Benedikt Wahler, Partner
June 16th, 2023
Area Covered:
Financial Inclusion • Women’s Financial Inclusion • Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) • Financial Regulation • Crisis Response • Resilience Building • Research

In times of crisis, Financial Inclusion with a focus on Women is not a distraction but actually a force- multiplier – as highlighted by a new Special Report of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) prepared by CCX. The COVID-19 pandemic has not just been a call to action but also a hotbed of innovation, testing and learning.

A new Special Report published by AFI, analyses the global set of experiences of financial sector policymakers, regulators and financial institutions, and provides recommendations: financial inclusion policy, particularly with a focus on Gender Inclusive Finance (GIF) leads to more effective policy response when a crisis is on as well as faster recovery and better resilience to future crises. In other words: a focus on women is the way to Build Back Better in the financial sector.

Gaps between women and men in the access to and usage of formal financial services, such as bank accounts, credit facilities, and insurance remain large and in a few regions were even growing. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Gender Inclusive Finance (GIF), therefore, was a policy priority in many emerging markets. Already in 2016, the members of the Alliance for Finance Inclusion – central banks and financial regulatory institutions from 76 developing countries –  committed to halving these gender gaps in the Denarau Action Plan. But a fast-moving crisis that disrupted social and economic life might seem to suggest such priorities have to wait.

With deep-dive research, extensive stakeholder interviews, a survey of one-third of AFI members and the financial inclusion policy and solution design expertise of our team, ConsumerCentriX (CCX) supported AFI to explore the nexus of women’s financial inclusion and crisis response in the project “Closing the Financial Inclusion Gender Gap During the Crisis and Afterward”.

The evidence from pioneering AFI member experiences is clear and borne out in macroeconomic data and numbers of active users of financial services. Without a focus on women as the largest group of at-risk, under-served citizens, crises linger, recovery is slower and less stable, and countries can catch a case of “economic long-COVID”.

AFI members like Paraguay, Fiji, Egypt, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Togo, Ghana, and Rwanda show that even under the pressures of crisis, Gender Inclusive Finance should be in focus. It helps set the right priorities, mobilise the most impactful set of stakeholders, identify the key operational challenges, and target beneficiaries with a large multiplier effect. Enabled by the opportunities of digital finance that can be ramped up fast even for poor countries that had so far seen limited adoption, GIF gets crisis relief and stimulus to where it is needed most and makes sure economic life can continue.

Some of the key recommendations for policymakers and financial services providers include:

Policymakers (central banks, regulators, supervisors)

  • Support the development and use of digital financial services as an enabler and crisis-proofing of financial sector operations. Benchmarked against women’s needs and constraints, it will deliver the widest adoption – especially in areas likely the hardest to reach in times of crisis. For example, one of Africa’s poorer and smaller economies, Togo was able to launch payments to informal workers – many of them women -within 14 days and ramp it up to 1 in 5 adults.
  • Make sure that new users who signed up during the crisis remain active users of formal (digital) financial services – and don’t revert to cash or informal practices. Women as financial managers of the household are key. Incentives, financial literacy, and consumer protection can help entrench these new practices of using financial services. What counts most are reliable, lost-cost everyday use cases: sending money to family and friends, paying for groceries – enable such ecosystems so that money that arrives from government support remains cashless.

Financial services providers (banks, MFIs, Fintechs, insurance companies)

  • Building cashflow-based and digitally-enabled lending solutions ahead of a crisis makes the short-term liquidity support easier to deploy when crises hit. Women, as consistently better re-payers even in times of a global pandemic, are loyal clients, and as the financial managers of their households, they should be at the center of efforts to create these lending solutions. Using human-centred design that focuses on their needs and constraints is the approach to get it right.
  • Partner with other organizations to promote financial inclusion for women, such as NGOs, government agencies, or business development skills providers where possible to enhance your reach among women. This can be done through providing non-financial services, such as business development training tailored to the needs of women entrepreneurs.
  • Actively engage regulators in financial inclusion working groups to help shape Gender Inclusive Finance and be able to draw on established lines of communication and collaboration when crisis hits. This will lead to pragmatic and impactful policies.

In addition to the 5 case studies that are already published, ConsumerCentriX and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion will soon also share a policy toolkit to operationalize the recommendations from the special report. Stay tuned for more updates.

To access the report, visit:  “Closing the Financial Inclusion Gender Gap During the Crisis and Afterwards” project special report.