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The Supervisory Challenges of Financial Inclusion

06.06.2017Dr. Bryan Barnett, Banking Advisor US Treasury, Office of Technical Assistance

This post was originally posted on the AFI website.

In pursuit of their mission to ensure the integrity of financial systems, regulators have two distinct tasks. The first is developing the rules and regulations that govern the authorization and operations of financial institutions. The second is supervising those institutions to ensure that regulations are followed and risks are identified and addressed.

Over the last several decades, the drive to include populations formerly excluded from the formal financial system has introduced new kinds of financial products, service providers and digital technologies that have improved the lives of millions, but pose challenges for regulators on both the policy and supervision fronts. Though these developments have generated a significant amount of interest in regulatory policy, the impact of new policies on the task of actual supervision has received relatively little attention. And while there is still work to be done on the policy front, there is now an urgent need to address the practical impact of these policies on actual supervision of financial service providers (FSPs). In a rapidly changing environment, a definitive account of these impacts may not be possible, but it's not too early to consider some of the major issues and the resulting need for capacity building among financial supervisors.

Most apparent among these issues is the dramatic expansion of the number and types of financial institutions that regulators are required to supervise. Once responsible for supervising a limited number of banks, they are now increasingly expected to supervise an array of non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs), including microfinance institutions, cooperatives, SACCOs, mobile money issuers, and others. In contrast to traditional banks which are relatively few and relatively large, NBFIs are for the most part numerous and small. A supervisor formerly responsible for at most a couple of dozen institutions may now be responsible for hundreds. And whereas all banks are broadly similar, there is now much greater heterogeneity among the types of institutions and products subject to oversight.

At the same time, the increasing use of agents that may number in the tens of thousands poses special challenges. Though it is widely accepted that principals are responsible for oversight of their own agents, the task of ensuring that principals are fulfilling this requirement adequately is generally a new and different responsibility for many financial regulators. To this must be added rapid evolution in electronic payment systems, involving a host of new types of payment service providers and payment technologies. Gone are the days when it was enough to keep an eye on things like check clearing, cards or the ACH.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008-09, there is everywhere a heightened concern for consumer protection. It is a concern of special significance to financial inclusion programs that aspire to reach customers with limited literacy (financial or otherwise). Enhanced supervision under new consumer protection rules is for many regulators a largely new domain of responsibility, again multiplied by the large number of service providers concerned.

Related to all these issues is the requirement that license applications for new entrants be reviewed prior to approval and increasingly a requirement also that all new financial inclusion products be pre-approved by the regulator before being introduced. This process is exceedingly labor intensive, often requiring multiple iterations of a cycle of feedback and re-submission before a final decision is reached. Workloads are directly proportional to the pace of expansion and change in a financial services marketplace where innovation and expansion in the name of greater inclusion is often strongly encouraged. That means that workloads are expanding rapidly, threatening careful review or timely decisions or both.

These challenges are uniformly driven by policies that are here to stay and the major implications are now clear. First of all, there will never be enough staff to meet these challenges using traditional approaches. For many FSPs on-site examinations will necessarily be cursory, relatively rare or both. Moreover, with very limited human resources (relative to the scale of the task), the adoption of a risk-based approach to supervision will cease to be merely a desirable goal and will become an absolute condition of effective supervision. Given the need to develop risk profiles on numerous FSPs and products, it will be necessary to concentrate on the development of sound sector-based risk assessments and validated risk indicators that can be monitored remotely. This in turn suggests that the traditional separation of on-site and off-site supervision will need to be overcome and individual supervisors will have to be equipped to employ both approaches as and where indicated without regard for geographic proximity or any sort of programmed schedule.

Beyond sheer numbers, the heterogeneity among types of institutions and products suggests that greater specialization among available staff will be essential. This is especially acute in the case of payment systems which have significantly different mechanics and operating rules from one to the next. Moreover, the risks associated with these systems are generally not the credit or market risks associated with prudentially regulated institutions, but are primarily operational and liquidity risks that need special attention. In particular, this applies to the complex technology upon which all modern payment systems rely. There is no possibility of adequate supervision of these payment systems absent properly specialized expertise on the part of individual personnel.

