By Fabian Reitzug, International Finance Corporation (IFC)-Mastercard Foundation Partnership for Financial Inclusion. Responsible Finance Forum Blog October 2018.

Ms. Muyenga owns two grocery stalls and a catering business in a Zambian Copper belt town. She earns too little to open a bank account, but discovered that with digital financial services, she could save money on her phone. This enabled her to invest and successfully grow her fritter business.[1]

The success story of Ms. Muyenga is one among many – digital financial services (DFS) have benefitted millions of women all over the African continent and enabled them to start and grow their businesses. Beyond the anecdotal, quantitative research from Kenya clearly demonstrates the benefits of mobile money for female-headed households, enabling women to escape poverty and move from agriculture into commerce (Jack and Suri, 2016).

Promoting the financial inclusion of women is part of responsible finance and should be embedded into business functions such as customer acquisition, product design, and delivery channels of financial service providers (FSPs). But how concretely can FSPs expand access to women and close the gender gap in DFS?

This post argues that gender-lensed data analytics can contribute to women’s inclusion by informing the delivery and design of services that are responsive to women’s needs and concerns. An IFC data analytics project in Congo (DRC) showcases how this can be achieved.

Using customer transaction data to understand gendered usage patterns

The gender gap in DFS has two facets: uptake and usage. In a recent post in this blog series, Richard Chamboko succinctly summarized the challenges women face in DFS adoption. These include lower socio-economic status and education, access to mobile phones (where there is a 15% gap in Sub-Saharan Africa), lower digital and financial literacy, and lack of awareness of DFS. Evidently, closing the gender gap requires doing away with the account ownership gap: In the eight African countries with highest share of mobile money accounts, the gender gap in combined financial institutions and mobile money accounts still ranges between 5 and 15 percentage points (World Bank Global Findex, 2017).

But a gender gap exists not only in access to banking services. Even if women adopt DFS, they tend to use them less than men. Analyzing customer transaction data can help to understand how and why usage patterns for female users differ from men, and what FSPs can do about it.

Applying gender-lensed data analytics in DRC

Gender-lensed data analytics requires the availability of relevant data. A 2016 survey by the Alliance for Financial (AFI) inclusion shows that 79% of AFI members collect some form of gender-disaggregated data. FSPs can avail themselves of such existing information to implement gender-lensed data analytics. By showcasing a project in DRC, this post provides a glimpse into the practice-relevant insights such analysis can generate.

For the IFC project presented here, data from 1.3 million customer transactions of a bank-led DFS service in DRC were used to better understand women’s interaction with DFS. Available information included customer and agent demographics, transaction characteristics, and location data.

Insights from the data

The data analytics results shed light onto the gendered usage patterns of DFS in DRC. 

  1. Gender gap among DFS clients: The analysis quantifies the usage gap among the banks’ clients. Females represent 36% of DFS clients, but just 25% of all transactions and their median transaction value is 40 USD – 10 USD below the median value for men. Thus, women use DFS less frequently and make lower-value transactions.
  2. Preference for female agents: Women have a predisposition for transacting with agents of their gender. Women agents have 6 percentage points more female customers than male agents (Figure 1). The preference for female agents is particularly pronounced for high value transactions: If a transaction is over 200 USD, women are 13 percentage points more likely to visit a female agent. The difference shrinks to a mere 2 percentage points for transactions below 10 USD. A possible explanation is trust – females seem to place higher confidence in women agents and transact with them more – especially when it matters, i.e. when amounts are large.
  3. Few female agents: While women have a clear preference for female agents, women agents are relatively scarce. Their share within the bank’s network varies between market areas (see Figure 2), but on average, only 25% of agents are women. The likely consequence: women have to travel further to transact with an agent of their gender – and travel is costly in terms of money and opportunity costs. Hence, the lack of female agents may represent a barrier for women’s usage of DFS.

The practical implications for FSPs

The gender-lensed insights from DRC can be put into service for advancing women’s financial inclusion. Results suggest that agent networks where women have the opportunity to transact with a female agent in proximity can facilitate usage of DFS. The straight-forward operational implication is that FSPs should strive for sufficient female representation among their agents. Recruiting more women for agent positions may require careful reconsideration of existing hiring requirements. Because women are less likely to meet conditions such as minimum capital requirements, having a bank account and a registered business, they are often not on equal footing with men when it comes to registering as an agent.

The data analytics insights also suggest that trust is a factor that impacts women’s usage of DFS. This finding squares with ethnographic research by the IFC-Mastercard Foundation Partnership, showing how trust affects usage, perceptions, and attitudes towards DFS. As a result, educating women about financial services and ensuring that their needs are met, represent promising avenues to foster women’s trust and usage of DFS.


IFC’s work in DRC provides a concrete example of how data analytics provides insight into gendered usage patterns, generating knowledge to support FSPs in making decisions that narrow the gender gap in DFS. Improving women’s usage should complement equally important strides to reduce barriers to DFS adoption. Gender-lensed data analytics highlights the central role of women agents and trust for service use. The project provides a use case for how FSPs can leverage data to advance responsible finance and financial inclusion. This will enable Africa to have more empowered women like Ms. Muyenga in the future.

[1] Ms. Muyenga’s story is part of an ethnographic study on DFS perceptions conducted by the IFC-Mastercard Foundation Partnership. The study is available here.

Note: More case-studies and guidance on how data analytics can be used to advance DFS adoption and use is available in the Data Analytics and Digital Financial Services Handbook (June, 2017 ( For detailed insights on gender and DFS, stay tuned to the forthcoming report from the IFC-Mastercard Foundation Partnership for Financial Inclusion: Women and digital financial services in Sub-Saharan Africa.