Women’s World Banking President and CEO Mary Ellen Iskenderian together with EY Senior Manager Justina Alders-Sheya and CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women Sevi Simavi participated in a panel hosted by Women Advancing Microfinance and the Microfinance Club UK to answer “is microfinance – as a tool to empower women – really working?”
Here’s a highlight of Mary Ellen’s remarks:
Our main takeaway from Mary Ellen’s speech was the idea that to serve the poor most efficiently, one has to address women, and this means thinking about the services that women need, because they will be different to men’s. Empowering women is crucial to serving the poor and developing economies, because women make up a far larger proportion of the poor, because a woman is far more likely to make investments back into her community and her children if she earns money – and one aspect of empowerment is through financial inclusion, so that women are increasingly in control of their money and their own decision making and futures. Yet women are facing greater financial exclusion in every geography and across every income level.
The key to Mary Ellen’s message was that in order to support women’s empowerment – we need to make financial services better tailored to women. Her point was that it was becoming clear that women wanted different things to men when it came to financial services.
For example, women want convenience, they greatly value confidentiality, they want more security, they want to trust the organization they are dealing with. Technology can go some way towards addressing these needs – but building trust may mean offering a lot more information to potential female customers because that is what they require to make a decision, it may mean explaining things in a more transparent way and it may mean having female agents.
In Tanzania for example, women are opening bank accounts at the same rate as men, but the main feedback from women there is that it is too easy to spend the money in the accounts – instead they would like restrictions on withdrawing money and incentives to save towards a goal – again a different way of thinking and different needs.
Mary Ellen was also optimistic about digital banking due to the convenience it offers women, the new markets it represents for banks and customer stickiness it offers the mobile operators – many reasons why she thinks digital banking may be a game-changer for financial inclusion.