Thinking about possible means to address some of these challenges, a few things are clear. First, regulators will have to rely much more heavily on information technology and develop the ability to effectively gather and analyze large amounts of remotely-collected data. This means careful attention to the structuring of data collected in monthly or quarterly reports. It means the end of reports submitted as spreadsheets that are manually consolidated and the universal use of web-based report submission backed by automated preprocessing to ensure accuracy and completeness. There will need to be a much greater use of statistical techniques to establish what is normal among a particular set of providers so that anomalies can be isolated and investigated quickly.

With respect to licensing and pre-authorization of products, it will be essential to develop simple efficient systems whereby applications can be entered electronically, workflow can be tracked, and routine communications can be automated. Where regulators are granted discretion to judge the appropriateness or adequacy of an applicant's proposed businesses or products, it will be necessary to articulate clear expectations and guidelines for the exercise of that discretion in order to alert applicants and reduce the volume of deficient applications that needlessly consume staff time.

For agents, the assignment of a unique ID for each agent and the creation of national agent registries will be necessary to provide principals with critical information about a prospective agent's prior history as an agent (if any) allowing them to avoid the cost of taking on agents with a questionable background. The same registry will facilitate consumer protection if each agent's ID number is displayed at its place of business, allowing customers to make complaints without having to otherwise collect identifying information on the agent in question.

Such a registry and ID system will also enable the development of apps allowing customers to easily rate agents or file complaints directly from their phone. That also means that supervisors will need to be prepared to process a potentially significant volume of customer complaints, some of which will be referred to a provider for resolution, others which may involve escalation of complaints that a provider has failed to address. Basic systems for tracking and analyzing these complaints will be necessary. Such systems are a common feature of many businesses, but will be very new to most regulators.

Finally, with regard to the rapidly evolving and ever more complex world of technology supporting financial inclusion, regulators will have to move away from the practice of directly inspecting provider's IT infrastructure using the regulator's own staff and will instead have to rely on a variety of qualified independent auditors and recognized international standards for certification of systems and the management of IT systems. At the same time, if not themselves conducting IT audits, supervisory staff will nevertheless need to be able to read and understand the recommendations contained in auditors' reports in order to ensure that recommendations are followed and issues are addressed.

These are surely not the only changes to traditional regulatory practice that will ultimately be required. And there can be no expectation that the changes required will be easy or quick to achieve. But it is vital that regulators begin to contemplate the future and start to plan for it. At the same time, it is critical that technical assistance and capacity building help regulators adapt traditional supervisory approaches to the new environment. The needed changes will take time and inevitably proceed in stages. But with careful prioritization and a commitment to continual progress it will soon enough be possible to look back and wonder what it was that originally seemed so daunting.

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About the Author

Dr. Bryan Barnett is an advisor for banking and financial services with the Office of Technical Assistance of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He works with financial regulators in developing countries to help them modernize and strengthen their financial systems. A major focus of his work is helping regulators adapt regulations and processes to support expanded access to financial services to underserved populations.

Weather-Indexed Insurance: Why Isn't It Working?

05.06.2017Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI)

This post was originally posted on the CFI-Blog Website.

Weather-indexed insurance is brilliant. It's just not working.

It's brilliant because it solves one of the basic challenges of insurance: moral hazard. Under the principle of moral hazard, having insurance tends to make an individual's behavior riskier, increasing the likelihood that the product will be used. If I have fantastic health insurance, for example, I may be more likely to make riskier life decisions because I don't feel the financial effects of the consequences of those decisions quite so acutely. If insurance is tied to the weather, however, nothing an individual does (unless you believe in the efficacy of a rain dance) will "trigger" the insurance.

Weather-indexed insurance is not a new phenomenon. Over the last decade we've heard exciting stories about weather-indexed crop microinsurance and the lifeline it offers to farmers given our world's quickly-changing climate. Weather-indexed insurance was bundled with agricultural inputs like seeds or livestock, and the product was lauded as a way to increase the inclusion of poor people in insurance.

Amazing, right? So why, after a decade, aren't customers buying? In India, for example, only 5 percent of farmers have taken it up where available.

