India has made a huge amount of progress in the last-mile delivery of banking services to underserved communities. The opening of Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) accounts has provided millions of Indians with access to at least a basic account. Since its launch in 2014, the number of PMJDY accounts opened has tripled from 147.2 million in March 2015 to 462 million by June 2022. 56% of these accounts, more than 260 million (roughly the entire population of Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country), are owned by women. Meanwhile, 67% of all account holders live in rural and semi-urban areas, making rural women a significant customer segment. While many of these women are actively using their PMJDY accounts, they are doing so only to access the benefit transfers they receive from government initiatives, which means that they are simply cashing out their benefits. They are not using their PMJDY accounts to deepen their financial engagement, such as to save, build account and credit histories, or to access other financial products such as microinsurance, pensions, or micro-loans.

There are many reasons for this. First, rural women have few sources of income that they can call their own. Even when they participate in their family’s agricultural activities, they do not identify it as contributing to their family income. Second, women do not participate in household financial decision-making and do not have a say in the utilization of direct benefit transfers (DBTs) in their PMJDY accounts, thus, do not see value in banking services. Third, despite being able to save some, many women believe that their savings are not worth depositing in a formal account. Finally, while banks have invested in developing a network of business correspondents (BCs) to provide last-mile banking services, not all BCs have the skills to engage with women PMJDY account holders beyond providing them access to government benefit transfer.

These low-income rural women could become a significant new commercial segment for banks if they can develop a level of trust and relevance with them. Research shows that women save their money informally, and our work alongside the Bank of Baroda (one of India’s largest public sector banks) demonstrates that they will adopt a range of financial products and services and become long-term customers if the right environment is created.

Is the business case there for banks? Yes. Women’s World Banking estimates that 100 million low-income women initiating a habit of small-scale savings can potentially unlock an estimated USD 3.2 billion in deposits while disbursing approximately USD 1.25 billion in overdrafts (OD) to 20 million beneficiaries.

To test this, Women’s World Banking and the Bank of Baroda rolled out Jan Dhan Plus, a solution that encourages low-income women to save regularly in their PMJDY accounts. The Jan Dhan Plus solution was first piloted in BoB branches in urban cities including Chennai, Mumbai, and Delhi in 2019. Based on this pilot, we extended the solution to BoB’s rural and peri-urban branches in the Shahjahanpur region of Uttar Pradesh with some modifications in 2021. By March of 2022, it was evident to the bank that there was potential to scale this solution, so the program was rolled out to the entire state of Uttarakhand and western Uttar Pradesh.

This report provides insights into the behaviors and attitudes of women PMJDY account holders and identifies ways to help them engage with their accounts. It also discusses the barriers that agents, both BCs and community-level women agents, under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission known as BC Sakhis, face in increasing their customer base, getting women to engage with their accounts, and cross-selling other banking products and services to grow their business. The report outlines different ways in which all agents can be made more relationship-oriented and productive. The outcomes from the Jan Dhan Plus solution that we piloted are proof that taking a gender-intentional approach is critical in accelerating efforts toward comprehensive financial inclusion.

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