such as discounts or cashback for women who use mobile money services and ensure that their customer service representatives are trained to address any concerns or questions women may have about the service. These efforts can increase women’s adoption and usage of mobile money services, ultimately promoting financial inclusion and empowerment.
  4. Improving customer service and user experience: Operators can improve customer service and user experience by hiring more female agents and providing information about them to female customers. Service providers can also offer security and financial literacy training through female agents and ensure women can access mobile money services easily and efficiently. In addition, operators could develop user-friendly mobile applications and interfaces that cater to the needs of women, such as language options and simplified navigation. They can also offer personalized support and assistance to users facing challenges using the service.
  5. Collecting and analysing gender-disaggregated data: Operators can collect and analyse gender-disaggregated data to better understand women’s barriers to accessing mobile money services. This can help operators develop targeted solutions and measure the impact of their interventions. For instance, by analysing data on the gender of mobile money agents, operators can identify gaps in their agent networks and develop strategies to recruit more female agents. Additionally, analysing data on the types of transactions conducted by men and women can help operators design products that better meet the needs of female customers.

By addressing the mobile money gender gap, operators can ensure that women can participate fully in the digital economy and enjoy the benefits of financial inclusion.

Policy and regulatory interventions to address the mobile money gender gap.

The gender gap is driven by a complex set of socio-economic and cultural barriers negatively affecting women that cannot be addressed by either the private sector or financial regulators alone. Nevertheless, targeted intervention by regulators and policymakers can significantly address the challenges disproportionately affecting women. Relevant, targeted regulatory interventions include:

  1. Adoption of policy interventions that support access to mobile phones: According to the Findex report, across Sub-Saharan Africa, unbanked women are 7% more likely than unbanked men to cite a lack of a mobile phone as one reason they do not have an account. This gap increases to 14% in Nigeria, where women are twice as likely as men to cite the lack of a mobile phone as a barrier to account ownership. Ghana reported a double-digit gap of 10% between women and men, citing mobile phone ownership as a barrier. These findings highlight the need for targeted interventions to address gender-specific barriers to mobile phone access, such as providing affordable and accessible mobile phones for women in Nigeria and Ghana, reviewing sector-specific taxes and fees that may exacerbate the cost barrier to mobile ownership and use, reduce investment and have a disproportionate impact on women. These include taxes on airtime and devices, Supporting financial institutions and local savings groups to provide risk capital for handset loans for women and women-owned MSMEs at lower interest rates, subsidising handsets for marginalised populations in partnership with the private sector, and enabling innovative pricing strategies to help providers reach more women. 
  2. Having in place policies that address identification barriers: 37% of unbanked adults in Sub-Sahara Africa cite the need for identification documentation as one of the reasons they do not have a financial institution account. 30% of these adults cite it as a barrier to opening a mobile money account. In Liberia, Mozambique, South Sudan, and Tanzania, more than 40% of unbanked adults note that the lack of identification documents is the key reason they do not have a financial institution account. Women in the region are 5% more likely than men to be unbanked and have no ID. The numbers go higher among the unbanked with no ID in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Liberia, with 13% in each economy, among others. Regulators can address the lack of identification documents barrier by allowing women to register and use mobile money services using other documents beyond the government-issued IDs, allowing operators the flexibility to set up the minimum KYC requirements subject to regulatory approval and providing risk-based KYC. 
  3. Adopting flexible agent regulation to ease access to mobile money agents for women: Drive uptake and continued use of mobile money by women depends on agents being available to help them use the service. Women usually need more interactions with agents than men before they feel comfortable using the service. As noted in our report on exploring women’s use of mobile money in Ghana, we found that women in Ghana need more support from others, including agents to learn about and use mobile money.
  4. Collaborating with other stakeholders in developing financial literacy programmes targeted at women could help increase their confidence and understanding of financial services, leading to more women using mobile money services. Additionally, providing more targeted marketing and education campaigns could help build their trust and create awareness of mitigating risks.

Mobile money is a critical enabler with the highest potential for equal access to financial services. It offers an opportunity to increase women’s financial inclusion and enhance their opportunity to contribute to many countries’ economies. Governments and mobile money providers must continue investing in mobile money infrastructure and promoting its usage among women. This will benefit individuals and contribute to the country’s economic growth.

[1] World Bank Findex Report 2021