  • It's complicated. Insurance is incredibly complex to explain to a consumer. There are no easy examples for consumers to reference in their mental maps of products. The concept has no analogues in the local culture.
  • It costs a lot. Low-value insurance is very expensive for companies to offer, and weather-indexed insurance is no exception. While the weather-based trigger makes it cheap to determine when claims are valid, the product requires a critical mass of people to break even, and it is costly to acquire all of those customers.
  • And it's undervalued. At the same time, customers often under-value insurance. In experiments looking at whether insurance products are priced appropriately vis-à-vis customer perception, there is skepticism regarding the price of premiums for an intangible product. A number of years ago, some researchers discovered that even when subsidized so that insurance would yield an expected return of 181 percent, only half of households offered the product decided to purchase it.
  • Making an insurance claim is annoying, and recourse mechanisms are not great. Weather-indexed insurance targets individuals living in remote areas who might lack experience with insurance claims or formal financial services. Moreover, available weather data has been a limiting factor for the scope and accuracy of the services' automation. Recourse mechanisms are often a struggle with financial services for the base of the pyramid, and there have been documented incidences of similar issues in the weather-indexed insurance segment.
  • "Freemiums" can give insurance a bad rap. A "freemium" is an insurance product offered for free alongside another product that the customer is paying for. For example, rental car insurance comes with a credit card. Credit life insurance comes with a microloan. Health insurance comes with a mobile wallet. The problem is that customers often don't know they have the product, which can reduce the offering's credibility. The freemium approach has been met with success in some cases, but to achieve this, it's essential that customers have a strong awareness and understanding of the product.
  • Governments aren't really on board, even though the product would increase economic growth. Noteworthy exceptions to this are the governments of Canada, India, and the United States, which subsidize premiums by at least 50 percent. However, such involvement by many governments in Africa, for example, would likely not be affordable.

These results are not new. It's just that the industry has not found compelling solutions to these problems.

It's no wonder weather-indexed insurance for low-income populations continues to limp along, even though it is one of the financial sector's greatest inventions (in this blogger's opinion). The best way forward for weather-indexed insurance is either providing it for free (which is why Shawn Cole advocates so strongly for public-private partnerships) or bundling both the price and the service with existing financial products. And ensuring that individuals sufficiently understand the products and their benefits, and that the products work well - i.e. making a claim or a complaint is as seamless as possible.

But I'd love to be proven wrong-do you know an example of a weather-indexed insurance that's working?

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About the Author

Sonja Kelly conducts and facilitates financial inclusion research at CFI, directing the CFI Fellows Program, developing frameworks to understand critical concepts like financial health and financial capability, and facilitating the Global Microscope research. She serves as research lead on many topics related to financial inclusion. In her own research and work, Sonja focuses on regulation and policy, the role of banks in financial inclusion, and especially vulnerable populations. Sonja has a doctorate in international relations from American University, where her dissertation focused on financial inclusion policy and regulation. She has previously worked at the World Bank, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, and Opportunity International. Sonja is currently a member of the board of directors of People Reaching People, and has held volunteer positions as president of the Washington DC chapter of Women Advancing Microfinance, and as president of the steering committee for Northwest Chicago Young Life.

Revolutionary change is upon banking and finance

22.05.2017Arshad Rab, Chief Executive Officer, EOSD

"The industry of banking and finance is not only entering the age of algorithms but also the age of disintermediation."

In this exclusive interview, Arshad Rab, Chief Executive Officer, European Organisation for Sustainable Development (EOSD), spoke to Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine, on the disruption of conventional finance and the future of the financial services industry.

Jide Akintunde (JA): The disruption of the financial services industry is underway. Is this something that will prove ultimately evolutionary or revolutionary in the provision of financial services?

Arshad Rab (AR): For centuries, the provision of financial services was the sole domain of banks. But that is no longer the case. Financial services are now increasingly being provided by technology companies, heralding the tectonic shift currently taking place.

The industry of banking and finance, as we currently know it, will cease to exist and this will happen much faster than many of us think. So, if we look at the emerging big picture, we can conclude that the change in the financial services industry will indeed prove to be revolutionary.

JA: Why is this happening?

AR: The disruptive nature of technological change is reshaping every aspect of our lives. We have entered the age of algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) and computer machines are taking over much of the work humans currently do, significantly, including decision-making. Therefore, the technology companies are in a much better position than the banks to take full advantage of latest innovations and make banking and finance their business domain.

