What you need to know about women in India to serve them with digital financial services

August 7, 2017

One in four of the world’s financially excluded women are in India. This means that if institutions like Women’s World Banking who are in the business of women’s financial inclusion, focused all our efforts in just that one country, we would be a quarter of the way toward achieving our goal.

Women and Digital Access: India. Women's World Banking. 2017.
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Thankfully, the wind is behind our sails. The current government, under Prime Minister Narenda Modi launched Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), a massive national initiative to bring all Indians access to financial services. In addition, the government introduced Aadhar, a biometric identification system that is the world’s largest as of this writing. Identification is often one of the biggest barriers to  exercising one’s rights (such as the right to vote) and accessing basic services (such as receiving government services or opening a bank account). Lack of ID is an issue disproportionately affecting women, so Aadhar has the potential to accelerate Indian women’s inclusion in the economy and society at large.

Technology is one particularly powerful trend in the right direction. Lowered costs of mobile phone technology and the explosion of financial technology companies (facilitated by the information and access made available by Aadhar) are opening up new paths to bring all women in India, rich or poor, into the formal financial sector. But there is a big but.

Women’s World Banking’s nearly forty years experience developing solutions for women’s financial inclusion with our partners around the world has shown that without an explicit focus on including women, they can get left behind. Digital financial services in particular has shown that while it is effective in closing the financial inclusion gap, it can actually widen the financial inclusion gender gap. According to our CEO, Mary Ellen Iskenderian:

While account penetration increased from 35% in 2011 to 53% in 2014 according to the World Bank’s Global Findex, the financial inclusion gender gap actually increased from 17% to 20% during that same time period. Much of the increase in India’s overall financial inclusion was driven by mobile technology; so rather than serving as a fast track to financial inclusion for everybody, digital actually widened the divide between men and women.

Why Build a Women-Friendly Digital India. Women's World Banking. 2017.
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Capitalizing on the tremendous potential posed by all these positive trends requires all stakeholders–government, private sector institutions, nonprofits–to understand India’s women, the challenges they face and where the most potent areas for intervention are. With support from S&P and Goldman Sachs, Women’s World Banking deployed our market intelligence research approach in India last year to develop a profile of India’s low-income women and to identify the most promising opportunities for reaching them with financial services. We created an infographic and downloadable brochure that gives our high-level findings of the conditions low-income women in India face when it comes to financial services and accessing digital technology, as well as the opportunities and challenges public and private sector players need to address in order to effectively serve this market and make sure they are part of the burgeoning digital economy.