Reaching half of the market: women and mobile money – The example of UBL in Pakistan

This is the first of a series of blogs that provide a deep-dive into different mobile money services who proved to be successful in increasing the mobile money penetration amongst women in their respective markets. This blog series builds upon the recently released report Reaching half of the market: women and mobile money’. This blog was co-written by Elisa Minischetti.

Pakistan is one of the most dynamic mobile money markets in the world, with 7 live mobile money services, and 3.5m accounts[1]. United Bank Limited (UBL) launched its mobile money service Omni back in April 2010, and has since then opened 1.5m mobile money accounts, quickly becoming one of the mobile money sprinters [2].

With 86% of Omni’s customers being women, UBL is also one of the mobile money providers with the highest level of penetration amongst women[3]. This is particularly remarkable if we consider that country-wide, only 38% of mobile money accounts are being held by women. The digital gap is also very prevalent in Pakistan, with 80% of men owning a mobile phone, compared to only 38% of women. So how did UBL manage to reach so many women with their mobile money service?

UBL’s focus on G2P has helped them attract large numbers of female customers

UBL’s mobile money strategy has been focusing on the delivery of government to people transfers (G2P) right from the beginning. Since its launch in 2010, Omni has been used to process significant amounts of social transfers, including a large portion of the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). Since the majority of beneficiaries of these G2P programmes are women, G2P has been a great tool for UBL to attract new female customers to Omni.

UBL’s focus on G2P seems to have paid off: their mobile money service is one of the largest in the world, and Omni is a new revenue stream for the company: in the early days of the service, G2P payments were the key business driver, generating 60% of Omni revenues in 2011. This has now dropped to 20-30% of revenues, with the development of usage of other mobile money products, such as transfers and bill payments. Indeed, receiving G2P transfers is not the only use case for Omni. Once they have opened their mobile money account, UBL’s customers can use it to deposit and save money as well as to make transfers and payments.

Savings is a popular use case among Omni customers, especially women

To understand how UBL’s customers use mobile money beyond G2P, it is interesting to have a closer look at usage patterns of men and women. Market insights and transaction numbers reveal that female users of Omni have a greater propensity to use mobile money for savings than men:

  • Omni female customers tend to transact more often than men, with the most common transaction being deposits.
  • In addition, the average value of a cash-in is smaller for women than for men. This indicates that women tend to deposit money as soon as they earn it, even if it is a small amount.
  • Women also tend to hold deposits for longer periods of time than men.

Considering that vast majority of women in Pakistan rely on informal savings tools (over 60% hide money at home), it is not surprising to see Omni’s female customers using their mobile money account to store value. 

In Pakistan, financial inclusion and women empowerment go hand in hand

Through its mobile money service, UBL has allowed 1.3m previously unbanked and underbanked women to open a mobile money account. With mobile money, these women now have access to more convenient, reliable and cost-effective financial services and are no longer forced to rely on informal financial services. “UBL strongly believes in the importance of financial inclusion. First, with Omni women are being integrated into the formal financial system. Second, they take ownership of the service are and able to initiate financial transactions that make their lives easier”, Abrar Mir, ‎EVP & Group Head – Digital Money & Mobile Payments at UBL.

However, the social impact goes well beyond the traditional benefits associated with mobile money. Indeed, many of the women who use UBL Omni did not have a national ID before registering for the service. Over the past 3 years, 90% of them have managed to get their own ID card for the first time as they were given one to open their Omni account to start receiving government transfers, which means that they can now vote. This is a good example of the links between financial inclusion and women empowerment.

To find out more on what operators can do to increase mobile money penetration among women, download our report “Reaching half of the market: women and mobile money”. The MMU and Connected Women teams will continue to gather insights on this topic, so please get in touch to share your stories and insights, either by posting comments below or by emailing the authors of the report: [email protected] and [email protected].

[1] At the end of 2013. Over-the-counter mobile money transactions are also very popular in Pakistan and represent 6 times the volume of transactions initiated from mobile money accounts. Source: State Bank of Pakistan:

[2] Mobile money sprinters are the fastest mobile money services as defined by the GSMA MMU programme in its Annual State of the Industry Report.

[3] The GSMA MMU programme collects data on mobile money penetration among women through its annual Global Adoption Survey of Mobile Financial Services. In 2013, within our sample of 92 mobile money providers, 29 (32%) knew the gender composition of their gender base and UBL is the company that reported the highest percentage (86%).