On the demand side of financial services, we are also experiencing a radical shift in the customer behaviour. Today, we all expect things to be done much faster than say five years ago. For example, people have problems in understanding why in this digital age, banks need days to transfer money. We can of course offer reasons for the time lag such as regulations for clearing houses, but most people will not be satisfied with such explanations. The customers of today want money to be transferred instantly; they would like loan decisions to be made quickly; and they want to be able to enjoy banking services from any device, at any time and from anywhere.

Another factor influencing financial services is the growing population of young people who are tethered to mobile devices. The services that are not available on those devices are simply non-existent as far as the younger generation are concerned. This generation, quite often referred to as millennials - which generally means the people born between 1980 and 1997 - are becoming entrepreneurs, decision-makers and customers. They need technological and speedy solutions much more than the older generation. And the centennials, those born after the millennials, are now a big market for consumer electronics and IT products and services. In the next few years, they will be one of the largest customer groups for financial institutions.

And let me also underscore a very key point: The competitive edge that the algorithms and artificial intelligence-driven technologies enjoy is that they are much faster and less prone to errors than humans - including in making decisions - making them very attractive for the financial services they offer.

So, one could argue that what is happening currently, particularly the proliferation of algorithms, artificial intelligence and blockchain, will make banking more a business of technology companies than of the banks. Referring back to your first question, this is a revolutionary change in the history of banking and finance.

JA: What is the real hope of a better future of banking and finance that is deliverable by the disruption of conventional finance?

AR: There are two words that immediately come into my mind: Inclusive and democratic. First, through the use of technology, banking services are being made available to unbanked and underbanked customers at affordable costs. The massive and fast growth in inclusive banking and finance, to a large extent, is because of technological advances.

Secondly, I can see the emergence of banking for the people, of the people and by the people. For example, if we look at crowd funding or peer-to-peer real-time payment solutions, you can clearly see that the industry of banking and finance is not only entering the age of algorithms but also the age of disintermediation. The role of financial intermediaries, be it commercial banks, development finance institutions or other intermediaries, will continue to reduce. And as blockchain technology becomes real, the financial services industry will experience historic disintermediation. This will make banking and finance more democratic than ever before.

JA: We see that in e-payment there is tension between conventional banks and the telcos. Also, the regulatory and consumer protection frameworks for fintechs are, at best, work in progress. Should the efforts at resolving the issues assert competition or cooperation?

AR: The role of regulators should continue to be about protecting the public interest. There can and there should be no compromise on this issue as we transform from conventional to digital banking and finance. In the emerging scenario, there is a dire need for actions that can create a level-playing field for both incumbents and new players such as the financial technology companies.

Since there is a real prospect that few big tech giants will dominate the financial services industry within the next few years, we need policymakers and regulators to act fast to ensure safe, fair and competitive markets and to avoid market domination by a handful of powerful players. A good regulatory framework, as always, will promote competition. This is in the interest of the society and in the long-term interest of all the current and future players.

Now, talking about cooperation, this is currently being led more by market dynamics than by regulatory pressures. A growing number of incumbent financial institutions are closely collaborating with small and medium-size fintechs to overcome technological challenges. In fact, this is one of the top trends happening today and some of the banks have even started to acquire fintech startups. Nevertheless, there will still be existential threats looming over the incumbents, including the big financial sector players.

Technology, market conditions, regulatory framework and socio-economic and political climate will continue to change extremely fast. However, the organizational structure and business processes of the incumbent financial sector players are not very responsive to the fast-changing environment, at least not in comparison with the fintechs.

JA: One issue that has been little highlighted is that disruptive finance can be zero-sum. While the fintechs are already helping to drive down the cost of financial transactions - especially remittances, aggregate labour in the financial services industry can be eroded. Do you have concerns about this trade-off?

AR: There is no doubt that a lot of work done today by humans will be done by robots in all sectors of the economy, and the financial services industry will not be exempted. But do we have a choice? Since we know that digitization of everything is unstoppable, it is time to move forward and meet the challenge head on. This means embracing the technological innovations and getting ready to benefit from the digital economy.

