Big Data Means Big Opportunity for Women’s Financial Inclusion in Nigeria

March 20, 2017

By Rokaya Helfer, Board Liaison

Digital platforms collect an enormous amount of “big data” on users’ preferences and behaviors, which help businesses to improve their services or better tailor their products. However, as we’re learning with our project in Nigeria designed to increase women’s use of digital financial services, it takes a lot to go from big data to big insight.

Better data, better service for women

When a bank can understand how its clients are using its products and services, it can adjust product features, ramp up marketing, or design new features that can better serve client needs. At least…that is the goal. In reality, actualizing big data’s potential rests on a business’ ability to effectively collect, report, and analyze this data.

With support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Women’s World Banking is partnering with Diamond Bank and telecommunications company MTN in Nigeria to build understanding of what it takes to make digital financial services work for low-income women. Diamond Y’ello, first launched in Nigeria in 2014, is a mobile-based bank account opened instantly through the customer’s mobile phone in a few simple steps and is available to MTN’s over 63 million subscribers and potential subscribers. At present, the product has approximately 8 million (roughly equal to the population of New York City!) registered users; however, the number of active users remains low, and even lower for women.

The Diamond Y'ello Account

This is a remarkable opportunity: the partnership between Diamond Bank and MTN offers the chance to gain important insights on a significant scale on how well Diamond Y’ello is reaching low-income women and how responsive the product is to their needs. Through analysis of the current Diamond Y’ello customer data, Diamond Bank, MTN, and Women’s World Banking can explore understand how women use the product – from the type and frequency of transactions to her response to outreach and marketing. This knowledge can then inform specific marketing and outreach interventions, product feature designs, training content, or referral programs.

Thus, there is tremendous possibility to use this wealth of information to better serve low-income Nigerian women with digital financial services at remarkable scale. But with this opportunity comes the complex challenges of working with “big data.”

Big data, big headache

Graphic courtesy of The Conversation
Graphic courtesy of The Conversation

Data lives in different places. The volume of information collected by each Diamond Bank and MTN is enormous. However, as distinct institutions—a commercial bank and telecommunications company respectively—they categorize and store their data in different ways. Thus, laborious and sophisticated technical processes are needed to consolidate this important data so that we can explore data patterns and trends, especially as they relate to women’s account usage.

Ensuring high data quality standards is hard. As more users open up Diamond Y’ello accounts and as regulatory requirements change, it can be difficult to maintain updated, accurate, and clean datasets.  Data quality and regulatory compliance must constantly be monitored, leading to the need for fixes applied retroactively and to new data going forward.

Identifying and collecting relevant data can be tricky. Ensuring that the data collected are relevant and meaningful is key: details such as the timing at which clients send and receive messages or respond to SMS marketing nudges, can be very important to Diamond Y’ello’s design. Understanding customers’ behavior by analyzing the “right” data will ensure that the product is accessible to both rural and urban women, and takes into account their specific needs as wives, mothers, small business owners, farmers, etc.

Working through these myriad challenges (the three mentioned above are just a sampling) is a difficult task, and one that is by no means isolated to Diamond Y’ello. The trials of working with big data are well-documented. Diamond Bank and MTN are ready to meet this challenge, devoting careful thought and application to the consolidation and analysis of their data. Their commitment to this issue speaks not only to the importance of reaching low-income women in Nigeria, but to the vast potential that digital financial services can offer women, their families, and the institutions willing to reach them worldwide. Harnessing the opportunities presented by big data in order to understand how Diamond Y’ello can better meet women’s financial needs is a key step in Diamond Y’ello becoming a global model for expanding women’s access to, and usage of, digital financial services.