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The gender-agnostic approach needs to change

Dr. Jasmine Gupta, National Digital Bank Head at Equitas Small Finance Bank, and National President – Financial Inclusion Council at Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WICCI), shares insights on how financial services can be made women friendly:

Ravi Lalwani: Please share some of your thoughts on innovation in financial products for women?

Jasmine Gupta: Financial products and services have been traditionally designed keeping men in mind. Women are emerging as an important consumer segment, which no industry today can afford to ignore. Women form 48.5% of the country’s population; however, women hold only 32% of total bank accounts. Research suggests that women are important joint decision-makers for the purchase of important products such as gold, home, holiday, car, electronic goods and financial products. Within financial products, women prefer ‘safer’ financial products like gold, bank deposits and life insurance.

Thus, there is immense scope for banks and financial services institutions to tap into this promising segment through innovative products such as savings account bundled with locker facility, preferential rates of interests for home loan or gold loan, free insurance cover, free health check-up and consultation by gynaecologists and mental health experts, free family group accounts, doorstep banking features, etc. Insurance companies have also explored women-specific health insurance policies with in-built pregnancy cover, congenital disability cover, breast and ovarian cancer cover, etc.

Other examples are women special debit cards with additional features like roadside assistance, expense tracking and discounts on shopping, dining, travel, etc. Also women special home loans with preferential rates and insurance features as well as women special trading/investment platforms for analytics-based, personalized, research, and experience-rich investment advice for women are needed. Besides, special current accounts for women startups and women-specific goal-based recurring and savings plan to help achieve women’s life, family and career goals can be ideal. The key to success here is to innovate and provide solutions that address women-specific financial needs and their emotional preferences.

What roles do you see for women with the financial space going digital?

While women belong to the millennials and Gen Z categories are digital savvy, the mobile adoption rate among women in India is low. Only 45% of women in India own mobile phones, as compared to 81% men. Research suggests that women tend to take more time to adapt to new technology. Hence, an assisted digital or physical model works best for women where agents or advisors, BCs or relationship managers create an emotional personal rapport with the customer and guide her through the digital journey. Initiatives such as brand ambassadors and loyalty programs are also important to win women’s trust and confidence.

Digital savings accounts can enable women to save as frequently as possible, in small amounts. Goal-based digital calculators such as RDometer, SIPometer, Investometer, etc, can bridge the knowledge gap and help them make informed, calculated investment decisions easily for their various goals. Since women by nature are risk-averse, digital insurance products bundled with digital savings accounts can be a very useful product proposition for women. Women these days order groceries/apparel sitting at home, the same way they can also manage and transact bank accounts, pay premiums and EMIs sitting at home digitally. Many women are starting their home-based businesses and selling on e-commerce platforms. These are the best use-cases for creating and offering digital credit and payment product solutions. Overall, the women’s success story in the financial digital space is a phygital story.

Do you think we have achieved financial inclusion for women in the true sense?

Melinda Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says, ‘When the government deposits social welfare payments or other subsidies directly into women’s digital bank accounts, the impact is amazing. Women gain decision-making power in their homes and with more financial tools at their disposal they invest in their families’ prosperity and help drive broad economic growth.’

The female share of the workforce in India is 24% and rural women’s employment is higher in agriculture and manufacturing industries. Female literacy is 65% and the gender parity index falls at a higher education level, suggesting women getting dropped out of the education system. As per World Bank Global Findex data, the gender gap in bank account ownership has reduced by 14% in the last 5 years; however, half of these accounts are inactive. Financial inclusion is not just about owning a bank account; it is about saving regularly for future goals, borrowing for personal or business needs, accessing payments or remittances when required. In that sense, a lot needs to be done to achieve financial inclusion for women in its true letter and spirit.

The experience of micro-finance lending to women suggests that women are the best customers. They are more prudent in paying EMIs in time and manage small businesses as well as manage homes under available financial budgets. Women are also good at disciplined savings. Hence, when micro-deposits or recurring deposits linked to life or kids’ goals are offered to them, they are more likely to continue with regular disciplined investment. Apart from being low defaulters and better savers, women are more loyal customers and attach higher emotional value to their relationship with the financial institution that supports them for their financial needs.

Several innovative, digital, and mobile-based solutions bundling micro-loans, micro-savings, micro-insurance, and micro-goal-based deposits through multiple BC-based projects that can reach the remotest corners of the country can help financially include more women and keep them financially engaged. As the non-profit organization Women’s World Banking says, the gender-agnostic approach needs to change.

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