For instance, imagine if we could soon free up almost 50 percent of the world's human resources by taking them away from doing monotonous tasks and deploying them to do creative work. And imagine if we could enable majority of the world's workforce to unleash its true talent and potential, all because for the first time in human history, it is now possible to do so - thanks to technology. And let there be no doubt: All monotonous jobs can be and will be taken over by robots.

Nonetheless, my concern is not about the threat that technology poses to human labour. We cannot "undigitize" the economy or halt further developments, anyway. I am earnestly concerned that governments, regulators, businesses and society are not realizing the pressing need to take immediate and resolute actions to ensure a smooth transition to the age of algorithms and artificial intelligence. The danger of mass unemployment and destabilizing markets is real but preventable, provided we act fast and smart.

So, I am calling for urgent actions and inviting the stakeholders to work together to create a win-win outcome and not wait till the water runs dry.

JA: The EOSD has been encouraging financial institutions in the global South to embrace Sustainability. What would be your message to African banks on how they should continue to position for the future of banking and finance?

AR: This is a difficult question to answer in few words. However, I would like to suggest that banks must embrace technology and use it to its full potential. But let me hasten to add that investments in technology alone is not enough because it is very challenging to keep up with the fast pace of technological change. For the incumbents, it will be too tough to compete on the basis of technological edge with the tech giants and other fintechs entering financial industry.

In my opinion, the financial institutions, irrespective of their location, size and infrastructure - and in addition to full-scale digitization - need to focus immediately on true value creation for all stakeholders. The successful financial services providers will be those that deliver real socio-economic value in their communities and to society at large, while fully recognizing the natural environment as one of the key stakeholders. This is not only the right thing to do from a moral perspective. But, at the end of the day, this is where the battle for survival will be won or lost.

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About the author

Arshad Rab serves as the CEO of the European Organisation for Sustainable Development (EOSD) which is a dedicated body that has in its unique charter the purpose of developing strategies, programs and initiatives and undertaking projects that contribute in implementing the EU Strategy for Sustainable Development. Having his academic background in business administration, extensive work experience with private, public and multilateral organizations and wide-ranging in-depth knowledge, expertise and experience in the field of sustainability sciences, Mr. Rab today is a powerful voice on innovating for a sustainable future and leading with responsibility in times of disruptive change. His ongoing research interest include disruptive innovation in the financial services industry. In addition, he is the initiator of the Global Sustainable Finance Network that brings together about 70 financial institutions from over 30 countries.

Examining the financial inclusion of women – the mobile money gender gap in Rwanda

05.05.2017Elisa Minischetti, Insights Manager, GSMA Connected Women

This post was originally posted on the GSMA website.

In a previous blog post, we outlined some of the barriers that affect women at a higher rate than men and that can help explain the origins of the mobile money gender gap in Rwanda. But do these barriers affect women regular and power users differently? What are the main drivers for mobile money usage among women? And finally, what can be done to bridge the mobile money gender gap?

These observations are based on 40 semi-structured interviews and five focus group discussions we conducted with men and women in Kigali. Participants were between 25 and 34 years of age. Each participant was either a regular user (sent or received at least one transaction via mobile money in the last three months) or a power user (sent or received at least one transaction a week via mobile money over the last three months). The barriers and potential opportunities to drive uptake of mobile money are also likely to vary with different demographic groups (e.g. for those in rural areas).

The barriers affect regular and power users in different ways

Transaction fees - a high price sensitivity to the fees associated with making a mobile money transaction was much more likely to be mentioned as an issue by female respondents across the usage groups. However, female power users were more likely than female regular users to value the convenience offered by mobile money, which seemed to compensate for the transaction fees.

Confidence and understanding - female regular users were more likely than female power users to mention poor confidence in their ability to make a transaction and low levels of understanding of the service as a barrier. While it is intuitive that lower exposure and understanding of the service may contribute to lower usage, this was never mentioned as an issue by men across usage groups. Also, while female power users were confident users, they claimed that women are shyer than men and don't believe in their ability to use the service effectively. This perception that women have low confidence in the ability to use mobile money, and that they are likely to not understand how the service works was also often mentioned by the men interviewed.

