Are Women Left Behind in Mobile Financial Services?

One of the potential benefits of mobile financial services for women is the shorter average travel distance to carry out a transaction. In cultures where women tend to stay near their home or neighborhood, mobile financial services can be a significant value-add. The Global Findex shows that men in sub-Saharan Africa are about 25 percent more likely than women to have an account at a mobile financial institution. Similarly, women are much less likely to transact through a mobile phone. However, in breaking down the numbers by country (both within and outside sub-Saharan Africa) we see some interesting trends – women are not always left behind in access to and use of mobile financial services.

Our interviews in India about this topic revealed that in the markets with the greatest gender gaps, many women do not actually own a mobile phone. Instead, they own a SIM card and borrow a mobile phone when they need one and it is available. For microfinance institutions that are seeking to enrich their interactions with customers through increased mobile communication, this trend of women not owning a phone poses a serious problem.

Women represent a large potential profit margin for mobile network operators (MNOs). GSMA estimates that closing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage could add a whopping $170 billion to the mobile industry by 2020. In South Asia alone, closing this gap could potentially generate $23 billion in only five years. Some MNOs are effectively capitalizing on this market through data analysis and product customization. To take advantage of this profit-making opportunity, and to increase opportunity and inclusion for women, MNOs should invest time and money into tapping the women’s market, paving the way for greater support for women through mobile financial services.