SME Finance Forum and Women’s World Banking’s hosted panel explores how financial service providers can leverage business support services to empower women-led businesses with the skills, networks, and resources needed to reach their growth potential.

For micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), monetary support is not the sole determinant of success. Non-financial support can be just as critical, offering considerable benefits for their sustainability and growth. Drawing from experiences at their respective financial service institutions, a panel of finance and SME experts invited by the SME Finance Forum discussed some of the diverse and innovative business support services they have offered women-led MSMEs and the impact these services have had.

Marina Dimova, Global Head of Financial Industry Network Advocacy was joined by Abiola Nejo, Head of Women’s Banking, Wema Bank Nigeria; Maria Fernanda Escobar Posada, Marketing Manager, Banco W Colombia; Daniela Konietzko, President, Fundación WWB Colombia; and Roshaneh Zafar, Founder and Managing Director, Kashf Foundation Pakistan. Matthew Gamser, CEO of the SME Finance Forum, moderated the webinar.

Panelists highlighted the value of networking and mentorship for women-led MSMEs, noting that women entrepreneurs generally have less access to these opportunities. Wema Bank’s Sara by Wema proposition is an example of this, creating formal and informal networking opportunities for women entrepreneurs. Existing staff and customers, also serve as mentors. According to Abiola Nejo,  having a network of peers can be incredibly beneficial for women entrepreneurs, allowing them to share best practices, seek business advice, and most importantly, gain confidence in their abilities – thus providing mental support for these women. While business support services can open up opportunities for women-led MSMEs, she emphasized that they also add value to the financial institutions that offer them. Wema Bank embeds business support services in its overall strategic objective and not relegated as an add-on.

Panelists also discussed the importance of having strong customer relationship management (CRM), particularly to understand and respond to women customers’ needs. In its work with Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), Women’s World Banking helped the Bank optimize and streamline its relationship management model by putting in place a system with one dedicated point person per customer, which helped women customers feel heard. Women’s World Banking also adapted KCB’s Biashara (“Business”) Club CRM system to track customer areas of interest and event attendance. Ultimately, this allowed KCB to tailor its offerings, such as seminars and workshops, according to customer needs and increase customer engagement. Further, KCB was able to increase the number of customers who were part of club, as well as the number of women-led businesses in the club.

Digital tools can be another effective way for financial service providers to support business customers. For example, in its digital magazine, Banco W in Colombia highlights the real stories of microentrepreneur customers, allowing others to learn from their challenges. Banco W also provides an exclusive “classifieds” space on its website, where customers can advertise their products or services and generate visibility and new sales opportunities for their businesses.

As more financial institutions have worked to make their products and services digitally available, it is essential to strengthen the development of personal and business skills of the entrepreneurs, especially those in conditions of socioeconomic vulnerability. Fundación WWB Colombia delivers training programs in entrepreneurship, financial and digital education and leadership. During the Covid-19 lockdown, they provided technical assistance focused not only on strengthening businesses but also on developing people’s capacities to use information and communications technologies as necessary channels to access information, training and sales.

Educational initiatives can also play an important role in supporting women-led businesses, as highlighted by the Kashf Foundation in Pakistan. Kashf established a business development training program to help women customers run a successful business, focusing on marketing tools and techniques, building networks, and improving negotiation and communication skills. Kashf found that, for women business owners who received training, their returns on income and revenue were 30 percent higher than women who had not been trained. In addition, Kashf set out to tackle the broader challenges of societal gender norms, working with TV directors and actors to develop soap opera storylines that addressed women’s economic empowerment and questioned norms, such as underage marriage, that perpetuate the cycle of women’s poverty.

Click here to listen to the virtual webinar on “Beyond Funding, What Do Women Need to Advance Their Businesses?