Trust - female regular users were more likely to report lower levels of trust in mobile money services than female power users. Female regular users were more likely to attribute low levels of trust in the mobile money service to the fact that agents tend to be mobile and not have permanent addresses. This meant that, when mistakes were made, women were unable to locate the same agent who helped them perform the transaction. While female power users were more likely than female regular users to trust the service with their money, once the amount of money on the mobile money account had reached a certain point, female power users tended to withdraw it and take it to a bank.

Trust in mobile money services was not particularly mentioned as an issue for the majority of the men interviewed - male regular and power users were indeed more likely than women to trust the service with their money.

What do women like about mobile money?

Throughout the qualitative research, women were consistently enthusiastic about the convenience offered by mobile money as it helped them save travel time and travel money.

Women also identified a saving opportunity in their mobile money account - all the women interviewed were consistently using their wallet to "store money for emergencies" (which was portrayed as different from saving money, which they were more likely to do at a bank as it was deemed safer than mobile money). Specifically, women noticed that when they kept their money in cash, they were more likely to spend it on what were seen as "unnecessary things", while as they started keeping it on their mobile money account, they were more likely to avoid misusing it. Women reported always keeping a certain amount of money on their mobile money account, which they could withdraw in case of emergency.

Finally, having a mobile money account gave women a sense of empowerment, as they felt able to manage their finances in a quick and secure way, while keeping this process private. Also, mobile money gave women a sense of independence. 100 per cent of the respondents said that it felt good when their transactions went through.

A few ideas for mobile money providers on how reach more women with their service

Make mobile money a competitive alternative to cash - as discussed in the previous blog post, women (both regular and power users) are more likely than men to be price sensitive, and to look for cheaper alternatives when making financial transactions. This is truer for female regular users than for female power users, who tend to value the convenience of the service over the transaction fees. With this in mind, mobile money providers need to be creative if they want to increase uptake of the service among women, for instance by creating targeted promotions that incentivise women to adopt and use the service.

Promote group savings via the mobile money - all the women interviewed during this research in Rwanda reported saving money via the bank or a local savings group. They also reported storing money away in case of emergencies, which happened primarily via the mobile money account. Providers seeking to improve the attractiveness of mobile money services for women should consider offering group savings products that target existing female savings groups. Introducing the mobile savings account to an already-existing and trusted savings group, would not only allow the provider to reach new women, but also to teach women how to use it in a network where they are supported and encouraged by their peers.

Consider women's preferences for distribution and marketing - women in our sample were more likely than men to report instances of poor customer service and to blame these instances for the poor trust they had in mobile money. Also, women suggested the creation of fixed locations and small houses where mobile money agents could host their customers, to enable customers to return when issues arise. From a marketing standpoint, it is also important that women are portrayed in billboards, TV ads, and radio ads, to avoid giving women the sense that the service is not for them.

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About the Author

Elisa Minischetti is the GSMA Connected Women Insights Manager. Before joining the GSMA, Elisa worked as an intern at the social enterprise WomenCraft in Ngara, Tanzania, where she contributed as Grant Manager and Budget Analyst. Prior to that, Elisa worked for Europe Direct, Forli', Italy, as a European Trainer and covered roles at the Italian Consulate and at a shipping firm in Germany. Elisa holds a Master's Degree from the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in International Economics and Conflict Management. This degree was a complement to her MA in International Security and Politics from University of Bologna and BA in Political Science and International Relations from University of Siena.

Taking a look at women’s financial inclusion via mobile money – Barriers and drivers to the mobile money gender gap in Rwanda

24.04.2017Elisa Minischetti, Insights Manager, GSMA Connected Women

This post was originally posted on the GSMA website.

The widespread nature and affordability of mobile makes it the perfect vehicle to bridge the infrastructure gap that people in low- and middle-income countries often face. Mobile is also the gateway to life-enhancing services such as mobile money, which is undoubtedly contributing to increasing financial inclusion in emerging markets.

However, women tend to be consistently left out of the picture. Data from the Global Findex 2014 shows that women in low- and middle-income countries are 36 per cent less likely than men to access and use mobile money, which translates to 1.9 billion women worldwide. But this number masks greater imbalances at both the regional and country level. For instance, while in Sub-Saharan Africa the gender gap in mobile money ownership stands at 19.5 per cent, in Niger it is 60 per cent. In South Asia women are 67 per cent less likely than men to have a mobile money account.

