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Digital financial products can help close gender gaps that persist around the world, but they need to meet women where they are. Data is a building block to help us understand what women need most to overcome obstacles and seize opportunities.
To shine a spotlight on the role that data plays in supporting women, I spoke with leaders from three financial service providers, Bindu Ananth from Dvara Trust, Verónica Gavilanes from Banco Pichincha, and Buhle Goslar from JUMO. They shared how they’re leveraging data to serve their female customers better by:
Analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs
There’s no question that the pandemic has taken a real toll on the lives of women and has had a critical impact on women-owned businesses. Our partner Banco Pichincha is dedicated to supporting micro and small businesses in Ecuador. Before the pandemic, Banco Pichincha already studied the barriers that their women entrepreneur customers faced through survey data. Because the pandemic has added new challenges, Banco Pichincha is taking action. By analyzing their customer data, they identified how women entrepreneurs, in particular, were struggling, and how they could support them through the crisis. Their loan products that are intended for women consider the barriers that women face and include conditions, requirements, guarantees, and grace periods required to close the gap for women.
As the pandemic progressed, Banco Pichincha also noticed that many of their women entrepreneur clients were adapting their businesses by adding things like delivery services using motorbikes and digital e-commerce platforms. Banco Pichincha started to offer flexible support for these small businesses to reinvent themselves. As Verónica Gavilanes, General Manager of Microfinance at Banco Pichincha, remarked, “In every place in the world, women are very resilient and seek alternatives to move forward, so we wanted to fund activities that were suitable for the pandemic. We have almost 40 percent of women who reinvented their businesses to seek these opportunities in the market.”
Applying a holistic lens to data
Financial service providers can’t use data alone to drive impact, especially for women. They also need to consider the real-world context. JUMO is a tech company founded to create a financial services platform for people who don’t have access to financial products in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Pakistan. To address the digital gender divide present in their markets, JUMO works to understand the barriers that their female customers face. As Buhle Goslar, Africa CEO of JUMO, told us, “To really be able to bring customers who have been left behind into the formal economy and to give them access to these services, we have to have a deep understanding of what’s happening in the real world, not just looking at their digital footprint. Because if you don’t do that, then the data doesn’t make sense.”
When JUMO applied a real-world lens to their customer data, they discovered they weren’t reaching as many women as they anticipated because of structural issues where their customers live and work. Many women in their markets can’t afford phones or internet, and those who can are less likely to use their phones to pay bills and bank online. JUMO decided to reach these women by raising an impact fund to invest in these clients who were being left behind. “You need to be willing to not just look at product innovation, but also business model innovation if you want to use your data insights to open up opportunity for more people,” says Buhle.
Dvara Trust is the founding promoter of Dvara KGFS, a rural-focused non-banking finance company in India. Dvara KGFS uses a combination of traditional, physical branches and digital banking to bring credit, savings, and insurance to rural communities in India, and the majority of their nearly one million clients are women. Dvara Trust uses data from their customers’ lives to build a model based on a deep understanding of their needs. When customers enroll, they share their goals, challenges, and household circumstances. Dvara uses this information and transaction data to determine how their services are working. And when customers provide negative feedback, Dvara’s team analyzes it to identify access issues or specific channels and agents that aren’t serving women well. Taking a step back and considering the full picture of a customer’s experience gives providers insight into the needs of the people they serve and can uncover systemic issues that are holding women back.
Giving women ownership of their data
The more that women use digital platforms to manage their personal finances, business transactions, and savings, the wider their digital footprint. The financial records and data within this footprint can help women get loans and other services, especially when they don’t have a previous credit history. When women build their digital footprint across different platforms, it can become fragmented and less valuable, so we must find ways to weave all of this information together. “There’s a conversation to be had about how we move away from data silos to data flow, [to] allow women to really own the value of their digital footprint so that we don’t just have the providers monetizing and enjoying the benefits of the data, but that the end-user — the consumer — is also sharing in those benefits,” says Buhle.
As all of these data sources continue to grow, Dvara Trust emphasizes the need for data privacy and data protection to protect the consumer and ensure that data benefits the customer and not just the provider. “Financial services industry can benefit from data, but providers must ensure that the value is passed onto customers and that they can have control and privacy,” says Bindu Ananth, Co-founder and Chair of Dvara Trust. For women to own and benefit from their digital footprints, they need platforms that avoid creating data siloes while prioritizing data privacy and security.
Data gives financial providers a powerful tool to bridge the gender gaps and reach more women. But companies should be careful when wielding this power and be ready to correct course if the data is duplicating the gender bias in society at large or otherwise not benefitting the customers it’s meant to help. “The purpose of the system is what it does. So, if it’s excluding people, that’s because it was designed to exclude people. The way we think about product at JUMO is that we need to build a system that is deliberately designed to be inclusive. One of the ways in which we have done this is not about technology or the data, it’s about our customer principles which embody our theory of change and how we would like the world to be,” says Buhle.
Watch our full discussion here to hear more about how Banco Pichincha, JUMO, and Dvara Trust are using data to open opportunity for women.