A recent study by Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) argues for digital financial inclusion of women across the world to help them gain financial independence:
While more than 240 million more women now have accounts with financial institutions or mobile money services, compared to 2014, there remains much work to do to achieve gender equality in financial services, finds a recent study by Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI), an inclusive platform for G20 countries. Its noted that approximately 1 billion women do not have access to formal financial services due to persistent barriers in access to identification documents, mobile phones, digital skills, financial capability, as well as inappropriate products, and more. And these challenges are compounded by laws and norms that can undermine a woman’s right to participate in the labor force, control assets, establish and access funding to grow formal businesses, and, ultimately, make her own economic decisions.
It says: “Women’s economic participation is still unequal in both advanced and emerging economies and they are found to be disproportionately affected by the covid crisis. Thus, prioritization for women should be reflected in policy and programmatic responses, including efforts to support women’s financial resilience as they are impacted by and recover from covid and the associated economic challenges.”
Depending on the country context, cultural environment, available infrastructure and resources, the study has suggested a range of solutions to remove barriers to digital financial inclusion of women. And these solutions address the 3 main categories of barriers to accessing financial services for women and girls – lack of access to the basic requirements for financial inclusion, limited digital financial infrastructure and unequal laws and regulations.
The report has suggested various policy options to provide guidance for national, regional and global stakeholders that can help close the gender gap in financial inclusion, empower women and strengthen economies.
ACCESS TO DFS
Policy options for strengthening access to digital financial services (DFS) are:
(i) Supporting making official identity systems and documents universally accessible to all women and girls. Globally, it has been found that 1 in 5 unbanked women say a lack of ID is one of the reasons they do not have an account. Countries should work toward removing barriers to women’s access to the official ID and eliminate policies that impose extraneous conditions on adult women using IDs to access financial services, such as requirements to provide identity documentation for a related male (husband or guardian) as well as their own. Digital ID that is both technically reliable and subject to appropriate and effective governance, privacy, civil rights, and inclusiveness safeguards is a critical driver for obtaining DFS and can prove easier for women to use as well.
(ii) Facilitating women’s universal ownership of mobile phones as financial services increasingly depend on access to technology, such as mobile phones, tablets, computers, and other devices to access DFS and a reliable electricity grid. Mobile phones provide a channel for rapid expansion of DFS, since many of those who lack access to formal finance have a phone. However, a gender gap in mobile phone ownership exists in many countries.
Policy options to overcome limited digital financial infrastructure are:
(i) Enabling inclusive, interoperable digital financial payments services that contribute to gender equality and help build a trustworthy, robust digital financial system by promoting efforts for deploying infrastructure and protocols for government digital payments to women that are competitive and interoperable with private-sector payment systems. Keys to building an inclusive digital payments ecosystem are competition and interoperability – the ability to send money to or receive it from another person even if they use a different financial service provider. Governments should promote competition for digital financial products and services and implement global good practices to support competition and consumer choice.
(ii) Supporting mechanisms for enabling government payments to women to be directly deposited into digital accounts that are easily accessible and under the women’s control, allowing a range of digital financial transactions including payments to governments as well as firms. Millions of unbanked women globally receive regular cash payments from their governments – and digitizing these payments is a proven way to help boost financial inclusion.
(iii) Leveraging technology and behavioral insights to strengthen women’s digital skills and financial capability. While there are many potential benefits for women from access to, and use of, DFS, there are also potential risks, hence women consumers of DFS need the digital skills and confidence to engage with technology and make financial decisions that will promote their welfare and help them avoid financial fraud. Technology can also create opportunities to reduce costs with targeted and timely interventions that can improve decision-making and financial behaviors.
(iv) Supporting comprehensive consumer protections that address women’s needs, including requirements to disclose product prices and terms in clear language and appropriate measures to ensure data privacy and security. This will reduce the risks from digital finance by making it easier to identify whether a given product/service is fit for its intended use, appropriate for the particular consumer’s needs, fairly priced and secure, as well as to compare options, seek redress and ensure women’s financial privacy and safety.