How mobile money is contributing to financial inclusion in Rwanda

Rwanda is a dynamic mobile money market and the existence of a formal national ID system has contributed to financial inclusion via mobile money. To date, 37 per cent of Rwandan adults are considered financially included. 23 per cent of Rwandan adults or nearly two thirds of those who are financially included, have a mobile money account. 17 per cent of Rwandan adults are 90-day active mobile money users, at the same level of Ghana and not too far behind Uganda. In Rwanda, mobile money is catching up rapidly in spite of low literacy levels and handset ownership. This is impressive, especially if we consider that the first mobile money service in Rwanda was launched in 2010, while in Kenya and Ghana mobile money has been live since 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Source: FII data

In Rwanda, women are 20 per cent less likely than men to have a mobile money account. To better understand the origins of this gender gap, we decided to focus on the barriers that prevent women from accessing and using mobile money at the same rate as men. Also, in order to understand how the barriers affect different female mobile money users, we decided to assess what separates a regular female mobile money user (here defined as a user who has carried out at least one P2P/month on average over the last three months) from a power mobile money user (here defined as a user who has carried out at least one P2P/week on average over the last three months).

These insights allowed us to come up with some concrete suggestions on how to better reach women with mobile money in Rwanda. In order to do this, we conducted 40 semi-structured interviews and five focus group discussions, with women and men that are regular and power users of mobile money. Men and women were kept in separate groups to ensure that the opinions shared during the discussion were unbiased. All the interviewees lived in Kigali and were between 25-34 years of age, so the results may look different in rural areas.

Some barriers prevent women from accessing and using mobile money at the same rate as men

Price sensitivity

Our research showed that the women in the study tended to be more price sensitive than men to the fees associated with making a mobile money transaction. This can be partly explained by the fact that women often have a lower disposable income than men - as they were much more likely than men to do unpaid housework, they had lower income levels. Also, when women worked outside of the house, they were more likely to be employed in jobs that earn lower wages.

While men were more likely to value the convenience offered by the service over the fees, the opposite was true for women. Women therefore tended to find ways to avoid what they felt were unnecessary charges. Also, women were more likely to send mobile money more frequently and in lower amounts than men, leaving them more exposed to transaction fees. This pattern may be explained by women's lower levels of disposable income compared to men, as mentioned earlier on.

Lower confidence and understanding

Women in the study were much less confident than their male counterparts in their ability to make a mobile money transaction. There was a widespread perception, both among men and women that finance and technology are not traditionally female domains leading to the perception that women are less knowledgeable and less confident in these areas. Also, women were less mobile than men, meaning that they were less likely to be exposed to people who transact regularly and to opportunities to learn how to use the service, which fuelled the perceived sense, of both men and women, of lower understanding.

Low levels of trust

Lower levels of understanding of how the mobile money service works, make women less likely to trust the service with their money. Also, women who reported having low trust in the service were likely to complain about negative customer service experiences, or of the negative customer service experienced by others. Finally, more so than men, women preferred to use the bank for larger amounts of money, as banks were perceived to be safer than mobile money. As such, women seemed to be more likely than men to store money on their mobile money account up to a certain amount, at which point they would withdraw the money and deposit it into a bank, deemed more trustworthy with larger sums than mobile money.

In the next blog, I'll explore the reasons why women like using mobile money, and I will compare regular and power users of mobile money, to understand how the barriers impact them differently.

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About the Author

Elisa Minischetti is the GSMA Connected Women Insights Manager. Before joining the GSMA, Elisa worked as an intern at the social enterprise WomenCraft in Ngara, Tanzania, where she contributed as Grant Manager and Budget Analyst. Prior to that, Elisa worked for Europe Direct, Forli', Italy, as a European Trainer and covered roles at the Italian Consulate and at a shipping firm in Germany. Elisa holds a Master's Degree from the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in International Economics and Conflict Management. This degree was a complement to her MA in International Security and Politics from University of Bologna and BA in Political Science and International Relations from University of Siena.

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