New research finds that key to women-led business growth lies in tailored financial services

December 1, 2020

Important findings for post-COVD recovery show how a mix of financial and business support from Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) empowered women-owned MSMEs

Nairobi, December 1, 2020 – Financial institutions need to tailor financial services to support women business customers and fuel women-led micro, small, and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) growth according to a newly published report from Women’s World Banking, a global authority on women’s financial inclusion. This conclusion draws from a recently-released study that assessed Kenya Commercial Bank’s (KCB) small business loan offerings and their impact on customer growth.

According to the IFC, more than 20 percent of working-age women in Sub-Saharan Africa are entrepreneurs; however this segment in particular finds it hard to access finance, with a $1.7 tn dollar financing gap for women-owned SMEs worldwide, which is roughly the size of Canada’s economy. MSMEs are also especially vulnerable to economic and political shocks, given reliance on transactional customs, lack of capital and savings, and informal supply chains. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused significant economic setbacks globally, the report highlights that financial institutions have an important role to play in advancing outcomes for women-led MSMEs. The research also finds that supporting women customers drives institutional profits, which can lead to positive steps toward overall economic recovery.

“The MSME sector is a major driver of socioeconomic development in Kenya, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. MSMEs provide 50 percent of Kenya’s employment and contribute 28.5 percent of its GDP in 2016,” says Women’s World Banking Sonja Kelly, Director of Research and Advocacy. “However, access to finance is a far greater challenge for women-owned MSMEs. In 2017, there was a 30 percent gap in financing between men and women-owned businesses. Women-owned MSMEs are ‘thin file,’ meaning they have limited formalized business documentation or credit history on which to lend. Our research assessed the impact of an effort to change this imbalance.”

Women’s World Banking partnered with KCB from 2016 to 2019 to study the effects of offering financial and business support services for women-led MSMEs in Kenya. The intervention included four components: relationship management focused on business customers, a new cash flow-based credit assessment methodology, additional non-financial business support services, and a specific gender focus in the deployment of the intervention. Women’s World Banking coupled this intervention with a mixed-methods evaluation, collecting data from almost 600 MSME customers over three years.

The research found that in the short term, KCB’s program expanded access to a range of services for women-led MSMEs, increased customer satisfaction with the institution, and drove profit. In the long term, the program contributed to the business growth of MSMEs and supported the economic empowerment of women business owners, providing a roadmap to financial institutions in Kenya and other regional markets on how to improve services to the MSME segment.

By the end of December 2019, KCB had disbursed 3,767 loans valuing KES 10.8 billion (about $98 million U.S. dollars) under the new approach, with a net profit loss of only 1.5%. Under the initiative, KCB opened 75,683 accounts with a total of KES 8.9 billion ($82 million U.S. dollars) in deposits. Further, the majority of enterprises that received loans from KCB under the new proposition experienced growth both in terms of revenue and number of employees, with a median annualized growth rate of 10%.

The report also suggests that enhanced services for MSMEs can support business objectives of a financial institution and positively impact MSME growth. For KCB, the new proposition enabled them to maintain their MSME portfolio in the face of a challenging lending environment, and ensure the quality of that portfolio in terms of repayment.

Overall, under this program, lending to women increased, and customers felt that the financial institution was addressing their business needs. Not only did KCB increase support and satisfaction for its women business customers, it also begin tracking gender among their MSME customers, and as a result has more data with which to make decisions that will increase success among women entrepreneurs. This effort has increased the proportion of loans the bank now offers women – 51% of loans now go to women-led MSMEs, compared to 22% in 2015.

“I am thrilled that we are making public this research because it accurately describes our commitment to women-centered product design and evaluates our success against our goals,” said KCB’s Mr. Oigara in the foreword for the report. “Using the findings, financial services providers can learn from our example. We hope this collaboration with Women’s World Banking inspires ambitious goals for women’s financial inclusion. Most importantly, we hope this spurs action toward women’s economic empowerment and business development.”

In its conclusion, the report emphasizes that the recommendations discussed could support socially-focused financial services providers (FSPs) to pursue one of the most elusive challenges in financial inclusion — how to facilitate growth of MSMEs. However, institutions can also encourage positive growth in businesses and a number of other economic empowerment indicators among women-owned MSMEs.

To access Empowering MSMEs: Creating a Better Banking Experience for Women-Led Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises in Kenya, please visit: 



About Women’s World Banking

Women’s World Banking designs and invests in the financial solutions, institutions, and policy environments in emerging markets to create greater economic stability and prosperity for women, their families, and their communities. With a global reach of 51 partners in 28 countries serving more than 67 million women clients, Women’s World Banking drives impact through its scalable, market-driven solutions; gender-lens private equity fund; and leadership and diversity programs. To learn more about Women’s World Banking, visit

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