Policy options for supporting efforts to overcome barriers to equal treatment of women, which can be embedded in laws, regulations, and institutional norms are:
(i) Reforming discriminatory laws and taking actions to promote women’s full economic and financial participation. Legal barriers to gender equality correlate with low levels of women’s financial inclusion and labor force participation. Increasing women’s economic participation starts with abolishing legal discrimination against women.
(ii) Encouraging and providing appropriate incentives for financial service providers that may increase the representation of women working in financial institutions and financial access points and in decision-making positions. Research in developed and developing countries shows the importance of women in client-facing roles in financial services. It has also been found that women use financial services more often and effectively when they are served by female bank employees.
(iii) Supporting national financial inclusion strategies that address both women’s and men’s experiences and needs in all aspects. Many governments have adopted policies explicitly aimed at increasing financial inclusion. These policies can improve access to and use of digital finance, including by women, by taking a comprehensive, inclusive approach that involves all relevant stakeholders in the public sector, the private sector, and technology solutions.
(i) Supporting work towards financial institutions providing anonymized sex-disaggregated data as part of reporting requirements, making this data available publicly, and using it to address the needs of women in product design and/or marketing. Sex-disaggregated data may be needed to create a baseline, establish targets and monitor progress. Data can also provide insights into which policies are having the greatest impact, or which markets, providers or localities are accelerating progress or lagging behind and need additional support.
Though the report is specific to G20 members, it suggests that other governments should rapidly work towards digital financial inclusion of all women. “They will not only drive women’s greater economic participation but will also benefit their whole economies,” it says.
The report points out that 2 countries with programs that focus on women are India and Peru, where near-universal ID coverage has made it possible to provide financial transfers targeted to women. Noting specifically about India, it says in the country, “more than 200 million women who opened accounts as part of a government policy to facilitate account ownership are receiving for the first time a Direct Benefit Transfer of approximately $20 over 3 months.”
The study found that:
- Women whose wages were paid into their own DFS accounts increased their labor force participation and control over their money
- DFS payments to women have increased cost and time savings
- DFS have improved women’s ability to make business investments
- Digital products meet women’s safety needs
- DFS improve women’s ability to manage in a crisis
PRAISE FOR GRIEVANCE REDRESSAL
The GPFI study makes a specific mention about the grievance redressal mechanisms in the Indian financial services segment. It says: “India has witnessed a substantial rise in the volume and value of digital financial transactions. Alongside the growth in digital transactions, the number of complaints has also grown and therefore, necessitate better redressal mechanisms.
The complaints received in the Offices of the Banking Ombudsman corroborate this observation. The percentage share of digital complaints to total complaints in the OBOs increased from 28% in 2017-18 to 33% in 2018-19. Therefore, the Reserve Bank of India has implemented several redress mechanisms. The first, the Banking Ombudsman Scheme has incorporated Mobile/ Electronic Banking as valid ground of complaint as of 1 July 2017 and as many as 64,607 complaints pertaining to digital services were received 2018-19. Second, it has mandated a dedicated Ombudsman Scheme for Digital Transactions which was launched on 31 January 2019. Third, all non-bank issuers of Prepaid Payment Instruments (PPIs) with more than 10 million outstanding PPIs as on 31 March 2019 have been mandated to appoint an Internal Ombudsman (IO). (Banks with more than 10 banking outlets in India have to appoint IO.)
The IO is an independent authority at the apex of the entity’s grievance redressal system. The opinion of the IO is binding on the NSPs. Lastly, the country has launched a Complaints Management System (CMS), a state-of-the-art application to digitize its grievance redressal process and aid seamless flow of information amongst the participants like banks, NBFCs, System Participants, etc. Out of the total number of complaints lodged on the CMS portal, where sex-disaggregated data is available, 17% were from women. The complaints were lodged from 24 June 2019, when the CMS was launched, to 17 June 2020.