by Richard Chamboko, IFC-Mastercard Foundation Partnership for Financial Inclusion, for the Responsible Finance Forum Blog August 2018

 Increasingly, evidence is showing that the use for Digital Financial Services (DFS) especially among women is bearing massive benefits. A recent study conducted in Kenya demonstrated that access to mobile money services helped women-headed households to reduce extreme poverty and provided opportunities to change livelihoods from farming to other retails services (Suri and Jack, 2016). Despite the compelling evidence on the importance of financial inclusion for women, especially with digital financial services, the gender gap in financial inclusion remains unchanged since 2011, with 65 percent of women compared to 72 percent men having an account. Inclusion is a key aspect of responsible finance. It is therefore essential for any financial system to ensure that efforts are made to allow the participation of marginalized groups including women. Embracing and advancing the use of data and analytics is one way financial services providers (FSPs) can increase the inclusion of women and harness the benefits thereof.

The use of data and analytics can help to nuance and enhance the understanding of clients and markets, which in turn can help a provider to develop products and services that are aligned with customer needs. Gender lensed insights can help to reveal the needs and perspectives of women, and how these differ from those of men to inform the design of targeted products. The same can also be applied to get to the roots of what drives or hinder women from taking up and using DFS as well as understanding the nature and patterns of use (financial behavior) to better tailor services. In this post, we highlight some of the gender lensed insights that FSPs in the region need to be cognizant of when designing and providing DFS to onboard women.

What drives the up-take and use of DFS differ between men and women

Social economic status (education and income) remain low among women. In many instances women cite the lack of money as the primary reason why they do not engage financial services, which reflects the labor force participation of women in the region. Besides, the level of education or literacy and technological appropriation also impact the ability and level of comfort when engaging digital financial services. This emphasizes the fact that including women who in many instances are less educated than men would require simple, sms-based financial transactions and not app-based ones.

Access to phones and connectivity remain a challenge for women in SSA. As websites, mobile phones and apps are increasingly being used to access financial services in SSA, especially to make payments, it is unfortunate that women are still left behind on access to such technology. Specifically, there is a 13% gender gap in mobile phone ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa. Besides, when women own mobile phones, their terminals tend to be older and cheaper than those used by men and have limited access to internet than men. This holds an important lesson for FSPs seeking to include women – the services offered need to be tailored to the type of terminals and technology women are more likely to own and use.

Women in SSA are less aware of DFS than men and rely on social networks for information. Men and women in the region rely on different sources of information on the existence and functioning of financial products. Women tend to rely more on friends and family for information about mobile money and are less likely to get that from the radio or TV compared to men. Evidence from various countries point to the fact that men are more likely to be informed about mobile money and other financial services than women. FSPs therefore need to understand these information gaps, the mediums and consider utilizing the networks through referrals, testimonials or ratings to onboard more women.

 The extent, nature and patterns of DFS usage differ between men and women

Besides having low account ownership among women in SSA, when women sign up for mobile money services, they use these services less frequently than men. This could be partly because women also engage with informal financial services more than men. We also find that women are more likely to use mobile money to receive money than men and are less likely to use it to send money compared to men. This pattern reflects the limited participation of women in the labor force in the region and the seasonal migration to urban areas or mining towns for work by men leaving wives and children at the village. In terms of savings, evidence shows that women tend to deposit money and save with mobile money more than men. However, we also find that women are less likely to borrow from formal institutions than men. When they do so, due to a low asset base for collateral, women experience difficult loan conditions than men including shorter terms and high interest rates, yet they are less risker than men. This brings to the fore that the real competition for digital loans among women lies in informal lending products. We therefore stress that understanding women’s needs and use cases is pivotal to the design of products and services that are appealing to women.


Even through great strides have been made to advance the inclusion of women, especially with the advent of DFS in SSA, the gender gap remains. Addressing gender bias is fundamental to close the financial inclusion gender gap and doing so is not only a social good, but it is also good practice and responsible finance. One way for institutions to do so, is to rely on data. Gender data and gender lensed data analytics offer insights into how and who is using financial products and make the case for customized products for women.

Note: Detailed case-studies on how data analytics can be used to advance the adoption and use of DFS are presented 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].