Are Financial Institutions Serving Women Well?

June 4, 2013

In this blog post, Women’s World Banking President and CEO Mary Ellen Iskenderian discusses the importance of not just providing tools and resources to promote women’s financial inclusion, but also of serving them well and what this means.

Are Financial Institutions Serving Women Well?

When a financial institution reaches out to us and tells us they are starting to see the value of serving low-income women but don’t know how to begin, we are of course pleased that institutions are starting to recognize what Women’s World Banking has known for more than 30 years. The expansion of financial institutions serving low-income women is the first step in increasing financial inclusion for women around the world. However, we have to remind institutions that making the commitment to serve low-income women also means making a commitment to serving women well.

What does it mean to serve women well? Is it enough to have an institution with a stated commitment to serving women? Or does an institution have to serve a client base that is proportional to the male-female population in the region? Or are there other factors we need to measure?

For more than 35 years, Women’s World Banking has studied the lives of women — how they earn their income, how they live, how they see themselves, what their goals are, and the constraints within which they operate. From this deep understanding, we partner with institutions to develop innovative financial tools and resources that meet the needs of these women. As the number of women being served increases, the importance of measuring how well we are serving them becomes even more critical. As a way for institutions to measure their success, we developed the Gender Performance Initiative, which includes a comprehensive set of standardized gender performance indicators that financial institutions can use to measure how effectively they are serving women, both as clients and staff.

Not only were these indicators built from our decades of research, but they were tested with three pilot sites from our global network: Ujjivan Financial Services (India), Fundacion delamujer (Colombia), and Finance Trust (Uganda). During the pilot phase, each institution uncovered key insights that led directly to actions to improve their financial and social performance.

For example, for Ujjivan to track family well-being, it collects data on their clients’ children’s age and education levels. It determined that 27 percent of their clients with children aged 9 to 15 had at least one child out of school. By tracking this information over time, Ujjivan can measure the family well-being as well as create education-related products and services. In another approach to measuring improvements in client well-being, Ujjivan is tracking housing conditions and estimates that 34 percent of their clients have a reinforced concrete roof, compared to other less durable materials. One of the other pilot institutions, Fundacion delamujer discovered that the four-year product uptake for agricultural loans was 31 percent for men while only 12 percent for women. Fundacion delamujer is currently developing new rural products that are specifically focused on women farmers.

Early analysis of the pilot sites show actionable ways to improve an institution’s financial and social objectives. As we support the Raise for Women challenge, we call on all financial institutions which aim to serve low-income women to adopt indicators to measure just how well they are serving these clients. Only with this data, can financial institutions make the organizational and product decisions that can make investing in low-income women a profitable and valuable strategy. For more information on Gender Performance Indicators, go to

This post was originally published on the Huffington Post Impact blog.