CNN  | Banks around the world are cashing in on an untapped market — women. And it’s transforming their lives

October 16, 2018

At her food stall in the largest open-air market in Lagos, Nigeria, Amaka Charles regularly checks her cell phone for her bank account balance. She is saving for her daughter’s school fees and dreaming of a loan to expand her business beyond crayfish.

Every day, she passes her few dollars of profit to Celestina, the bank agent who roams the market to collect vendors’ deposits. Charles calls if Celestina is late — she does not want to leave without trading her profit for the “bing” her cell phone makes each time her latest deposit is received.

Before she opened her BETA account with Diamond Bank, Charles stashed her cash in a drawer or entrusted it to an informal collector who, as part of a traditional neighborhood savings program, kept a tally of vendors’ savings in a little notebook. Neither method was especially reliable or secure — Charles often feared the collector would run away with her money. Now, with Celestina and the BETA savings account, she watches her daughter’s backpack bob on her way to school and plans for the future.

Access to financial services like bank accounts and digital payments can change the lives of women like Charles by allowing them to invest in their families’ health and education, borrow to grow their business, and build a cushion to better manage emergencies. Such access can improve women’s earning potential, help them escape poverty, and reduce inequality across the globe.

Yet close to one billion women around the world have no access to savings, credit or insurance, according to the World Bank’s Global Findex report. And even as the number of people opening bank accounts increases globally, the gap between male and female account holders in developing countries has stubbornly remained for nearly a decade. In Nigeria, 24% fewer women own bank accounts than men; in Bangladesh, it’s 29%. But in India, the groundbreaking digital national identification system helped reduce the gender gap between account holders from 20% in 2014 to just 6% in 2017.

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